Okay, so apologies in advance to my Caribbean friends, but a quick lesson in History & then some Geography followed by Food (of course!):
...Imagine the scene: you are starting a journey into the unknown, tirelessly loading provisions for a trip of unknown duration, into mysterious territories that are the subject of myths and legends...your heart pumping as you fight the swell of waves breaking across the reefs, your teeth gritted, face to the wind, desperately clutching onto your paddle, made by your own bare hands and kneeling in a dug out canoe, hollowed out of the trunk felled by hand in the forests of your homeland...
This was the tale of the Arawaks, the Galibis and the Tainos, originally from the mainland of the South American Sub-Continent, the tale of the discovery of the Caribbean and eventual successful habitation of them.
There has been recorded evidence of human habitation of these islands for thousands of years, although these tribes did not leave grandiose structures like some peoples elsewhere, if looked at through an educated and curious eye, there remains an insight into the life of the original 'Caribs' (the word being derived from the language they spoke).
The convoluted and painful history of the Caribbean region is relatively well documented.
As history unfolded, the islands changed hands over the centuries, and it is necessary to know the diverse influences that European countries such as a Portugal, Spain and later the French and the British held over not just the socio-economic factors of these islands but also the people and therefore their food. The advent of slavery added yet another dimension to the mix with flavours from Africa often found throughout the region. When people were enslaved they strived to retain any part of their old culture, whether that be religion, art and more often than not, their food and methods of cooking. Anyway, let's get back to the geography...and then the cuisine!
Basically, the Caribbean is divided into the following groups of Islands:
The Lucayan Archipelago (The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands in the North, closer to the coast of mainland North America, specifically Florida)
The Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rica, Haiti, the Cayman Islands, the Spanish Virgin Islands, Hispaniola and the Dominican Republic)
The Lesser Antilles (comprised of three further groups of islands known as the Leeward Islands, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Antilles)
In order to understand the meaning of the modern names of over 700 islands that make up the Caribbean, it is necessary to learn a few basic sailing terms.
'Windward' meant facing into the prevailing trade winds which typically blow from the east to the west. Therefore, it is no stretch of the imagination to understand that 'Leeward' meant the other way round, i.e. moving away from the prevailing wind.
The Lesser Antilles make up the arc of islands stretching from the Greater Antilles in the North West and stretch all the way down to the continent of South America.
Naturally nestled on the outskirts of the Caribbean Sea they form a stark, natural barrier between the calm, tranquil warm waters of the Caribbean Ocean and the cooler, rougher sea that is the Atlantic Ocean.
The Lesser Antilles are split into three distinct clusters of islands: the Leeward Islands (the northern cluster of islands including St Kitts, Barbuda, Antigua Montserrat, to name a few). The Windward Islands (heading south from Dominica, to Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent & the Grenadines and of course, our favourite: Grenada). Lastly, but by no means least you have a group of Islands known collectively as The Leeward Antilles (all of which are situated close to the South American coast of Venezuela).
Head east from the coast of Barbados on the most eastern major island of the Windward Islands, and the next land mass you will reach is the coast of Cape Verde, just over 2,400 miles away.
Phew! Okay, so we have touched briefly on the History of the region and more extensively on a crash course of the Geographical make up of the Caribbean as a whole.
Despite having visited other islands, the one we focus on at Myristica Supperclub are the Windward Islands, Grenada and Barbados in particular as that is where my cultural heritage is from, however we do draw on influences from other islands in among the diverse and multi cultural nations that make up the modern region that we call home.
Each nation has claimed a different dish as their national dish, but in reality many of these dishes are common throughout the region. In order to describe the type of ingredients and cooking methods that are often used, I have collated a brief overview of the islands that make up the Windward Islands and their food:
Dominica has an island with an area of about 290 square miles (about the size of the small African nation of Tonga) and an estimated population of about 75,000 people.
National Dish: Callaloo (which is similar to spinach but with a more bitter, nutty undertone), the national dish used to be a called Mountain Chicken (which wasn't a chicken at all! But rather a type of Frog!) Apparently it has a taste similar to chicken, but I am not convinced...luckily for the frog, and possibly us as foodies, it is an endangered species and so the decision was taken in 2013 to change to Callaloo. Callaloo can often be found in soups, stews, rice dishes and other savoury elements of traditional Caribbean cuisine.
Martinique covers about 436 square miles of land and has about 390,000 inhabitants.
National Dish: Grilled Snapper & a Creole Sauce. Depending on who you speak to you may get several different answers for the national dish of Martinique. Some say 'Columbo' which is unique spice marinade used to season lamb which is then cooked in coconut milk. The seasoning is variable, depending on who is creating it, but the four spices that everyone agrees should be there are coriander, garlic, turmeric and of course, chilli! But, we have gone with the Grilled Snapper and Creole Sauce as that is what the majority agree on. The sauce is made from a combination of peppers, tomatoes, onion, parsley and a few other top secret spices which can vary depending on who is cooking...
St Lucia is a picturesque island is situated south of the island of Martinique and is about 240 square miles of tropical beauty. It's volcanic pitons are one of the most well known pictures of the Caribbean.
National Dish: Green Fig & Salt Fish (fig vét é lanmowi) - 'Sweet figs and salt fish?!' I hear you say. Well, don't rush for the figs just yet...in the Caribbean the small bananas found on the islands are known as 'figs'. No, I'm not sure why...the green (unripened) figs are usually boiled with salt to soften them, in a similar way to how we would cook potatoes in the United Kingdom. The salt fish is usually cod, but other varieties can be used. The dish is usually served alongside a salad or perhaps avocado.
Despite it's relatively small size, the island nation of St Vincent & the Grenadines is densely populated. The islands are about 150 square miles and yet have a population of around 110,000 people.
The chain of islands trail from the main island of St Vincent down to the Island of Grenada.
National Dish: Roasted Bread Fruit & Fried Jack Fish. Bread fruit is a pain to cook any other way than roasting...I have had disagreements with bread fruit, but that's a tale for another blog...needless to say lifting it to a fine dining dish is difficult. The national dish is pretty basic, but the fried jackfish is where the cook can pack in some flavour. The jack fish are usually seasoned in a dry curry rub before frying.
Grenada is the home of my family. This pretty paradise is about 135 miles in area and has a population of about 110,000. It is known as the 'isle of spice' and has a nutmeg on the national flag, hinting at the variety of spices and other ingredients that the island is famous for.
National Dish: Oil Down. This homely and very filling dish is a stewed mix of provisions (root vegetables such as cassava, potatoes, eddoes), pieces of breadfruit and made with fish such as cod, cooked in coconut milk with taro leaves and sometimes pork.
Trinidad & Tobago is a two island nation situated just off the coast of the South American country of Venezuela. The larger island of Trinidad is 1,841 square miles and Tobago is about 120 square miles in area with a total population between the both of about 1.5 million people.
National Dish: Crab & Callaloo. Similar to Dominica, Callaloo is the national dish of Trinidad & Tobago along with Crab and is usually presented as a well seasoned green soup. It is a staple food for the Islanders.
So there you have it, hopefully this will give you an overview of the Caribbean, and the Windward Islands in particular.
A lot of dishes and ingredients used in the cuisine of these islands help to inspire and challenge us at Myristica Supperclub, to reinvent dishes and indeed, to create new ones with a fine dining context in mind.
We still have limited availability at our February supperclub, so why not be one of the first to try our new Caribbean inspired fine dining menu by visiting us at:
We look forward to seeing you there!