This is the third of what will be five posts on the various foods I enjoyed on a recent trip to the Caribbean – specifically Barbados, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Grenada. I swear these posts are necessary because otherwise we’ll all sit around reading TripAdvisor and those folks aren’t nearly as nice as I am, plus they hardly ever include recipes. The previous posts were “Return from the Windward Islands” and “Coconut Drops from Carriacou”.
At no point in the tourism guides for the Windward Islands did I see a big billboard with flashing lights that said ‘they barbecue pig tails here!’ But that should exist. BBQ Pig Tails! These are not tiny curls but meaty better-than-ribs, fatty and succulent and well appointed with bones from which you may suck the meat. With gusto. I might have done so with more elaborate gusto if I had not been eating mine on top of a trash can in the Barbados airport, scarfing as much as possible before the flight attendant hustled us through security. I also had a serving of pudding and souse – essentially sweet potato sausage plus pickled pig parts. They were precariously balanced. It was the lunch that had been interrupted by an urgent summons to the airport to catch a much-delayed flight to St. Vincent for our honeymoon, which left us a few minutes (total) to pack up, hop in a cab, navigate check in and find a way to cut a two hour line for security. In moments of urgent action, people sitting down to a good meal take their plates with them. I confirmed this later in the trip when the grills at a Bequia restaurant caught fire in spectacular fashion and in spite of purses and phones left on the tables as patrons fled, nary a scrap of food had been abandoned.
(The restaurant was more or less fine in the end – a pair of retired firefighters were enjoying a cocktail one patio over and they dealt with the situation).
If you desire BBQ pig tails, a bar owner on Union Island assures me there’s a West Indian grocery off of Dudley Square in Boston that stocks them. (Yes, I asked bartenders about the pig tail situation on every island we visited). Serious Eats has a recipe for BBQ-ing the tails; the ones I had were all slathered in BBQ sauce, though, so I recommend adding that component with your favorite sauce (or make one).
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (our primary destination) had relatively thin information for the food-focused traveler. Possibly because most people were sailing-focused travelers and there’s a big ocean full of fish right there that you then get grilled up on a beach, or on your boat, and wash down with rum or cheap beer. Problem solved. Point well taken. I did serious work with a small tuna on our boat’s grill, plus putting away my share of lobster on the beach in the Tobago Cays. I’ll add other items that I enjoyed, with a few recipes for good measure.
There was a lot of rum. I am not a big rum enthusiast. The local Captain Bligh XO rum tasted far enough on the cognac end of the spectrum that I managed a half dozen glasses of it one evening without complaint. The Guyana rum El Dorado (we sampled the 15 year old) tasted – not subtly – like tobacco and chocolate and, eventually, vanilla. Which had novelty. Overall, the group sailing on our boat were devotees of Very Strong Rum. That’s its name “Very Strong Rum”. This introduced me to the “overproof” category of rum – and it scoffs at the better-known Bacardi 151, weighing in at 170 proof instead. Tourists mostly stock it on their boats to use lighting the grill. Not us, we hung out in tiny bars and sat at picnic tables with the owners and their families and ordered “quarts” (really it was closer to a pint) and bottles of ginger ale and had at it. There was a fortunate alternative – Campari and soda. No matter how small the bar, they reliably stocked Sunset Very Strong Rum and also Campari. If you don’t like super strong rum or super bitter apertifs, I’m not sure what the answer is. Low alcohol beer. (I guess I do know what the answer is).
If you want to learn about the history of rum, we brought the book And A Bottle of Rum with us – I recommend it and here’s an NPR interview with the author should you want more details. If you want to know more about the Very Strong Rum, there’s a 2015 article in Maxim (some people do read it for the articles, you know).
That blank spot up there is proof that the Internet doesn’t have everything. We ate plantains baked in rum punch with cheese in one restaurant, and I swear there is no recipe online for this dish. There’s sweet plantains in rum. There’s savory plantains with cheese. There is no savory rum-baked plantains with cheese. Instead, I give you this article and recipe for Flygande Jakob, the Swedish banana and chicken casserole with peanuts and a great deal of heavy cream. Just to prove that a similar taste profile does exist in the public record. And it’s popular. In Sweden. I will update this after I figure out the plantain rum cheese concoction for myself.
Beverages that Are Not Rum
The Christmas holidays were close enough that folks still had a small stock of holiday Sorrel Juice if you asked for it. Sorrel Juice is made from a relative of the hibiscus. It tasted like the purple corn-based Peruvian drink Chicha Morada. They’re both made by creating a strong tea from their primary ingredients (sorrel, purple corn, respectively), plus warming spices (think ginger, cinnamon, allspice), fruit trimmings (orange peel, apple cores, pineapple trimmings) and sweetened to taste. Also, they turn very bright colors. The cola of choice was Mauby Drink, which tasted like a hybrid of coca-cola and Dr. Pepper, with some high end artisan root beer thrown in. It’s made from the bark of the Mauby tree, and with a little internet ordering and syrup making, you too can have Mauby.
Here I pause because the next half of this post is a discourse on produce, and some on botany, and that seems like it should be separate. You can experiment with that bananas and chicken dish while you wait (it is good, I’ve tried it). See? There’s so much interesting stuff to eat in this world. Insert political commentary on immigration here, if you feel a need.