Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels. One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine. There is nothing better. Authentic, informative and delicious. So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.
We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through
Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures. Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.
If you are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;
While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.
Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”
Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility. She began our visit with a simple language lesson;
Good Morning – Buiti Binafin
Welcome – Buiti achüluruni
How Are You – Ida biña?
Thank you – Seremein
The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.
The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment
of which the Garifuna people have emerged.
Fresh and Local
Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen. Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.
So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria. The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains. If you have never peeled a plantain
you might be surprised. The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana. We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones. These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.
While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts. Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground. I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs. Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and
we drank the delicious water inside.
Traditional and New
Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;
The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).
The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it. Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).
We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it. We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more. Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love. So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.
The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.
To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros. Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna
kitchen with Chef Gloria.
While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut. Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough. This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.
Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.
It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time
we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk. And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.
The Garifuna Feast
Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product. The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano. And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.
Simple ingredients. Locally sourced. Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed. Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious. We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back
home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.
We thank you.
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