Is Grenada losing its food culture?

Fried Bakes with Eggs and Grenadian Cocoa Cappuccino

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 West Africa, with cou-cou deriving from Fufu and rice and peas coming from Waakey or Waatchi, long a staple and popular dish 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.   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

Fried Sweets – Photo: Enrique Alie

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 to 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

Doughnut Cart in Sukhothai, Thailand – Photo: Enrique Alie

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.

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6 thoughts on “Is Grenada losing its food culture?

  1. “Is Grenada losing its food culture? | Grenada
    Action Forum” was indeed a terrific post and therefore I personally was pretty glad to come
    across it. Many thanks,Hong

  2. When visitors travel to Grenada, they are looking forward to sampling some of our local dishes. In my encounter with tourist, one of the first things they will ask me is “where can I find local food” .If they are from the U.S eg. they are not as interested in hot dogs as they will be in a nice local dish. How about our Rice and Peas with stewed fish or our fish with bananas, breadfruit and yam etc ,a little of everything. They will take the good news back to their countries.Let us welcome them with our palatable dishes and a very pleasant smile. .

  3. We need to know more of who we are as a people, our culture, our history, where are we going and where we came from. Grenada is a green island, full of natural food, but if you do not know your history, how can you know your foods. We need to look at our home grown products with pride, Tanya log a natural cereal, top with honey, top with local fruit, or molasses. with many health benefits, Tanya soup top with fresh parsley and cream, fried Tanya chips, cream Tanya with lamb stew, baked Tanya in jacket, pickle Tanya eddoes. and this is just Tanya as a veg, be proud of who we are as a people be proud of our foods, our ancestors, our culture, There is no where in the world better than where I came from, there is no food greater than my food (100% natural) I am a CARICOM woman, we have a culture of making fruit wines at xmas, why are we not promoting this as a part of the xmas festivities-wine tasting fest. Why???? because we prefer to hold on to a negative sub-culture which is killing us daily, Know your HISTORY.

  4. Great insight about an unfortunate reality, hope it ignites at least a handful of Grenadians in Grenada and some of us abroad to recognize the huge opportunity for creativity to develop and implement a comeback to link and sustain our historic and organic food culture. It was not by accident, as we reflect one will have to agree that this happened by design and of course the same has happened to our history, health, wealth, music, storytelling etc. Due to self serving and inside the box vision our socio-economic model has produced the unwelcomed outcome. We have put very little effort and investment in developing the natural foods and other resources God has blessed us with, in so the efforts has been to export some of our products and buy back by-products again and again. Only open box vision solution(s) can address this matter so it impact is felt community by community. So imagine within the next 12 months each parish develop a unique local food product offering that’s promoted to the locals and tourist alike on several grenadian websites, social media, television, radio etc; then there will be seven (7) more than today. Visitors will be receive the experience and will be singing the praises of our foods empowered with our spices and techniques. God help us.

  5. I just came from an amazing vacation in Grenada, beautiful island and wonderful people. My husband and I travel quite a bit and love experiencing new cultures and their cuisines and we did find it disappointing that it was hard to find local cuisine aside from the fish fry and lambi. If you know of anyone revitalizing the cuisine please let us know as we do plan to return and also have a family member studying at SGU.

  6. I love your article! It’s ashamed that when you go home the item on the menu for my people is fast foods not good!We should never forget the good flavors of our Island that we grew up with, I can’t give my daughter born and raised in the United States fried bakes and scramble eggs, no way! It must to be fried bakes,saltfish souse, boiled eggs and to top it off cocoa tea to dip the bakes into. We’ve learned from the best old school.As I read your article I feel like moving back home and showing them what home cooking is all about,other cultures do it so why can’t we.You have some very good points and ideas I wish I was living at home, may be I can pass along some of your tips.

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