St. Lucia cuisine, seafood Fridays and rum festivals
Heavily influenced by West African, British, French and East Indian cuisines, the flavourful gastronomy of St Lucia is a treat you won’t want to miss out on. Stews, soups and pies are regularly made here and accompanied by fresh vegetables which are produced on the island. The influence East India had on the island’s cuisine created a number of unique curries and due to the ingredients available in St Lucia, most of the curries have a distinct Caribbean twist to them.
Thanks to the island’s fertile volcanic soil, there is an almost never-ending supply of top-quality fruit and vegetables available all-year-round. Some of the most popular fruits include mangos, avocados, bananas, coconuts, papayas and pineapples. These fruits are often enjoyed as a dessert on their own or are sometimes incorporated into both sweet and savoury dishes. Common vegetables include aubergines, courgettes, dasheen, Irish potatoes and the confusingly-named breadfruit which is similar to a potato.
The waters surrounding the island mean that there is always a superb supply of fresh fish and seafood available on St Lucia, with tuna, mahi mahi, snapper, dorado, crab and lobster appearing on almost every menu throughout the island. Whilst fish is the most common protein eaten by locals, meat is still readily available and comes in the form of chicken, beef, pork and lamb.
The importance of bananas
Most of the bananas found in supermarkets in the UK today come from St Lucia, but it hasn’t always been like that. In the 1960s, 80% of the island’s income was generated from banana exports to the UK, but by 2000 St Lucia couldn’t compete with the “dollar” bananas available from South American plantations and it looked like their exporting industry was coming to an close.
Fast forward a few years and the banana has since become a way of life in St Lucia. Almost every type of St Lucian banana now commands a premium price and supermarkets throughout Europe are queuing up for them. The money made from banana exporting in St Lucia goes toward funding run-down schools and farmers are eagerly repairing their banana sheds, shocked at the turn around in fortune.
The huge growth in St Lucian banana popularity is largely thanks to the public’s preference for ethical trading and supermarkets’ commitment to giving their customers what they want. In 2007 almost 75% of all of all the bananas in St Lucia were found on the shelves of the popular UK supermarket Sainsbury’s.
Traditional St Lucian dishes
Green fig and saltfish
The national dish of St Lucia is green fig and saltfish. Instead of the small, round fruit with a red centre as we know it, ‘green fig’ in St Lucia refers to unripe green bananas. A traditional comfort dish made of salted cod cooked alongside cabbage, bananas, tomatoes, chilli peppers, onions and garlic, green fig and saltfish is a dish that anyone can enjoy.
Although the thought of using bananas – and unripe green bananas nevertheless – in a savoury dish might sound unappealing, it works. Unripe bananas aren’t sweet and taste more like potatoes than the yellow ripe bananas we’re used to, which is why they work so well in this savoury dish. Whilst you’ll find green fig and saltfish available for lunch and dinner throughout St Lucia, it’s also popular breakfast dish.
Usually served as a starter at local restaurants in St Lucia, accras are flaked fish – usually cod – combined with herbs and pepper, rolled into the shape of a ball, battered and deep-fried – somewhat like a fishcake. But instead of chips and mushy peas, this St Lucian speciality is served with a hot pepper sauce and locally-produced black pudding. Accras are normally regarded as a treat and are reserved for festivals and special occasions.
Just like it is in Grenada, callaloo is a popular vegetable used throughout St Lucia in soup. This green leafy vegetable looks very similar to rhubarb although the taste couldn’t be more different. Callaloo comes from the taro plant and is often used in place of kale or spinach to add an almost smoky flavour to fish and seafood dishes.
Most Callaloo soups in St Lucia are made using callaloo mixed with mashed dasheen (the root of the taro plant) which creates a thick and green soup base which tastes fantastic despite its marsh-like appearance. Seafood and fish, such as crab and snapper, are usually added to the soup for extra flavour and texture.
Floats and bakes
In St Lucia ‘bakes’ refers to a type of bread which is made from plain flour dough and baked. When the bread is baked it’s very similar to an English muffin – savoury, chewy and wonderfully satisfying. Bakes can be eaten on their own as a snack or filled with salad, cheese, meat or fish to create a sandwich. They can even be eaten in the mornings with sugar and jam like a baked donut.
When the dough is deep-fried, it’s known as a ‘float’. One of the most popular variations of a float is the Shark & Bake which is a combination of fish and stewed vegetables which are layered into the float and eaten as a sandwich. Similar dishes are available on other Caribbean islands, but none standout quite as much as the St Lucian version.
Pouille Dudon is a St Lucian speciality which is too good to miss out on. This hearty stew is made of chicken and flavoured with treacle and coconut. Although it might sound unusual, this is another popular Caribbean dish that just works – think of it as the West Indian version of sweet and sour chicken.
One of the latest additions to St Lucian cuisine is the roti – an Indian flatbread which is regularly imported from Trinidad and Tobago. Instead of being served alongside a curry like it is in India, rotis in St Lucia are a type of fast food and are wrapped around curried chickpeas, vegetables or meat to create a quick and easy portable snack.
Thanks to the huge quantity of quality bananas available all across the island, banana cake is probably the most popular dessert in St Lucia. Made from all the usual cake ingredients, such as flour, sugar, eggs and oil, this cake also incorporates mashed bananas, chopped pineapple, orange juice and walnuts to create an exotic dessert perfect for rounding off your meal.
St Lucian food in festivals
The Rum and Food Festival
The Food and Rum Festival is one of the most popular celebrations in St Lucia. If you visit the island when the festival is being held – the date seems to change each time – make sure you stop by. Whether you’re a foodie or not you’ll find yourself in epicurean heaven, surrounded by top-quality locally-sourced food and drinks wherever you turn.
Held every year, the Food and Rum Festival attracts local and international chefs alike who travel to the venue to raise awareness about the diversity of Caribbean cuisine and the excellence of Caribbean rum. This foodie fair isn’t just for professional chefs – food magazine editors, restaurant reviewers, rum connoisseurs and people in search of some decent food and drink all travel to the festival from across the globe to experience everything it has to offer.
Most Food and Rum Festivals include cooking demonstrations from chefs, rum tastings, demonstration kitchens and culinary shops, as well as live musical performances from a number of local and international bands.
Fish and seafood lovers won’t want to miss the chance to take part in Seafood Friday – a fish fry held throughout the streets of Gros Islet in the north of St Lucia and Anse la Raye on the west coast each week. Visitors to a fish fry are served up the very best local fish the island has to offer, all in a friendly and casual atmosphere. The cooking is done on barbecues out in the street and you can wander from barbecue to barbecue, trying all different sorts of fish and seafood for very affordable prices.
Green fig and saltfish recipe
Green fig and saltfish is the national dish of St Lucia and can be found in local restaurants all across the island. This comforting meal is simple to create and is made of salted fish which is cooked alongside a handful of vegetables and flavourings. Whilst all the ingredients are fairly easy to get a hold of in your local supermarket, there are substitutions listed in brackets just in case you can’t find what you’re looking for.
This recipe takes 35 minutes to prepare, 20 minutes to cook and serves four as a starter or two as a main meal.
225g salted cod or any other white fish
1 tablespoon of coconut oil for frying (if you don’t have coconut oil, olive oil works just as well)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 small chilli pepper, chopped (if you don’t like spicy food, make sure you remove the seeds)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
2 spring onions, cleaned and sliced
½ head of cabbage, shredded
3 tomatoes, diced and with seeds removed
2 drops of Tabasco (leave this out if you don’t like spicy food)
2 green bananas
1 handful of fresh coriander (if you’re not a fan of coriander, parsley is a great substitute)
1. First prepare the salted fish by rising off the excess salt. Place the fish into a saucepan and cover it with water. Bring the water to the boil and then drain. Repeat this process 2-3 times until the water is not salty any more. Remove the skin and bones from the fish and flake the flesh using a fork
2. Prepare the green bananas by cooking them in boiling water with their skins on until tender. When the skins have split, drain the water and remove the bananas from the saucepan. Peel the bananas, dice them into small chunks and leave them to one side
3. Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onion, chilli pepper and garlic until soft and fragrant – around ten minutes. Toss in the spring onions and stir well
4. Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in the flaked fish. Add in the cabbage, tomatoes, chilli pepper, bananas and stir again until everything is well incorporated. Leave to cook for another ten minutes
5. When you’re ready to serve, spoon the dish onto a plate and sprinkle with fresh coriander
Article written by Nicola Quinn.