"Air Food" / by Alan Strathman

I consider myself an adventurous eater.  I am willing to try new foods.  For example, I went with Sam one night to this cool place right on the water where they were grilling fresh fish.  But we did not go to have the fish.  Or I should say we did not go to have the parts of the fish that are normally eaten.  We went to have fish guts soup, which is its official name.  It is a big boil of soup with the intestines of the dolphin.  Now before you get all up in arms let me point out that dolphin is the fish that in the U.S. is usually called mahi.  It is also known as dorado is some places.  In the U.S. they started using the Hawaiian word mahi so people didn't think they were eating Flipper.

Behold! Fish Guts Soup.  And let me say it wasn't bad.  Though the next time I have mahi I am sticking with the light, flakey, tender meat part of the fish. See the 2nd photo below.

So, being the adventurous eater I figured I would come to enjoy the varied food of the Eastern Caribbean. Ha! So naive. There are two things to mention: Salt Fish and ground provisions.

One would think that living on an island in the middle of the ocean would allow for much fresh fish.  If one thought that, however, one would be wrong.  In St. Lucia you have to go to a special market or know a fisherman to get fresh fish.  All the fish in the supermarkets is frozen. (This is true unless you live in a fishing village like, say, Laborie [see previous post].)  And the main staple fish is Salt Fish, which is imported from Canada.  About.com describes it like this: 

Salt Fish is fresh fish that has been salt-cured and dried until all the moisture has been extracted. In order to prepare salt fish for cooking, it needs to be rehydrated and most of the salt removed through a process of overnight soaking in hot water and subsequent boiling. The aim is never to remove all of the salt, enough salt should remain to taste, if not, you can end up with a bland piece of fish.

And let me assure you not enough of the salt is ever removed.

OK, next are ground provisions, though some of the ground provisions grow on trees. On the left below is a list of the ground provisions common in St. Lucia and on the right is a list of ground provisions that should be called "air food."

Eaten Often                                                             Should be Called Air Food

Breadfruit (24 varieties)                                          Breadfruit (24 varieties)

Dasheen                                                                 Dasheen

Green Fig1                                                              Green Fig

Plaintain2                                                               Plaintain

Yam3 (many varieties)                                           Yam (many varieties)

Cassava                                                                 Cassava

Tania                                                                      Tania

Edoes                                                                     Edoes

 

1  A green fig is actually an extremely green banana.  When it is not ripe they call it green fig and cook it up.

2  Plaintain can be cooked in such a way that it is browned and kind of sweet.  Very good. This is not how it is typically cooked here, nor was it cooked like that in Ghana.

3 Yams are not sweet potatoes.

All are starchy, starchy, and starchy.  And white. And taste like air (to me). Julietta, thank goodness, does not force any of these things on me.  But I know there are many trainees who have had 6 weeks of ground provisions and have had it up to here (I am pointing to my chin). They don't want to tell their host families how they really feel about ground provisions and so continue to receive them. One website describes ground provisions like this:

All the starches down here have to double as wallpaper paste or they just won't do. Unfortunately I don't think wallpaper would do very well down here either because it is so humid it would just mildew in a second.

This is not to say that there is no benefit to filling up on ground provisions. If you eat a lot of it you don't have to waste valuable time on the toilet because you just never have to go.

Long ago Julietta and I came to an understanding that fish (but not Salt Fish), chicken, vegetables, salad, rice, potatoes and many other Lucian specialty dishes are fine on the menu. About ground provisions, I take Nancy Reagan's silly advice and just say "Non!" (My French creole language skills are really coming along, eh?)