A dispatch from back in my pirate days just a short time ago....Fungi in the Caribbean is a kind of cornmeal based dish - a lot like polenta, often with okra in it. But very few restaurants seem to serve it. Same with callaloo, pate, and plantains. For these and other traditional foods, there must be a secret Virgin Islands that we have yet to find.
In Tortola, we've served ourselves Ting (grapefruit soda) and Carib (beer) and watched the cats play on the roof while we waited for dinner at the Roti Palace, we've followed the smell of BBQ grilled chicken and "stuffing" (potatoes) to nighttime food vendors, and we've shopped at the Rite-Way grocery which had a few wrinkly brown cassava roots, but still not seen anything approaching (what I imagine to be glorious) native island foods. I mean - it's the tropics. Where's the tropical food dammit?
The closest we've come to finding the real food of the islands has been getting up at (what B. calls the butt) crack of dawn to go to the Tortola Farmer's Market to see what the few vendors are selling. The market opens at 4am and shuts down around 9am. I don't know what the busiest time is, but when we arrived there last week at 6:30am, the little ragtag group of (fast) food carts across the street was busier than the Farmer's Market (where they had actual fresh beautiful produce that a real person had grown!)
The Market space is covered with a green corrugated metal roof and during market hours, the red iron gates are open. Inside are high green-painted concrete benches that run the width of the space and on which a total of maybe 5 or 6 vendors had set up their produce. Only a couple of customers, but a few folks standing around chatting up the farmers.
This time was a little different from last time I was there - I was on a mission to shop for food that would go into real meals for the 5 days we were sailing. And of course I wanted to buy some of everything I saw - which I almost did.
Most exciting of course are the fruits and vegetables of summer and the exotic produce that we don't have in Michigan. Anyone tried genips? I still haven't. What they did have already was softballl-sized purple eggplants, plum tomatoes, cabbages, celery, and big bunches of thyme. I also bought a homegrown papaw (papaya), some ridged green beans I had never tried before, and some crunchy coarse grain salt brought from a salt pond by the sea.
What I made from the produce...successes from the provisioning menu:
- Roasted eggplant, tomato, onion and feta pasta
- Sauteed beans
- Tropical island slaw (with lime juice and ginger)
- Chef's salad
Other highlights were examples we found of unexpected foods:
- Coconut bread from the little bakery on the way to the Bubbly Pool, made with coconut from the tree outside
- Milk and ice cream from the St. Thomas Dairies (by far the least expensive brand in the islands)
- Homemade turtle (the caramel kind, not the leatherback kind) brownies
Shockingly, our last meal (at the airport no less) was among the tastiest and most traditional. In addition to the civilized advantages of being able to order a Bailey's and Banana Colada (BBC) in the cafeteria, I finally got to try salt fish pate (like frybread, with a shredded fish interior;, a yummy chicken pilau with rice, beans, and many small bones; and yes, fungi. The lady behind the counter asked if I wanted gravy with my fungi and I couldn't figure out if it was a trick question.
It calls to mind a Jack Handy quote: "If you have a choice between regular heaven and pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick, but if not...." So of course I got the gravy. And it was all delicious.