Friday, October 9, 2009

Barbados - Flying fish and kangaroo

I called eleven places in a thirty mile radius of my house until I finally found the Barbados flying fish at a place called Mike’s Fish Market. It was located in the famous St. Lawrence Market in the center of the historic Old Town Toronto. According to Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides, the St. Lawrence Market is “ considered by gastronomes around the globe as one of the world’s best markets, a visit here is reason enough for food lovers to travel to Toronto.” I cannot describe to you my enormous relief when I heard the words, “Yes, we’ve got flying fish.” I was desperate to get these fish. I was ready to go to great lengths - short of flying to Barbados myself to get the dang things!

You must understand: Barbados is called, “the land of the flying fish.” These little buggers are found in its warm surrounding waters, they are depicted on coins, made into sculptures, are found in artwork, they are even a part of the official logo of the Barbados Tourism Authority for God’s sake. The Barbados national dish is flying fish. Do you get my drift here? You simply cannot go to Barbados and leave without at least tasting this fish. It would be like going to Mexico and never having a taco. It would be like going to China and not having a bowl of rice. See what I mean?

I live in a town outside of Toronto and going into the city is not the easiest thing in the world, especially if you’re going there just to pick up some fish. But as it turned out, it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. I was already going to Toronto the next day to see Meryl Streep – me and six hundred other people. My friend, Lynn, had managed to snag tickets for me and my other friend, Christa. I gladly offered to drive and packed a cooler with ice.

Before seeing Meryl we stopped at the St. Lawrence Market. It simulated the senses and made us want a market like this in our town. It had over 120 specialty shops with a huge selection of meat, fish, cheese and produce. They had a large variety of meat, including Kangaroo and camel. I bought Kangaroo burgers – not because I get off on carnivorous thrills – but in honor of Australia. When I was cooking my Austrian meal I had joked about getting kangaroo meat, and there it was! I couldn’t pass it up.

The next night I cooked our Barbados meal of flying fish and cau-cau, which, together, is the national dish. Flying fish are common to tropical waters and they are a small fish shaped like a herring. They have wings and they can fly, or glide. The wings are actually large pectoral fins that enable them to glide through the air at fast speeds. Cau-cau consists of cornmeal and okra. The dish became common in Barbados during its early colonial period. The origin of cau-cau goes back to the island’s African ancestry and was a regular meal for the slaves who were brought over from Africa to Barbados.

Barbados is a Caribbean island nation in the Western Atlantic Ocean. The original inhabitants had come from Venezuela, but had disappeared by the time the first British settlers came to the island. For over three hundred years Barbados was a colony and protectorate of the United Kingdom, and still maintains Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Colonists first cultivated tobacco and cotton, and then later, switched to sugar, which proved to be very profitable. Slaves were brought in from Africa to work on the sugar plantations. It wasn’t until 1834 that slavery was abolished in the British Empire. The island gained independence in 1966.

Barbados seems to have it together. It is one of the most developed islands in the region with a high literacy rate and a booming capital, Bridgetown. The pictures look beautiful and is said to have a very pleasant tropical climate. The beaches look lovely and coral reefs fringe the Barbados shoreline, perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. It sounds so impressive that I would like our family to consider this destination for our winter vacation.

Our Barbados meal was quite good. I encrusted the flying fish in flour, egg and cornflakes crumbs before frying them in oil. I then garnished them with lime. They were crunchy and flat and the flavor was mild but had a distinct taste. The cau-cau, however, had little flavor – a sort of filler dish – much like our bread. It was interesting to try and I’m glad I knew its history. It made for a colorful conversation at dinner about slavery.

After we ate, I fried up some kangaroo burgers – even though I was no longer hungry. The meat had de-thawed in the cooler while I was in Toronto. I felt I had no choice but to cook it up right away. So we finished our flying fish and began eating kangaroo. But I’ll tell you about that in another post.

Fried Flying Fish

1 lb flying fish
1 1/2 tsp salt
juice of large lime
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small onion
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
dash hot pepper sauce
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cornflakes crumbs
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
oil for pan frying
2 limes quartered for garnish

Season fish fillets with 1 tsp salt and lime juice and set aside for 15 minutes. Drain and pat fish dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix garlic, onion, marjoram and hot pepper sauce together. Rub mixture on fillets. Mix flour, cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper in a bowl. Dip fillets in flour, then egg, then cornflakes crumbs. Heat oil in skillet and cook fillets for 3 minutes on each side. Garnish with lime wedges and serve.

Cau Cau

4 okras
4 cups boiling water
2 cups corn meal
2 cups cold water
1 tsp salt
1 TBSP butter

Cook okras in boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes. While they are cooking, mix the cornmeal and cold water to a smooth paste. When okras are soft, lower the heat, add salt and corn meal mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes stiff.

When the mixture breaks away cleanly from the side of the saucepan, the cau-cau is ready.

Butter a bowl; turn the mixture onto it, shaking it so that it takes the shape of the bowl. The turn it out onto a serving dish, make an indentation on the top and place a knob of butter on it.

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