Is Grenada losing its food culture? This is a reasonable question in the context of the country’s cultural preservation and tourism product.
Before the mega supermarkets and American branded fast food chains, Grenadian food culture very much followed a farm to table paradigm rooted in subsistence farming.
Throughout the country, family owned farms that were planted with assorted vegetables such as corn, peas, okra, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs (a tradition that goes back to slavery times), produced fresh, high quality foods that came to define Grenadian cooking. With the raising of live stock, fishing, and a favorable environment for the growth of some of the world most delicious fruits (guava, plums, mangoes, bananas, papaya, soursop, tamarind, sugar apples, passion fruits, sapodilla, etc.), Grenada, though monetarily poor, has always been food rich.
Void of fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified anything, Grenadians were eating organically long before “organic” became chic.
Like its people, Grenadian food very much reflects the influences of the many cultures that define its history. In some cases, in one dish the whole melange, from African to French to Spanish to Carib and East Indian, may be represented. This might happen as a result of ingredient, spice or technique.
For example, a dish of cou-cou or rice and peas with stewed chicken is very much indicative of the confluence of cultures that define Grenadian-ness. Both cou-cou and rice and peas have origins in Africa. Grenadian cou-cou derives from the West African dish Fufu and rice and peas, long a staple of the West African diet, comes from Waakey or Waatchi, a dish popular in countries like Ghana and Nigeria.
The stewed chicken that accompanies cou-cou or rice and peas clearly illustrates the amalgam of French, African, East and West Indian influences on Grenadian cooking. The browning of chicken parts, the use of flour to add body, and the reduction of a liquid stock to extract peak flavour, very much point to the conjunction of French and African cooking techniques, while the use of aromatic spices such as cloves, allspice, bay leaf, and curry and hot pepper, ties in the East and West Indian seasonings.
It is, therefore, extremely disappointing to find see little evidence of this rich food heritage in today’s Grenada. Unlike many countries strongly identified with food (Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, France, Spain, Italy, China, The Middle East), the demonstration of Grenada’s food culture is not presented by an abundance of food stalls, cafes, or restaurants. While markets in the major towns sell raw products (fruits, vegetables, fish, spices, roll cocoa, etc.) produced in Grenada, finding places to sample authentic local dishes can be quite frustrating.
The culture of cheap, delicious street food that acts as a gateway to the cuisines of the above
mentioned countries, is sadly missing in Grenada. In these countries, residents and visitors alike are able to quickly access local delicacies through food carts and small sidewalk cafes, offering up sweet and savory samplings.
In France it is the crêpe stand, in the Middle East it is falafel and shawarma, in China it is dumplings, and in Italy, espresso and gelato offerings.
In Mexico, for example, residents and visitors alike have astonishing access to local foods through the many street vendors selling burritos, quesadillas, tamalis, and tacos. It is estimated that an astounding 560,000 street vendors exists in Mexico City – a 8:1 ratio of residents to vendor.
These street food vendors, along with small cafes, offer a valuable low-cost service to workers and tourists, promoting the food culture of a place and helping to maintain its food traditions.
For Grenada, street food vendors can act as the vehicle through which the flavors of many of the food products created in the country can be sampled.
In the traditional foods that define Grenadian cooking, there are many dishes that can easily be implemented as a food cart item. As in New York City, carts selling warm bakes and hot cocoa tea could come to be just as integral to the lives of Grenadians as are NYC’s bagel and coffee carts. Likewise, offerings like rice and peas and stewed chicken, or rolled cou-cou or rolled rice and peas soup, and cow heal soup can easily be converted to street food. How about grilled, ripe breadfruit on a stick? Roti, of course, is a given.
The same is possible with baked goods. Carts could sell coconut tarts, coconut drops, raisin
buns, coconut macaroons, and pound cake. While a vendor can load up with a wide assortment of options, a cart specializing in a single item and concentrating on product excellence, can find comparable success to multi-offering vendors.
And there are wonderful drink options, other than soda, that would complement either a sweet or savory choice that can be added to menus. Among these are: sorrel, sea moss, ginger beer, and mauby. In addition, hot drinks such as cocoa and “bush” tea can be adapted to iced drinks.
Beyond the promotion of Grenadian heritage and culture, the absence or paltry existence of food stalls and street carts selling prepared foods is a substantial untapped economy for Grenada. Because street food enterprises are generally small in size, require relatively simple skills, basic facilities, and small amounts of capital, they hold tremendous potential for generating income and employment.
Currently, rolled cocoa is sold, on average, for ~EC$10 for a bag of 4 rolls by many vendors at the different markets in Grenada. But a food vendor who uses one roll to make cocoa tea, has the potential to generate, at a minimum, 10 cups of tea that can be sold at no less than EC$2.00 per cup. This demonstrates the revenue generation that can come from developing avenues, like street food enterprises, for local and visitor consumption of processed Grenadian raw products.
Besides the obvious tourist spots (Grand Anse Beach and the Crusie Ship Terminal), effective implementation of food carts in Grenada would bring them to other popular locations. While areas like the Cruise Ship Terminal can support greater concentration of carts and stalls, implementation at bus stops, government buildings, schools, historic sites and beaches are places where single or multiple food cart operations can thrive.
The ferry dock on the Carenage is an example of an area that can support and benefit from the installation of food carts. For passengers queuing to board the morning boat (many of whom are hungry from long plane flights into Grenada or have rushed to the boat without breakfast), a few carts or stalls with assorted food offerings would be a welcome option.
Grenada is a country with a rich food history. That history should not be obscured by pizza, burgers, baked macaroni, or Subway sandwiches, but celebrated with food traditional to the country.
Given that the majority of restaurants in the country are the result of non-native investors catering to tourists, it is understandable menus more often reflect New Orleans than Grenada or the Caribbean. After all, these are individuals who are, for the most part, culturally removed from Grenadian cuisine.
It is also true that few locals have the kind of investment capital or business knowledge needed to establish and run a large food operation. The effective implementation of street food enterprises- with a focus on sanitation, esthetics, and business management- can create a pathway for greater participation in Grenada’s food service and hospitality economy by local entrepreneurs, while promoting and maintaining Grenada’s rich food heritage.