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No taste like home PDF Print E-mail
Exciting flavours and evocative memories direct from Cynthia Nelson’s Caribbean Kitchen.

 

Born and raised in Guyana, Food writer Cynthia Nelson has been calling Barbados home now for more than a decade. She grew up cooking alongside her mom and aunt, but her work has since taken her all over the world. As a result she has come to learn that when you’re missing home, nothing can transport you back there faster than the flavours of home cooking.  Here she shares some of her food memories along with five refreshing drinks recipes. 

Twas the season – my bags were packed and I was heading home to Guyana for Christmas, my first in eight years. I armed myself with a list, not of Christmas gifts but of the food and dishes I wanted to eat, to taste, to re-awaken memories and to reconnect with my homeland.

For a foodie or food-enthusiast such as myself, going home was a journey of food appreciation and re-discovery. I wanted to absorb everything in sight. I wanted to go to the source – the markets – to see, smell and taste what freshness is like. I wanted to visit the eating places I remembered such as Coal Pot, Salt and Pepper and Arapaima, now called The Main Street Qik Serve.

One Sunday morning I went shopping with my brother Eon to Bourda Market. He took me to the stall he buys from regularly. Back in the day, I remember always asking the price of things before I made my purchase but now, as I found myself caught up in the glory of the abundance, price seemed to be less of a factor. Issued with a list from my mother and sister, I filled the shopping bags forgetting about poundage, bundles or units; I even wanted to get things that were not on the list. I found myself caressing the bunch of red-head eschallots, inhaling the gentle onion flavour; stroking the length of the fine, green bora; rubbing the white-skinned eggplant and fighting the urge to grab the sweet-fig banana and eat it. I did not want to leave the market. It was an ironic moment for me because before moving abroad, I never liked going to the market and now here I was standing, reluctant to leave.

In making my food wish list, there were some things I had not remembered to put down and duck curry was one of them. So the week following my jaunt to Bourda Market, my sister, Pat and I set out for Mon Repos Market on the East Coast to get some fresh duck that would have just been killed, plucked and roasted until almost black. As I got out of the car, my nose tingled with the deep, delicious, smoky scent of roasted poultry. It’s a scent that I associate with the country areas of Guyana – it conjured images of clay and mud firesides with roaring fires, large blackened pots boiling and sada roti cooking. I breathed in deeply. Men were busy plucking chickens and ducks, while others were roasting the birds over the open flames of a makeshift grill – the sizzle and crackle adding to the liveliness of the atmosphere. We stopped at the first stall, bought a couple of ducks and waited patiently as the butcher gutted and chopped them up. It’s true – we eat with our eyes, while my tummy was not yet filled with the duck curry, my heart was filled just standing there taking in the sight, sounds and smells of home.

Next came “the night of three cook-ups”, at least that’s what I am calling it. Each Old Year’s night and every Christmas Eve night, my mother makes cook-up rice, with the works: tripe, beef, pigtail, sometimes adding chicken. My brother and sister continue the tradition in their respective homes. Now, in order to remain in good favour with my brother and sister, I am not going to discuss which one was better. By mid-afternoon, my brother had finished cooking and so his was the first I ate – all beef with red beans along with some steamed okras. It was delicious. In the evening about eight o’clock, I ate my mother’s cook-up; man dah woman should market de ting and teach a class on how to cook cook-up rice, de ting taste wicked – black eye peas with the works. I was a little worried because my sister was coming over later and bringing some of her cook-up for me and I was full, full, full. However, as the evening wore on I found I had room for a little more, so, about midnight I ate some of my sister’s food: pigeon peas with chicken and salt meat – another winner. My mother has taught her children well and she has not lost her touch.

I’d forgotten about the constant feeding that takes place when you go home. You could just finish eating a plate of food, just finish swallowing the last mouthful and someone asks, “You want some more? Are you sure? Eat nuh! You know you don’t get dis kind ah food steady! Look, we gat…. And they will list a set of things. Something on the list will catch your attention and before you know it – you’re eating, again.

Of the 27 items on my food wish list, I managed to eat only 10, but I ate other things that were not on the list such as katahar, hassar, Chinese fried rice and chow mein. It was impossible to eat everything on the list in 11 days.

Packing up to leave was difficult. I knew I could not take all the food in Guyana, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. I put a few things in my suitcase: hassar, gilbaka, grey snapper, katahar, cheese rolls, patties, pine-tarts, black pudding and achar. As I said, just a few things to keep the memories alive for a little while longer. Maybe I should start making my list for my next trip.”
 
Cocoa-Stick Tea
Organic, local cocoa sticks are grown and produced in Guyana, St Vincent & The Grenadines, St Lucia and Grenada. The raw cocoa is ground with bay leaves and other spices and rolled into sticks. Because it is natural cocoa, it is bitter. It can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. The coca stick can be placed whole into the pot to boil where it will disintegrate naturally. For a true taste of chocolate, you must try this tea.  Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients
1 (5-inch) rolled cocoa stick
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 large bay leaf (preferably fresh)
6 cups water
Sugar and milk to taste

Equipment
1 large saucepan
1 fine sieve

Directions
1 Add the cocoa stick, cinnamon stick and bay leaf to saucepan with the water, cover partially and bring to a boil.
2 When liquid has reduced to half, remove from heat.
3 Strain into mugs, sweeten with sugar and milk and serve.

Lemongrass Tea
“My mom refers to this as fever grass tea. Whenever she’d make it for us there never seemed to be enough. You don’t need me to tell you how flavourful lemongrass is: you can opt to slice the lemon grass or just crush it and add it whole to the pot.” Yield: Approximately 3 cups

Ingredients
4 tablespoons chopped lemon grass or a handful of the lemon grass leaves themselves
3 cups water
Sugar and milk to taste

Equipment
1 large saucepan with cover
1 sieve

Directions
1 Bring water to boil in covered saucepan.
2 Add lemon grass to boiling water. Boil covered for 2 minutes and remove from heat. Let steep for 3–4 minutes.
3 Strain into mugs, sweeten with sugar and milk and serve (do not overpower with milk, all you need is a little splash).

Bay Leaf & Cinnamon Tea
“This tea is highly fragrant and aromatic and is very popular in some rural parts of the Caribbean. It is best made with fresh bay leaves.”
Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients
4 large fresh bay leaves
1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon stick
3 cups water
Sugar and milk to taste

Equipment
1 large saucepan
1 sieve

Directions
1 Add bay leaves and cinnamon stick with water and bring to boil in saucepan.
2 Reduce heat to low and let simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
3 Remove from heat and let steep for 3 minutes.
4 Strain into mugs, sweeten with sugar and milk and serve (do not over power with milk, all you need is a little splash).

Five-Finger (Star-Fruit) Drink
“This fruit is popularly known as five-finger and star fruit. In Guyana, it is also sliced, stewed, dried and used just as raisins and other fruits in baked goods.”
Yield: 8 - 9 cups

Ingredients
1 pound five-finger (mixture of ripe and green), sliced
8 cups water
1 teaspoon lemon essence or  teaspoon lemon extract
Sugar to taste

Equipment
1 blender
1 sieve
1 large bowl
1 glass jar or container

Directions
1 Blend fruit and water in batches.
2 Strain into bowl.
3 Stir in essence/extract.
4 Sweeten to taste.
5 Pour into jar or container and refrigerate.
6 Serve well-chilled or with ice.

Sorrel Drink
“Christmas in the Caribbean would not be the same without this ruby-red, fruity, spiced drink.”
Yield: 8 - 10 cups

Ingredients
1 pound de-seeded sorrel
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
8 cups water
Sugar to taste

Equipment
1 large pot
1 large bottle or container
1 wooden spoon
1 sieve

Directions
1 Add sorrel, cinnamon, cloves and water to the pot and bring to a boil covered (water should come up to the same height or slightly over the sorrel).
2 Boil for 5 minutes and then turn off heat.
3 Remove pot from stove and let drink steep and cool completely (overnight is best).
4 When completely cool, strain and sweeten to taste.
5 Refrigerate.
6 Serve well-chilled or with ice.

 

For more wonderful food memoirs and delicious recipes, you can get hold of a copy of Cynthia’s book, Tastes Like Home, online from www.amazon.com or www.ianrandlepublishers.com  

 
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