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Seafood Dishes From the Road

Three Meals from the Road

Like a lot of people, I look forward to the foods of the cities I travel to as much as the sights and activities. I am passionate about food and because of that, there are places I’d return to just so I can satisfy my craving for the food.

On the other hand, there are some places I doubt I’ll visit because I have no interest in the food.

During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I tasted foods similar to what I’d have in Jamaica – but with a twist. One morning, for example, I chose gallo pinto, the desayuno típico of Costa Rica. Gallo pinto is rice and beans, fried plantains and scrambled eggs. I swapped the scrambled eggs for sausages and left out the cheese. I was almost finished eating when I remembered that I hadn’t taken a photo.

In Jamaica, we usually leave rice and beans for dinner. About 10 years ago, it was reserved for Sundays and special occasions like Easter and Christmas.

Since we were staying near the coast, we had fish or seafood almost every day. One evening for dinner at a restaurant, I had grilled snapper accompanied by risotto.

Three Meals from the Road

Avocado & Shrimp Salad

Three Meals from the Road

Grilled Snapper with Risotto

Near the end of my week-long visit, I took a day trip to Granada, Nicaragua where lunch was sea bass with rice and salad. I can still remember the sharp taste of the lime on the fish.

Three Meals from the Road

Rice and Sea Bass

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Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Following Emancipation, the colonial authorities in Jamaica looked as far as China and India for workers to replace the formerly enslaved Africans.

Between 1845 and 1917, nearly 40,000 Indians arrived in the island looking for a better life. More than a third were forced to stay after their period of indentureship as they couldn’t afford to pay their way back and the government thought it wasn’t cost effective to repatriate them.

The Indians brought not only their talent and skills, they brought their food and spices, specifically mango, tamarind, jackfruit and several plants. They also gave us curry.

Another of the culinary gifts the Indians gave Jamaica is chutney, mango chutney to be specific. Chutney, a condiment, can be either wet or dry and can contain a combination of fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

It’s been several years since I’ve had the kind of mango chutney we make in Jamaica and hadn’t thought about for almost as long. Then a couple of months ago, I got an unexpected treat when I attended a celebration for a longtime family friend.

They served the typical Jamaican fare – mannish water soup, curried goat, escoveitch fish, jerk chicken, rice and peas, etc., and at each table mango chutney along with salt, black and chopped Scotch bonnet peppers.

Having not seen mango chutney for so long, I wasn’t sure at first what it was. But an older cousin, who sat at our table tasted it, a smile slowly brightened his face. This tastes exactly like what my grandmother used to make, he said.

The mango chutney was equal parts sweet (from the raisins and mango), tangy (ginger and vinegar) and hot (Scotch bonnet pepper). When I added it to the curried goat, the flavors danced in my mouth.

When we were ready to leave, I noticed one of the servers packing up left over mango chutney, coconut drops, and suckling pig. I wasn’t shy about asking if I could take some of the mango chutney home.

In talking with her, I found out that her mother had made the chutney. Her mom, she said, had learned the skill from her mother. She introduced me to her mother and I thanked her for the chutney. I had it with crackers, chicken, even fish. I wished I had some now.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney
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Ingredients
  1. 6 lb. mangoes
  2. 1 1/2 bottles cane vinegar or white wine vinegar
  3. 2 pounds sugar
  4. 1 ounce Scotch bonnet peppers, minced
  5. 4 ounce ginger, diced
  6. 1 lb. dark raisins
  7. 1 lb. golden raisins
  8. 4 cloves garlic
Instructions
  1. Combine cut up mango, raisins and peppers, add to vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, onions and other seasonings. Boil all ingredients together gently until chutney is thick and brown.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
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Witch Finger Grapes, An Unusual Find

Witch Finger Grapes

The best thing about travel is discovering something new, different or unusual. This past weekend in  a small fruit and vegetable shop in Toronto, I stumbled on something both new (to me) and different – witch finger grapes. 

I hadn’t planned on buying when my friend and I stopped into the shop but as soon as I walked in, I felt a powerful urge to buy grapes. I love grapes: they’re tasty and easy to eat.

The store had the usual green and red seedless grapes. Next to them were these purple chilli pepper-looking variety. I hesitated. One of the guys in the store likely saw the puzzled look on my face. Before I could ask, he volunteered, “Those are witch fingers.”

Witch fingers? Where are they from?

I expected him to say somewhere in Ontario but he didn’t. They’re from California, he added.

California? You mean I had to come to Canada to find these California grapes?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy them – not because of the name. I wondered if they’d be sweet.
Try them, he said.

I broke a few off, rubbed them on my pants and popped them into my mouth. The juice that exploded and found its way down the back of my throat was unexpectedly, deliciously sweet. There was no question which ones I’d take.

Witch Finger Grapes are a hybrid variety that, according to specialtyproduce.com, is a cross between an American cultivar and a Mediterranean variety. I’ve been unable to find out how it got its distinctive shape or why it’s called witch fingers.

These little bundle of sweetness didn’t last till Sunday. I should have bought more than a pound.

What unusual foods have you found during your travels?

 

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Coconut Drops

Coconut Drops

At the end of a birthday dinner a few weeks ago, the servers distributed small parcels containing coconut drops. Since we’d already had dessert, I decided to take mine home but having it in my hand, I couldn’t resist breaking off a piece and slipping it into my mouth. It was so delicious – just the right balance of spices and sugar – that pretty soon, the package was empty and I was feeling a bit guilty for finishing it.

Coconut drops or just plain drops are a traditional snack that’s very popular with young and old Jamaicans. The name comes from the way that drops are made – by dropping a hot mixture of diced coconut, ginger, spices and sugar onto a flat surface, traditionally banana leaf, to cool. Of course, if you don’t have a banana leaf, a greased cookie sheet will do just fine and because you spoon the mixture, you can control the size of each drops.

Since its such a simple recipe, coconut drops is one of the snacks almost everyone knows how to make, and did I say how tasty it is? In the days before packaged snacks, like banana or plantain chips, were what students reach for, it’d be one of the treats vendors always had for sale just outside the school gate.

A few years ago, one of my friends made coconut drops but she used only about half the sugar the recipe called for. Surprisingly, less sugar didn’t compromise the flavor.

Here’s a recipe for Coconut Drops from Enid Donaldson’s The Real Taste of Jamaica.

Coconut Drops
Yields 12
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups diced coconut
  2. 1 tbsp powered ginger or 1 tsp grated root
  3. 1 tsp vanilla
  4. 1 lb brown sugar
  5. 1 pinch salt
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients adding about ½ to ¾ cup water to cook coconut. Boil about 20-30 minutes. Stir well and drop by spoonfuls onto a greased tin sheet.
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
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