Monday, August 02, 2004

#3 Food

Is 25 too old to go on holiday with your family? While I'm asking questions, here's an unrelated one: is it just the trip to Mexico or is On The Road truly better appreciated away from home? I ask the first question as a tangent to the phrase I initially wanted to begin this post with.

One of the main reasons to look forward to going to Martinique is the food. I'm not a seafood fan, so there will be no discussion of crabs, lobsters, sea urchins or the like.

Let's start with the basics. Red beans, possibly with rice, preferably with manioc flour. Because the flour is in some senses tastier than the rice, but also because obtaining exactly the right beans-to-sauce-to-flour ratio adds a bit of artistry to the dish. This can be accompanied by yams and dachines. The two are almost always together, I think for aesthetic (the former are grey and generally cut into rough pentagons or hexagons, the latter yellow and more small potato-shaped) and textural (yams are crumbly, dachines a bit buttery) reasons. And why not throw some breadfruit in there too. Cod (but I prefer the French word morue) or meat completes the dish.

Boudin. Blood, guts and the pepper. It's only when I arrived in Europe that I discovered that people considered black sausage a bit disgusting. Perhaps, but maybe their's isn't as good as ours? Squeeze out the boiled blood with a fork, scoop it onto a piece of bread or mix it with something else on your plate (rare, as it's mostly eaten as an entré), swallow. Another top entré: marinades, also known as accras, small balls of batter mixed with cod and fired to be slightly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.

There are lots of great dishes, quiches and other delicacies, but let's skip to dessert and pastries. Chocolat et pain au beurre. Chocolate and butter-bread. Might not sound like much, but those 5 words have almost magical powers. Both homemade, the chocolate reminds you that Nesquik is an ersatz. Thick and dark, with a thin skin of milk forming on top after a while. My mother's has a heavy dose of peanut butter, others' vary. The bread is traditionally braided into a large empty square, with intricate "flowers" at each corner. Most people simply dip the bread into the chocolate, I put mine in and push all the air out with a spoon, for maximum soakage.

Banana jam is the best jam in the world. It's a counter-intuitive red. Goyava jam isn't bad either, pink and drier. Both can be found in the corresponding pâtés. There are many others, coconut-based for example, but alongside chocolate, my favourite desert is flan coco. When my mother made this, there were always two: a smooth one in the deep round mold with a hole in the middle and a grainy one in the shallow, no-hole mold. When we moved to France and I first saw flan listed as desert at the shcool cafeteria, I got excited. I all-too-quickly discovered that the French had a different - and passably disgusting - conception of flan: flan au caramel. I couldn't eat more than a spoonful or two of the stuff. I've come to accept the idea, but there's still only one real flan.