Friday, November 21, 2014

Eating Like The Locals In Saint Lucia

Some of the joys of traveling to a foreign country are for the opportunities to learn about the area's culture, visit historical places, eat local foods, see local crafts and meet the people.

St. Lucia Cathedral in Castries
Saint Lucia Cathedral in Castries, largest in the Caribbean

Beach and Ocean view from the Windjammer in St. Lucia
View from the Windjammer resort

St. Lucia is a volcanic island, very lush with plenty of sunshine, rain and nice tropical temperatures. The conditions are perfect to grow all sorts of fruit bearing trees and a variety of produce, as our island tour driver said if you go hungry in St. Lucia it is because you are lazy. On our island tour we could see trees full of fruit everywhere we looked and it seemed as if every family had their own garden, too.

View of the Pitons - Saint Lucia
View of the Pitons


Banana trees in a home garden - St Lucia
A typical home garden 

What do St. Lucian's eat?

Let me start by saying that I loved it all but I would because I love starchy foods, the more carbs the food has the more my taste buds like it and that is not necessarily good for me or my waistline. St. Lucian food is tasty, filling and many of them rich in carbohydrates but I was on vacation so I had to try them.

The list of fruits and foods St. Lucian's grow and eat is almost endless, including: bananas, fish, cassava bread, coconut water, soursop, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, and guava.

Local fruit vendor in St. Lucia

Bananas

I love bananas of all sorts and types but did you know there are over 1,000 types of bananas in the world! Bananas are divided into two types: bananas you can eat right away called dessert bananas such as the yellow bunch you buy at the grocery store, and those needing cooking before eating such as plantains.

St. Lucia grows 6 different varieties of bananas. There are banana fields and banana trees growing all over the island, it's no wonder Saint Lucia is a leading exporter of bananas in the Caribbean.

Banana trees in a Saint Lucia plantation
Banana plantation in Saint Lucia

Traveling along small roads in St. Lucia you will find many roadside stands selling fruits, homemade goods and local crafts. At one such place we stopped to buy a few bananas and learned a few facts about them. One fact became rather obvious after the first bite: they were very sweet and delicious. I learned that allowing the bananas to fully ripen while still on the plant gives them the most flavor and sweetness. Unfortunately for the rest of the world to enjoy bananas means picking them not fully ripe so they can make the journey to their final destination. Bananas at our stores will never taste as good or as sweet as the bananas found in St. Lucia.

With so many banana fields, it is no wonder green figs and salt fish is the national dish of St. Lucia. Green figs are actually unripe bananas. They are harder and taste more like potatoes with no noticeable banana flavor.

Green figs and Fish - typical dish in Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia's national dish, Green Figs and Salt Fish.

Green figs and salt fish is a hardy and filling meal eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We had it for lunch at the Castries market from one of several local vendors and sure enough it was full of flavor and filling. The dish comes with a variety of sides such as rice and others that I could not really tell what they were but I can say were savory. The fish that day was dolphin cooked with their local fish spice that tasted very good and fresh.

Local diner in Castries, St. Lucia
Local diner in Castries market, Saint Lucia


What else do Saint Lucian's do with bananas?


They make banana ketchup! It may sound strange but is actually tasty.

Here are some interesting historical facts about Ketchup:
  • Most people associate ketchup to mean "tomato ketchup".
  • Originally ketchup was made without tomatoes.
  • Ketchup may have started in Asia, or China or Indonesia. It was mostly a prickly fish sauce, not vinegary, more like a soy sauce.
  • Later the word ketchup meant a condiment sauce made primarily with vinegar bought in a bottle. 
  • Early types of ketchup were walnut ketchup and mushroom ketchup.
  • The first instance of tomato ketchup made from tomatoes was in Maine in 1814.
  • The word ketchup went through several word transformations, some of the previous names were: kechap manis, ketsiap, catsup, but in 1711 it became "ketchup".
  • In 1872 Heinz introduced their tomato ketchup at the Philadelphia Fair.
And as they say, the rest is history.

St. Lucia's banana ketchup has no artificial color or additives, is made completely from bananas with sugar, vinegar and local spices that give it a delightful Caribbean flavor. The most popular brand is Baron Banana Ketchup introduced at the 2013 international food industry competition placing in the top 5 in originality and quality.

Local Fish in Saint Lucia

If you like and enjoy fish then St. Lucia is the place for you. Our island tour took us through two fishing villages, Anse la Raye and Canaries. Both were charming and quaint even in the rain which caught up with us for a while.

Fishing village in Castries, Saint Lucia


Fishing village canoes floating in the ocean, Saint Lucia
Fishing canoes at the end of the day - St Lucia fishing village

The highlight was stopping at a local make-shift fish market where local fishermen were selling their catch. We browsed through the choices and after making our selection, for an extra 50 cents our fish were cleaned, ready for cooking back at our place.

Today's catch at a local fish village - Saint Lucia

Local fisherman cleaning today's catch - Saint Lucia
Fisherman cleaning our fish

We also stopped at a small local restaurant and ordered lunch-to-go of Green Figs and Fish. After snorkeling at Anse Chastanet, we ate our delicious lunch under palm trees and beautiful views. I highly recommend it.

Beach at Anse Chastanet, Saint Lucia
Anse Chastanet beach area


View from the beach at Anse Chastanet
View from the beach at Anse Chastanet

Eating like the locals in St. Lucia was a wonderful experience but I concluded one week is not enough time to sample all the variety of foods and fish available. I guess I need to go back and I hope you go as well, it is a beautiful place.

For suggestions on what to do, look at my post 5 things to do in St. Lucia.

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Wishing you all Happy Travels in your neighborhood.

Monday, November 10, 2014

5 Things To Do in St. Lucia

Saint Lucia is a great Caribbean island to visit if you can put up with a few things: mosquitoes, driving on the left side of the road, and hilly narrow roads. However, the mosquitoes are the worst, it almost ruined my vacation. I found the mosquito problem was shared by many visitors with some bites showing signs of infection.

View of St. Lucia and surrounding ocean

St. Lucia is a volcanic island, quite lush and very green. We experienced downpours that lasted no more than an hour. The rivers of water gushing through the streets were phenomenal.

Saint Lucia Pitons
Saint Lucia Pitons


Saint Lucia History

Caribbean map

The French and the British over the years colonized the island, exchanging ownership between the two countries 14 different times. In 1979 Saint Lucia gained its full independence from Britain, in that same year it became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations which has its advantages and disadvantages. Most of the population is Catholic and speak English, however, amongst themselves the local people prefer to speak Patois, a Creole version of French.

Saint Lucia main source of income has changed through the years from sugar to bananas and now tourism.

A waterfall in St. Lucia


Here are my top 5 things to do in St. Lucia

1.   Visit the Castries Market

Castries is the capital of Saint Lucia. It is a walkable tropical town and rather modern that is probably the result of being totally destroyed by fires four times. Downtown Castries has a center square (Derek Walcott Square) surrounded by colorful colonial buildings, the main Cathedral, the Public Library and a 400-year old Samaan tree, locally known as the Massav tree.

Not far from the main square is the local market which opened in 1894 in its current location. It is quite large and you can find almost anything from the local crafts to the bizarre to the interesting.

Castries Market in St. Lucia
Castries Market in St. Lucia

Display of crafts at Castries market
Crafts at one of the vendor stalls at the Castries Market

While at the market, I picked up a couple of bottles of banana ketchup, which sounds strange but is quite good. I also picked up a bird feeder and fruits and vegetables to cook back at our place. We also picked up a few spices including their local fish spice that is superb, which we are enjoying now back at home. I wish I had brought more of it. As with most markets, you need to bring cash, they take US dollars. The best part about our time at the market was eating lunch from a small vendor, it was yummy (!) but it requires a whole new post (in process) St. Lucia Local Foods and Crafts.

Local child in St. Lucia
A local child who wanted me to have a picture taken with him


2.   Visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Through all my travels I can say I have seen my share of pretty churches but this one was just gorgeous. The church was built in 1897 by the French. It is the largest Cathedral in the Caribbean. 

Immaculate Conception Cathedral in St. Lucia

What I enjoyed the most was the colors. The entire inside of the church is decorated in yellow, red and green rich tones with beautiful murals done by St. Lucian artist Dunstan St. Omer. The religious images on the walls show the influence of the African and Caribbean heritage of the area.

Inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral


Religious paint

While the inside of the church was not air conditioned, it was cool enough for us to spend time admiring and taking in the peace and calm ambiance.

Indoor view of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in St. Lucia

The Cathedral is at one of the corners of the main center square (Derek Walcott Square), on the opposite side is the Main Library, a short walk away. The library is small and despite of not having air conditioning, the reading room was very well occupied.

Main Library in Castries, St. Lucia
The Main Library in Castries, St. Lucia

The 400-year old Samaan tree at the center of the main square still looks quite healthy. The trunk base is quite large. The center square is named after Derek Walcott, a native Saint Lucian playwright who in 1992 won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Derek Walcott Square in Castries, St. Lucia


3.   Go Snorkeling

Snorkeling is something we do whenever we get a chance. In my pre-trip reading, I read Anse Chastanet was the best place for snorkeling in the island so we had to check it out.

Snorkeling in Anse Chastanet, a young marine reserve.

Anse Chastanet beach


Anse Chastanet beach

 Anse Chastanet offers good snorkeling because it is a protected marine area. A reserve since 1995, it has some very unique coral and beautiful, colorful fish. We saw eels, vase sponges, sea fans, needle fish, squids and sea horses. The reef is just offshore allowing us to swim to it right from the beach and is about 20 - 140 feet deep which allows you great visibility of the marine life.

Anse Chastanet beach

The water is clear, warm, and calm. The volcanic beach is very nice. The beach facilities include a scuba rental facility, a restaurant, restrooms and very nice tall coconut trees for shade.

Snorkeling in Reduit Beach

Reduit Beach is on the northwest coast of the island. Our resort had a complimentary snorkeling trip to Reduit Beach, so we went. The water was mostly clear, but quite choppy from the passing boats in the area. The marine life was not as abundant as in Anse Chastanet. The views of the island and our resort, Windjammer landing, on our way to and back from snorkeling, were wonderful.

View of Windjammer Landing Resort from the ocean
View of the Windjammer Landing Resort


4.   Tour the Rhythm of Rum Distillery 

I am not an expert on rum but ever since our trip to the Cayman Islands, I enjoy good rum when I am close to a good source. Saint Lucia produces its own rum in Roseau Valley so taking a tour of the distillery was a must for me once on the island. I suggest you take the tour early in your St. Lucia vacation so you get a chance to taste many of the home produced rums and buy them at factory prices to drink and to take back home.



Rum process by-products
Touring the Rum Distillery in St. Lucia

The Rhythm of Rum Distillery Tour costs $14USD and that includes the tour plus the tasting and payment is in cash. The tour itself could be better but you do learn how rum is produced and its history. The tour starts in a room where you watch a recording of the history of rum on the island and then there is a walking tour of the distillery. The best part is the tasting at the end of the tour, it is basically an ALL-you-can-drink rum area. A variety of rums from the highly alcoholic to the flavored types are set out for you to serve yourself. There were at least 25 different bottles of rum available for tasting. I will be writing a post on just rum, Rum is Not Just For Pirates.



5. Go on a Customized Tour of the Island

Whether you rent a car or not, doing a tour of the West side of the island is a must. We did not rent a car and I was happy about that, driving on this island means maneuvering tight hilly roads and sometimes not very well paved. Instead, I opted to hire a touring company with a private driver to take us on a customized tour lasting about 9 hours, and it was the best thing we did. 
There are many local touring companies and you can expect to pay (cash) $200 - $250 USD but it is well worth it. I hired Fabian tours and Curtis our driver was very knowledgeable about his island history, people, vegetation and flavors. He was a very good driver with a great personality. 

Photo of people against the Pitons, St. Lucia
Curtis, our private driver in St. Lucia during our tour of the island

In our tour we stopped at Mount Fortune, the Rum Distillery for a tour and tasting, stopped at a banana plantation shack to eat bananas, drove through fishing villages, visited a waterfall, visited Marigot Bay, stopped to take photos against the Pitons, stopped to snorkel in Anse Chastanet, visited a small local craft gallery, stopped to get several local fruits (coconut, soursop, papayas and mangoes), visited a small local store making cassava bread which was to die for, and bought fish from a local fisherman, the best ever! To see more pictures and information read my upcoming post, St. Lucia Local Foods and Crafts. 

View of the ocean from a villa at the Windjammer Landing, St. Lucia
The view from our patio at the Windjammer Landing Resort, St. Lucia


All in all Saint Lucia is a fun Caribbean island to visit but the mosquito problem could hold me back from visiting again anytime soon plus the fact that I have a few other Caribbean islands yet to see. So the question is where to go next? Any suggestions? Which is your favorite island?

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Wishing you all, Fabulous Travels.