A little flashback to last year:
Friend: “What are you doing this weekend?”
Cooksister: “I’m going to Grenada for the annual chocolate festival.”
Friend: “Ooooh I love Spain! ALl that fabulous paella and ham and Rioja! And who knew they made chocolate too??”
Cooksister:” Erm, no… you’re thinking of the other one! Not Gra-NAH-dah in Spain but Gre-NAY-dah in the Caribbean!”
Friends: “Um OK… no paella then, I guess?”
Well, I am sure that there is paella available somewhere on the island… but who wants to eat paella when you have such a host of wonderful Grenadian foods to feast on? Last year I visited Grenada as a guest of the Grenada Tourist Authority to explore the island’s food and more.
Grenada is an island state in the Caribbean and forms part of the West Indies. Consisting of the island of Grenada itself plus six smaller islands (including Carriacou) which lie to the north of the main island, it is located northwest of Trinidad and Tobago; and northeast of Venezuela. Before the arrival of Europeans, Grenada was inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Caribs tribes and although Spain claimed the island as their own after Columbus sighted it, there are no records to suggest the Spanish ever landed or settled on the island. After several attempts by Europeans to colonise the island failed because of resistance from the islanders, the French eventually settled and started colonising Grenada in 1650. Together with their culture, the French also brought African slaves for agricultural work, who in turn left their cultural stamp. In 1763 Grenada was ceded to the British; and from the 1850s, large numbers of Indian indentured labourers arrived on the island, adding a further element to the cuisine and culture.
Rather like the cuisine of my homeland of South Africa, the cuisine of Grenada is a mixture of dishes influenced by the various cultural groups that have made the island their home, and the local produce. So with that in mind here is my totally subjective list of ten foods you should try when you visit Grenada
Frybakes (or just “bakes”)
When are baked goods not baked goods? When they’re fried, of course! These are usually made of yeast dough that is kneaded, allowed to rise and then divided into hand-sized pieces which are rolled into circular discs. These discs are then fried in oil and served with a variety of fillings such as saltfish, corned beef or cheese. They are a popular breakfast dish but can also be hollowed out, stuffed and eaten as lunch on the go. Interestingly, they reminded me a lot of South African vetkoek!
When I was offered caviar for breakfast in Grenada I did think this was rather unexpected… but it turns out that Grenadian “caviar” has nothing to do with Russian oligarchs, sturgeon fish or the Caspian Sea. In fact, it is the roe of the white sea urchin, fried up with diced onion and carrot and served for breakfast. It has a texture quite unlike any other seafood you have tasted and a nutty, creamy marine flavour – and it is delicious on bakes!
Saltfish (salted fish, usually cod) is a common ingredient around the world, dating back to a time when there was no refrigeration to preserve surplus fish that was caught. It is said that saltfish was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 16th century when ships from north America would dock with cargoes of lumber and dried, salt-cured fish. To prepare saltfish for cooking, it needs to be rehydrated and salt removed, either by repeated soaking in cold water or boiling and discarding the soaking/boiling water before flaking the fish. For buljol, tomatoes, spring onions, peppers, tomatoes and parsley are gently fried before the flaked fish is added and heated through. Saltfish buljol is also delicious with bakes.
Conch (lambie) souse
When you see lambie, abandon all thoughts of barbecues lamb chops! Lambie is in fact the local name for conch, arguably the most iconic shell of the Caribbean and one of its most popular foods. Because conch meat can be tough, the raw conch is first marinated in lime juice – which is the same sort of idea as ceviche. Once tender it is chopped and then slow-cooked in water and more lime juice with onion, garlic and hot peppers to make a soupy or “soused” stew. This can be served either hot or chilled and (again!) makes a great frybake topping or filling!
Crab back is served throughout the Caribbean, but in Grenada there is even a restaurant named after it – BB’s CrabBack! The name comes from the fact that the dish is served in upturned cleaned land crab shells (crab “backs”) and it is a deliciously rich and creamy dish where the flavour of the crab meat remains the star. Spring onions, garlic and sweet peppers are sautéed before the crab meat, white wine, cream and hot sauce are added. The mix is then scooped into the crab shells, sprinkled with breadcrumbs (and sometimes cheese) and dotted with butter before being popped under a hot grill to crisp. Decadently delicious!
Oildown is unquestionably the national dish of Grenada – and what a hearty, communal affair it is! The simplest description is that it is a one-pot feast featuring breadfruit, callaloo (like spinach), dasheen (the root of the callaloo plant), green bananas, salted pig’s tail and snout (or salted fish), chicken, peppers, dumplings, turneric and coconut milk. The unusual name comes from the layer of coconut oil and meat juices that collects in the base of the pot. Making an oildown involves everybody, from the person who selects the perfectly ripe breadfruit and knocks it off the tree with a long stick; to the people making the dense, cylindrical dumplings; to the people chopping the ingredients; to the people packing the massive stew pot; to those building and manning the fire under the pot as it cooks. Unlike most stews where the ingredients are stirred and mixed during the cooking process, an oildown is packed in layers and left to simmer undisturbed. How to “pack the pot” is a matter of taste and tradition and everybody has their own opinion and method. But generally speaking the breadfruit and meat go in first, followed by most of the vegetables; and the callaloo leaves and dumplings on top, with the coconut milk going in last. While the oildown cooks for an hour or more, festivities are helped along by the next item on my list…
If oildown is the national dish of Grenada, then rum must be the national drink. Made in large volumes from the plentiful sugar cane on the island, there is a rum for every taste, from light to dark. One of the most popular ways to consume rum in Grenada is in a rum punch cocktail and pretty much every bar and restaurant have their own version, in varying degrees of alcoholic concentration! There is a rhyme in Grenada for anybody who forgets the proportions of a rum punch, namely:
“One of sour, two of sweet;
Three of strong and four of weak.”
This translates roughly into: one-part lime juice (sour); two parts simple syrup (sweet); three parts dark rum (strong); and four parts water/ice (weak). Top it all off with Angostura bitters and some grated nutmeg. Cheers!
Nope, I had never heard of this before I came to the Caribbean either… but if you think of what you know as hot chocolate (packed with more sugar than cocoa and topped with whipped cream and marshmallows), then cocoa tea is about as far removed from this as you can get. In fact, it is far closer to the spiced drink that the Aztecs used to call xoxcolatl. Cocoa tea is basically a hot drink brewed from cocoa beans in the same way that coffee is brewed from coffee beans, but with added spices. In Grenada the cocoa beans are dried, roasted, ground to a fine paste, mixed with local spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom etc. and rolled into balls or sticks that are then dried. These cocoa balls are then grated and infused into hot water (or milk) and the result is a a hot drink with the bitterness of pure, dark chocolate plus hints of warming, chai tea-like spices. Because the cocoa balls contain both the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter, the final tea is surprisingly rich even when only brewed with water, and packed with antioxidants – all the good stuff in chocolate without the bad stuff!
Image courtesy and © of The Rare Welsh Bit Blog
Fresh cocoa bean flesh
Cocoa is one of the few crops in the world that has resisted Mankind’s insatiable desire to grow everything everywhere. Like coffee, it really only grows within a very limited number of degrees from the Equator. So the places where you have the opportunity to try sucking the sweet flesh off a cocoa bean fresh from a pod that has just been cut from a tree and hacked open with a machete are… somewhat limited, to say the least. But Grenada is one of the places where you can do just that. So despite the somewhat slimy, beige and unpromising appearance of the beans, it seemed churlish of me not to take the opportunity. There is not a lot of flesh – the flesh really is just a thin covering for the bean itself – but the flavour is quite extraordinary. I would say the ones I had were a cross between the flavours of litchi, passion fruit and rambutan – sweet and slightly tart (but I am told the flavour varies slightly according to the ripeness and the species of cocoa). Tasting the varied flavour profile of the raw fruit certainly gives you an idea of how chocolate can display such complex and diverse flavours – it all starts in the pod!
Grenadian bean to bar chocolate
Cacao has been commercially produced in Grenada for a very long time. Cacao trees were first introduced to the island in 1714 by French colonists and by the 1760s, Grenada was the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa, producing about 50% of British West Indian cocoa exports. But all the beans were exported unprocessed, leaving it to other countries to process them, add value and make profits. All this changed in 1999 when American Mott Green came to the island and realized that cocoa farmers could increase their income by processing the same cocoa beans they were growing. Together with Doug Browne and Edmond Brown he started a cooperative for cocoa farmers around the island and created Grenada’s first modern “tree to bar” chocolate. It was their company, The Grenada Chocolate Company, which brought Grenadian chocolate to the world stage and paved the way for a thriving Grenadian bean-to-bar chocolate industry. Tree to bar means that the farm grows the cacao; harvests, dries, ferments, roasts and grinds the beans; refines them into chocolate, ages the chocolate, and finally moulds the chocolate into bars, giving the farm complete control over the finished product. Today there are no fewer than five tree to bar chocolate estates in Grenada (The Grenada Chocolate Company, Crayfish Bay Organics, Belmont Estate, Jouvay and Tri Island Chocolate) each one of them producing unique and subtly different high quality chocolate. The island even hosts the annual Grenada Chocolate Festival (now in its 6th year), an event dedicated to all things sweet, savory and satisfying about chocolate. Visitors can indulge in a week of exploring the bean to bar estates; learning how chocolate is made; indulging in chocolate spa experiences; attending expert tutored chocolate tastings; taking chocolate and rum sunset cruises; and eating their body weight in chocolate!
There are of course many more things to taste and try in Grenada and I encourage you to try everything, but if you are visiting this beautiful and incredibly welcoming island nation soon, I hope this has provided you with a starting point for your culinary adventures.
Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways offer scheduled flights to Grenada from the UK as follows:
- Virgin Atlantic: Monday and Thursday (Winter) Monday and Friday (Summer), making a brief stop in St Lucia in both directions.
- British Airways: Wednesday and Saturday (Year round), making a brief stop in St Lucia in both directions
I stayed in the Seabreeze Hotel, across the road from Grande Anse Beach, which features sixteen basic but newly renovated rooms with air conditioning, WiFi, refrigerators, kettles, toasters and microwaves; as well a sparkling pool – a very affordable option starting from as low as $50 per room per night. You can read Kacie’s full review here or visit the hotel’s website for more info.
SeaBreeze Hotel Grenada
Grand Anse Main Road
If you enjoyed this travel post, you might also want to read
- more of my travel posts
- Nine things you need to eat in Singapore
- Where to eat in and around Kitzbuhel
- What to eat in Italy and where
DISCLOSURE: I visited Grenada with complimentary flights, meals and accommodation as a guest of Pure Grenada but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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