Flashback Friday – The Private Chef Experience in Antigua

Friday, February 5th, 2016 | Posted under Antigua

Lots of stuff that I’ve never written about. Welcome to Flashback Friday…

Our 2014 trip to Antigua was pretty significant for the TAO Family as it was the first time that Husband J’s family had been to my lovely island homeland. Being who I am, I wanted to make sure that they were able to taste some local food. In the end, we didn’t get to eat much Antiguan food, but I made sure that I’d arranged a special evening of cuisine to introduce the TAO In-Laws to local eating.

For one night, the lovely ladies of Taste’T Catering made us a meal of gourmet versions of some of my local favorites. To say that I was in heaven and this meal was exactly what I wanted is an understatement. These ladies were able to create a meal for us that was both refined yet had the down-home feel of the food I grew up eating at home and in the summers I spent in Antigua.

Here’s what they made:

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Fried Conch Fritters with Sweet and Spicy Sauce 

Everyone has their own version of conch fritters. For the uninitiated, conchs are essentially hard shelled sea creatures, and their meat is eaten throughout the Caribbean. You can find them in a spicy curry sauce or in a salad, but you will find them in the Caribbean. I liked this version’s accompanying sweet sauce that toned down the spice just a bit.

 

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Fried Cassava, Fried Sweet Potato, and Fried Plantains with Eggplant and Tomato Relish 

Cassava and fried plantain are favorites, but I would have never thought to make them crispy fried like this. We all enjoyed crunching on these before the main course.

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Baked Fillet of Red Snapper with Creole Sauce, Coconut Rice, & Steamed Vegetables with Herbs

This wasn’t the first thing I thought of when imagining local favorites but for my in-laws who didn’t have a ton of exposure to Caribbean food, I thought this dish was a great introduction. Lovely fresh from the Caribbean sea fish with enough spice (I love things even spicier than this) to make everyone happy. Also crispy fresh vegetables. I actually need to ask them for their vegetable hook up because I have problems accessing fresh vegetables when I’m in Antigua. No joke!

 

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Rum Cake or Black Cake

Black cake, as it’s called, is a favorite of mine. It’s the type of cake you eat on special occasions. During the holiday season in Antigua, if you’re invited into someone’s home for dinner, there is most likely a black cake available. Depending on the version people make, it will include bits of rum soaked dried fruits. People will soak these fruits for months to get the right level of alcohol. Hey, I’m from a place with its own national rum. What do you expect? 🙂

Antiguans call this Nu Nu Balsam Tea (a close cousin to  lemongrass?)

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I wish I could have the smell of this tea come through your computer screen because it is heavenly and relaxing. I squealed when I saw this tea, as it reminds me of nights sitting around and talking with my family while drinking tea. Many Antiguans have bushes of this herb growing in their yards. It’s common to have folks pick the herb from their yard, run to the kitchen, and drop it into their tea. My mother-in-law loved it.
In addition to being wonderful chefs and hosts, the ladies of Taste ‘T Catering were very friendly. Being the small place that it is (Antigua’s population is less than 90,000 people) one of them knew my cousin. Small world, right?!

 

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Thanks, ladies! If anyone is ever in need of a private chef experience in Antigua, I highly recommend these lovely ladies and their soulful yet refined cooking. How did  I find them? I consulted Freda Gore, a fellow Antiguan and owner of Caribbean Culinary Tours. We’ve been social media connections for a while, and I’m glad that I was able to support her business.*

Have you ever had a private chef experience at home or while traveling?

 

*I like giving Freda’s business a shout out, and yes, we paid for our meal. You know I have to write that. Thanks, U.S. FCC.

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Back Trackin’ – Cocos Hotel, Antigua

Monday, February 13th, 2012 | Posted under Antigua, Back Trackin', Hotels

For those of you in the middle of winter, this is for you. Daydream, if you will…

While I’ve written about the hotel where we stayed in Antigua this past August, Sugar Ridge, I haven’t written about the one we stayed in back in 2008 for Husband J’s first time in Antigua. Cocos Hotel is actually in the same general area as Sugar Ridge (you can see it from there actually), but it couldn’t be a more different resort.
I would say that Cocos is the exact opposite of Sugar Ridge. Sugar Ridge is modern with all of the comforts you could want with opportunities to eat high end food. Cocos is a much smaller resort with rustic rooms, and its own beach, which Sugar Ridge clearly lacks. You could honestly stay there the entire time at Cocoas and never leave, which I know is very common for many people’s trips to the Caribbean.
When I say that Cocos’ rooms are rustic, I mean it. The rooms are sparsely decorated with a bed with netting, no TVs and just a dresser and a small refrigerator. There is NO air conditioning, which at times even I wanted (I LOVE heat. Give it to me, but even I need to cool off eventually).
The bedroom (I forgot there was a fan.)

My favorite part of the room was the outdoor shower. At first, I was worried that someone might be able to see me, but I usually think “If I can see them, then they can see me.”
Since I couldn’t see anyone, I figured I was safe.

Cousin C (remember him?) testing out the outdoor shower.

Cocos is beachfront and is actually right next to a larger resort complex and beach called Jolly Harbour. It’s nice when the beach is right there.
Cocos’ beach area + Husband J’s feet

Cocos’ best feature though is the views. All of the little bungalow rooms are built into rock and have beautiful views of Ffryes Bay and the Jolly Harbour area. Unfortunately, you have to work to see it all. The walk up and down to the beach and possibly to your room is not for the faint of heart or the out of shape. It’s up a cement path that can have steep inclines in some parts. Also note that we got a room with a nice view (you can specify) because that was all they had left. 🙂
Can you see the incline in the path up from the beach?
Cousin C and Husband J ahead of me on the walk up. It’s a crazy incline, and it gets worse at some parts of the path.

When you are rewarded with a view like this, then you realize that the walk up was worth it and a good way to fit in exercise.



The bedrooms open up to a large covered balcony/verandah. I had fun taking this picture from the bed.
If you look closely, you can see the sand on my feet.

As for the food and service, it was fine. I am usually worried about the food at all-inclusives, but the food at Cocos was very good and exceeded expectations. I think because it’s a smaller resort, food isn’t going to be mass-produced as much. The staff was very friendly.

If Acari, the bartender, is still there, then you are in luck. He arranged this ridiculously delicious lobster lunch that I wrote about here for us and another couple. He made sure that I got some of the local drinks that I like when I visit Antigua, and I appreciated that so much.

Some homemade ginger beer that Acari made for me

Some things you should know:

Don’t come here if you want a happening hotel with a hopping party scene – Cocos is about relaxation, and since it’s a smaller resort there really is no bar/party happening. One time there was a steel drum/pan (as we call it in the Caribbean) group, but that was it. The resort is pretty quiet by 9pm (at least it was when we went). If you want a party, go to the neighboring Jolly Harbor or to other spots on the island.

Don’t come here if you want to be totally sequestered away on the beach. Some hotels try to patrol their beach, but Cocos does not. You’ll get folks selling their wares and services. That’s just how it is.
A necklace I bought on the beach

Don’t come here if you want luxurious rooms – The rooms were clean and comfortable with breathtaking views, but just simple. Honestly, you’ll be at the beach most of the time anyway. 🙂

Do come here for a quiet (really quiet), relaxing, beach focused vacation. Husband J was looking at these pictures as I was writing this post, and he remembers only good things about Cocos.

Me, too.

If you’ve been on a beach-y vacation, what types of resorts do you prefer? Large ones with options for dining and entertainment or smaller, quieter places? Weigh in in the comments section!

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A Recipe for Ujima on Kwanzaa Culinarians

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011 | Posted under Antigua, Cooking, Featured On, Recipe

Today is the third day of Kwanzaa. While I know that many people don’t celebrate the holiday or think it’s even a “real” holiday, I don’t believe that it should be ignored. Why? Well, I may not agree on many ideas espoused by the founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, I think he’s done a great thing here. By creating a celebration focused on principles, I think he’s adding a grounding aspect to a season that often can be filled with excess (financial or otherwise).

I was very flattered to be asked to write a piece for the Kwanzaa Culinarians site for today’s Kwanzaa principle of Ujima.
Ujima stands for Collective Work and Responsibility.

Here’s a link to my post featuring one of my favorite Antiguan dishes and a discussion of how it relates to Ujima.

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Return to Wadadli – Antiguan Food 101 (Part 2)

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 | Posted under Antigua

Hello New Followers!!

Happy Belated Independence Day to Antigua! Can you believe it’s only been 3o years of independence? That means I was born a British subject. I guess maybe that explains the Anglophilia? 😉

Just a few more bits of Antiguan food that might interest you. You can find Part 1 of Antiguan Food 101 here, in case you missed it.

Often you’ll hear Antiguans mentioning dishes such as goat “water” (sounds appetizing, I know) or even fish “water”. Water is really code name for a broth/cooking things in their juices and creating a soup. At least this is my interpretation. (Mom, if you are reading, let me know if I got this right.) I have found that goat water is really just goat cooked in a curried broth-like soup.
I got this fish water below at our hotel, Sugar Ridge. By the way, they offered lots of local dishes on their menu in the short time I was there, and I appreciated that.

chunks of white fish, okra, squash, carrots and celery in a clear broth
Since I haven’t been back to Antigua as much as I’d like in the past ten years, I did like to see the growth of beachside restaurants. I still think that all-inclusives stifle the growth of restaurants on the island resulting in higher prices for tourists and locals alike (less people leaving the resorts means less customers which means less restaurants which means high prices at the ones that do exist); but that’s just me mouthing off.
Of all of our non-resort restaurant meals, I enjoyed Turner’s Beach Bar & Grill the most. Imagine eating with view like this.

I could not resist having a lunch of curried conch (pronounced “conk”). Conch is essentially the meat found in those pretty shells you find on the beach. Well, not really, but they are actually sea snails, so imagine this being Caribbean escargot. 🙂

An actual conch shell

Here’s my curried conch from Turner’s. I was very happy to see some steamed veggies and a small side salad. Pretty plate, isn’t it?

Here’s a close up of the conch meat.
Conch can be a little chewy; but when cooked well, it should be perfectly tender as this was.

Husband J was having a burger or something, but we did share conch fritters. I guess I was in a conch mood that day.

Conch fritters are what you might think they are. Flour, eggs and milk or water are combined to make a dough. The conch is added as well as cayenne and other spices to give it some kick. The uncooked fritters are fried to a golden brown color with the outside being crispy and the inside usually a little chewy.

Close up of the conch fritter

Even with these two posts, I haven’t even scraped the surface of what’s eaten in Antigua (there’s so much more to talk about). Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about Antigua’s local cuisine and that you’ll seek out some local food on your (next) trip to the Caribbean.

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Antiguan Food 101 (Part 1)

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 | Posted under Antigua, Video

I often get asked, “What is Antiguan food like?” I can only speak about Antigua because that’s the island that I know best, but the short and simple answer is that it’s a little complicated.
I also can’t say that there are too many things that are completely and totally Antiguan. Due to proximity to other islands and immigration, Antiguans eat many of the same dishes that people in other English-speaking Caribbean islands do. Often you’ll have dishes that are eaten on a different island, but there are small variations to the recipe; OR, even more confusing, they just have different names. For example, what some in Barbados call cou cou (or sometimes spelled coo coo), a boiled cornmeal dish that is a personal favorite of mine, Antiguans call fungee (pronounced fuhn-jee). Saying that there is a distinct Antiguan cuisine can be a little tricky.
My Mom’s fungee (the big yellow ball) with spinach, eggplant, okra and saltfish (more on that below)

After walking around Nelson’s Dockyard, Husband J, Cousin C and I were super hungry. Cousin C had mentioned that he knew the proprietor of a roadside food stall we’d passed. I was ready to have my first Antiguan food since I’d arrived. A big shout and thank you to Miss Brenda!
Miss Brenda’s stall
When I saw the menu, I marveled at how extensive it was. Miss Brenda was offering all of Antigua’s greatest hits on one menu.

Starting reading the menu with me from the top, and I’ll describe some things for you.

Macaroni pie – That’s essentially baked macaroni and cheese. I have to admit it was new for me to hear it described that way. We just called it macaroni and cheese growing up.

Here’s my Mom’s mac and cheese from last year’s Thanksgiving:


Rice and peas – I think I’ve mentioned before that I barely ever ate plain, white rice growing up. There was always some type of bean or peas, as we’d called them, thrown into the mix. Usually the beans were red kidney beans or pigeon peas (aka gandules). I don’t make rice and peas as much as I should now. I am bad at making rice. 🙁 **hanging head in shame and handing over my Caribbean Person Card for repossession**

Pepper Pot is a stew that is found in other parts of the Caribbean (Anguilla and Guyana come to mind). I can say that it’s a hodgpodge of ingredients like spinach, okra, bits of beef, callaloo leaves, pork, eggplant and others elements. I haven’t had pepper pot in years. Mom? 🙂
Here’s some pepperpot stewing.

Pepper pot and fungee are actually the national dish of Antigua. That’s funny to me since I’ve never had these both together. 🙂
My lunch for the day was ducuna and ling fish with veggies.
Ducuna, ling fish,eggplant, boiled green banana (we don’t fry these), boiled ripe plantain
If you’d like to hear me describe my lunch, check out this video. For some reason I’m having problems embedding video right now. 🙁
The sweetness of the ducuna (which is made of grated sweet potato, sugar, coconut, spice with optional raisins) is a really great counterpoint to the saltiness of the fish. Salted fish, which is often cod or sometimes pollock, is a fairly common part of meals. You may have heard it referred to as bacalao as well. Hearing about ling fish was new to me. It’s in the same family as cod but just fleshier and thicker. It’s often eaten with fungee or with a mix of veggies like eggplant and spinach with bread. The latter is considered a traditional Antiguan Sunday morning breakfast. Ducuna is not exclusive to Antigua either. I believe that this is native to at least St. Kitts and Anguilla and a few other islands.

Husband J likes much of the Antiguan food that he’s tried, but I wasn’t sure if he was ready for some of these dishes. 🙂 I ordered him some stewed lamb with sides.


Again, not uniquely Antiguan but fairly common. Caribbean stews like this one are made by marinating the protein in onion, garlic, occasionally tomatoes and other spices. It’s lightly fried, stock is added and then simmered. Good stuff.
So there is a brief introduction to Antiguan food, and there is more to come.
Notice how Miss Brenda doesn’t give small portions. I think it helped that Cousin C knows her grandson and son-in-law well. 🙂

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