Monday, January 8, 2018

Roti, Ackee and Christophene

A rare sight---a garden in a backyard in St. John's, Antigua

I’ll give you three guesses.  Roti, Ackee and Christophene……what do you think these are names for?  
The man with the knife is removing the outer husk from the sugar cane.

Nope, not a law firm. Not a Roto-Rooter type thing, nor a septic sucking company. Good guesses though.  Give?  These are foods we have been eating recently.  Some with greater appreciation than others.
A Pork Roti that I couldn't wait to dig into.

Roti (RO-tee) is sort of a Caribbean version of an empanada or of a Northern Minnesota pasty. It is filled with curried chicken, pork or beef and potato, and sometimes filled with a combination of veggies only. I haven’t found one yet that I didn’t like! 
Roadside vendor in St. John's

There are little restaurants and small portable stands alongside the roads that sell hot rotis.  
This is the "famous" Roti Sue

One place nearby that we like particularly is called Roti Sue’s.  I’ve watched Sue roll out the tender floury dough to a very thin and stretchy circle that is then placed on a griddle by her helper. After it has been cooked and flipped over, it is placed onto a plate, upon which is piled your choice of filling and then the roti is “sealed” up and turned over to make a delicious little “package” for lunch. 
The helper that flips the roti

I noted with interest that a long, narrow,  smooth-edged stick is used to handle the roti on the hot griddle. Watching her flip the roti  reminded me of making potato lefse at Christmas time in Minnesota. In fact, roti does look like lefse before it is filled with the curry.
Another roti restaurant--5 small oilcloth-covered tables with bright green chairs.  St. John's, Antigua

We can buy a roti for lunch that will cost somewhere between 10 and 20 EC.  (EC=Eastern Caribbean money).  Divide the ECs by 2 1/2 to calculate the cost in U.S. dollars.  At Roti Sue’s, we can buy a delicious, filling roti for only $3.70 US.  
Roadside truckload of coconuts.  The coconut water is
being funneled into a plastic bottle for sale.

Along with the roti, we may choose one of her freshly bottled juices such as starfruit, pineapple and ginger, or mango for another 5 EC.  Sometimes folks who make roti will peddle them in the mornings where there are a lot of people around. They come wrapped in aluminum foil and just need to be reheated closer to lunch time. 
Two small christophene and a dragon fruit

“Christophene” is the name that Antiguans use for this next food.  In other parts of the Caribbean or Central America, it is called Chayote (chah-YO-tay).  It’s an amazingly useful and very versatile food, and although I find it hard to think of it as a squash, that is indeed the family to which it belongs. I’m shaking my head though……it tastes nothing like any squash I’ve ever had; it has a negligible outer peel which does not have to be removed before eating raw.  
Open air market

We have found that we really like raw chayote in a hearty salad. Using chayote, I can make a salad that keeps well for days. I start with some cooked brown rice, black beans, a chopped orange or yellow pepper, green pepper, chopped red onion and instead of using apple which I always did in the U.S., I chop up a couple of chayotes instead.  When I’ve served the salad to others, they’ve think they’re eating apple or cucumber or some kind of fruit.  The taste of the chayote is mild and blends perfectly with whatever it is paired with.  I top the salad with the juice of a couple limes, or a mixture of some olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper and maybe a little cayenne. 
One of our favorite salads aboard Northern Star

Chayote can be cooked too, of course.  It can be sautéed with onion and garlic, or boiled and used in place of a starchy vegetable in any kind of dish. I’ve seen a recipe using it in lasagna in place of the pasta!  It keeps very well for several days as long as it’s out of the sun.  And once it’s cut up into the salad, it does not turn color like apples tend to do. Oh, and it’s an economical food too.
Ackee within their rinds.  Below them, starfruit.

Ackee is a quite unusual food in my book.  When we saw it in an open air market, my guess was that it was a fruit because it’s pretty and has a thick outer rind.  It is, however, a vegetable.  Hmph! So, we bought some while in St. John’s, the largest city on Antigua because we just had to try it.  
A woman bringing her purchases home from market.

The friends we were with bought some ackee too, and wisely stored theirs in the refrigerator until it was used.  Inconveniently for our ackee, we were in the midst of equalizing our batteries (meaning, we shut down the freezer and fridge for several hours) and our ackee grew fluffy white foam after the second day without refrigeration.  In short, it became quite icky…..or ackee. It was dead.  
The black "ball" is the ackee seed. The vegetable
itself is only ~ 1-2" long

Our friends had us over for dinner and served us a pork dish which used slices of cooked ackee.  Here is our friends’ report on the process of working with the ackee.  “The seed (big black ball thingy on top) did not come off easily, like one might have expected.  Then, the yellow ackee had to be sliced thinly.  It did not slice easily either.  It was tedious,” she said.  I believe I heard the word “tedious” repeated another time or two.  The taste was uninspiring.  I actually have no idea what it tasted like because I really couldn’t discern the flavor within the dish.  The general consensus of the four of us was, “Meh.”  
Public market in St. John's.  In the foreground, many different root vegetables.

I’ve only come across ackee that one time and I won’t look for it again.  It was not inexpensive and I’m banning it from my galley.  No ackee. Huh…..that’s what I used to say when I wanted one of my children to spit out something that should not have gone into their mouths,  “No….that’s ackee!”
Pickled pork snout and pork tail were a Christmas "special" in Jolly
Harbour, Antigua. We did not try any snout nor tail.






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