The islands of the Caribbean are like zebra patterns; in the sea of repetitions lie variations and uniqueness that can only be discovered with an intentional perusal of the landscape. For some it is the gentle caress of the Pitons against a passionate sunset; for others, the cold needles of Negril Falls forming rivers along the swell of the land. In Grenada, there are countless ways to fall in love and our cuisine is just one of them.
With the perfect combination of volcanic soil and tropical weather, every ingredient embodies the taste of the earth. Although we no longer carry the moniker ‘Isle of Spice’, the use of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves is still evident in every beverage and dish and we approach our cooking the same manner in which we approach life; which essentially translates as seasoning by the handful, not the pinch.
There are dual expressions to our culinary enjoyment here; in the cozy company of loved ones followed by a rum-fueled roasting session or the serene formality of a restaurant and there’s a meal to suit each. Take for instance our national dish. Ask any native about their constant craving, whether locally or in the Diaspora; the answer will always be Oil Down. And although it’s available at any restaurant, a genuine Oil Down is more of a valued, heart-touching meal that is celebrated at home or at least among family and friends. In fact, it’s more of an event than a meal. The cooking process is similar to that of nurturing a baby, in that it takes a community and spoonfuls of love to perfect every layer of flavor.
As a foodie, finding a location that brings these worlds together is always on the bucket list and very recently I got to cross it off. Belmont Estate, nestled in the lush hills of Hermitage, St. Patrick’s, is one of the sites that bridges this divide so seamlessly. Stepping foot on the estate immediately reminded me of visiting Granny in the summer. We would trip over her heels into the pasture to tend to the animals, who we knew by name, and pick all the ripe fruit our little hands could grasp. Belmont not only has friendly and healthy goats but produces a very delicious goat cheese from their milk.
The cocoa tour was so informative and was a reminder that the environment should not be taken for granted. It’s truly amazing how the basic things around us can be used to sustain lives. The innovative combination of traditional and modern techniques and equipment to process the beans adds so much character to the final product; knowing that it was first fermented under banana leaves, dried on spice racks and danced on to rhythmic ancestral beats speaks to the soul and spirit of our cuisine.
A couple buildings away was a quaint arrangement of Grenada‘s culture and history at the Estate Museum. The room was everything I imagined that era would be, from the copper utensils to the wooden buckets. You could feel the passion that carved every hole and board. The fact that some of the items are still used at the restaurant was exciting because there is nothing like meat that has been ‘cousomeéd’ in the roasting heat of a coal pot.
Belmont Estate maintains this organic thread from source to creation of their menu. Starters such as salted fish kebabs glazed with pepper jelly and cream of callaloo soup are a playful nod to local favorites. Their main dishes include curried or stewed meat and are often paired with coconut basmati rice, green banana and smoked herring pie, creamy papaya coleslaw or cucumber and mint salad, all washed down with a Chocolate Monkey ice cream shake.
Bon Bon Shop
But the most anticipated of them all was the chocolate that awaited me in the Grenada Chocolate Bon-Bon store. After sampling their dark-chocolate offerings from 100% all to way to 60%, which included sea salt and cocoa nibs, I indulged in tropical flavours like soursop truffles, ginger praline and chocolate-covered Seville-Orange peels. One bite of a River Antoine Rum truffle and I almost thought I was holding a shot glass.
Belmont Estate surpassed my culinary expectations for the day. Yes satiety was achieved, but it was the ultimate pleasure to know that one place could offer so much that a meal but an entire experience of local culture and atmosphere. And to culminate all that with chocolate, I just found another way to fall in love.