Two things can come to a person’s mind when you invite them to your home — “I wonder what wonderful things we will eat” or “I hope that she is not making —– (fill in the blank) again”.
It’s scary, inviting people and promising them something new that you hope they will love. What if they don’t like it at all? Or, what if they love it so much that you have to make it every time, invitation or no invitation? Nevertheless, it is such a pleasure to be able to share your food with friends.
This week, I thought I’d share with you some of my Bajan food-friends.
“Cyn, when next you making eggplant choka and sada roti?” asks my best friend, Susan.
She loves Guyanese food, well, except for hassar (aka cascadura in TT); she says there is something creepy about the whole fish staring at her forlornly as they cluster in the pot.
However, the smokiness of the garlic-studded eggplant roasted on an open flame, the sweetness of the roasted tomato, the slight crunch of the eschallots and the pepper that makes its presence felt without overwhelming the dish is what my friend adores about the choka.
The sada roti with its crusty exterior and hot fleshy interior makes it a good vehicle for scooping. Sue would finish eating and offer her empty plate with pleading eyes: can I have some more?
This man cannot get enough dhal. I blame my mother for the constant harassment I get from Mark about dhal as she is the one that introduced it to him whilst on a trip to Guyana.
“You cook? You ain’t cooking?” When I do answer in the positive, I get this response, “You mekking dhal?” Mark even has the Guyanese creolese down to a fine art!
But I totally understand the allure of dhal: the thick, soup-like dish made with split peas and tempered with garlic and geera (cumin seeds) roasted in oil, it is simply divine. It’s smooth and aromatic. Some people, like Mark, drink theirs and others, like me, eat it ladled over rice.
Whenever Adele visits and I offer her food, she constantly ooohs and ahhhs appreciatively about the taste of the food. She always asks questions about the preparation. Her favourite dish is cook-up rice. Hey, what is there not to like about peas, rice and meat cooked in coconut milk, with a hint of thyme and other herbs?
Throw in a big pepper or a few wiri wiri peppers into the pot, and we’re in some serious business. Adele would finish eating and say, “I should not have eaten that”, implying that she’d overeaten, but the satisfied smile on her face is the biggest compliment!
Maria is Latina and lives in the United States and is married to a Barbadian. She is a friend, who loves the bakes I make. She first had them in 2004 while visiting Barbados, since then Maria has found subtle ways of angling an invitation for bakes whenever she visits.
Truth be told, fried dough (that’s bakes in its simplest form) is something that many people cannot get enough of. Hot bakes with salt fish, tomatoes and onions or just simply cut open and spread with butter that melts into all the nooks and cranny, is enough to make the most strong-willed person weak.
“Cynthia, what is this dish called? I have never eaten rice like this before. It is delicious.” She had just finished eating the fried rice I made. Joan loved the dish so much that she told her Guyanese helper to make it for her. Joan’s birthday is this weekend and guess what I am making for her?
Not everyone likes the food though. A friend’s husband comes to mind, Edwin. Like so many people, Edwin only likes the food he knows. One evening I invited Edwin and his wife over for curry. Edwin could not stand it. He complained that the curry was too spicy (not meaning heat from pepper).
He said also that the curry did not have enough gravy. Frankly, I think he did not like the colour of the curry either. You see, Edwin likes a lot of “dark sauce” — his phrase, not mine. Dark sauce for him refers to any gravy made with browning. Casreep and burnt sugar will give the right degree of darkness that he desires. Any other coloured sauce or gravy he refers to disparagingly as “blond sauce”.
For example, pasta is “choke-muh food”. In other words, it is too dry and not swimming in gravy or in the right coloured gravy. So cooking when Edwin is a part of the invited group can be challenging.
Sharing food is also an opportunity to get an education, to share ideas about preparing various ingredients, and to learn the cuisine of your adopted home. Take my friend Shirley, for example. She loves pumpkin and cooks it regularly but always the same way — steamed or in a soup. I told her about how we cook pumpkin — fried (saut?ed) with seasonings, by itself, with shrimp, chicken or meat. I also gave her the tip about adding a little sugar to bring out the sweetness of the pumpkin.
I’ve had my lessons too. I learned to make Bajan rice and peas and conkies. I’ve perfected my cou-cou making skills, and the fish cakes, which I love. Being introduced to breadfruit roasted on a fire in the yard has been one of my favourite culinary experiences and the Bajan practice of eating sweet, ripe, golden apples marinated in the salty sea water always awakens my taste buds.
The best thing about being a foodie, for me, is sharing — sharing my life through food. Cooking for people is about baring your soul, letting down your guard, opening yourself — something that is not always easy. But there is no substitute for the warmth, love and acceptance that grows from such a gathering.
Cynthia Nelson is a journalist, tutor, food photographer and author of the award-winning book: Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook (IRP 2010). She writes regularly about food in various Caribbean Publications.
Book: Amazon (online) Locally: Pages, Cloister’s, and Days Bookstore.
Choka is a method of cooking. It is used to refer to items that have been fire-roasted and then grounded, mashed or pureed with garlic, hot peppers and souring agents such as tamarind or green mango.
Roti is a term used to refer to various types of Indian-style flat breads.
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