April 23, 2011

Caribbean Beach Fare

Picture this:

You're lying out on the beach on a Caribbean island.. basking in the sunlight and enjoying the light breeze traveling off the gentle waves and swaying the leaves of the palm trees.. and you feel something - in your stomach. You're hungry.. but what do you eat?

I know that the perfect thing when you're lying in the sun is a fresh, colourful fruit salad. Washed down with lemonade (or rum punch). But take a stroll down the beach - just follow the faint sounds of music and chatter - and you will find a group of local beachside eateries serving up delicious, fresh caught seafood.

Snapper, Parrot fish, Lobsters or Shrimp... Curried, Escoveitch, Fried, Steamed, Stewed, Grilled... Served with local favourites referred to as 'Bammies' and 'Festivals'.

If some of that sounded like gibberish to you, not to worry. Let me break it down:

Usually when you enter one of these eateries, you will see ice chests containing whatever the fishermen caught that morning. Most often the fish will either be parrot or snapper, and there will be lobsters in different sizes (different price categories). You choose the fish/lobster that you want, and you tell the attendee how you would like it prepared.

My favourite preparation for fish (I'm a snapper lover myself), is to have it escoveitched. This preparation evolved from the traditional Spanish dish Escabeche. Escabeche is the frying or poaching of a meat that has been marinated in an acidic environment. In the caribbean, this marinade consists of vinegar, carrots, onions and scotch bonnet (same family as habanero) peppers.

As mentioned before, a popular side dish for seafood on the beach is what is referred to as a bammy.

A bammy is a (not so) flat bread made from cassava, otherwise called yucca. I have never had the opportunity to see the actual processing of the cassava and how they get it to form the disk that is then fried or steamed, but I certainly have had it alongside my fish meal.

Another side is festivals, which are fried sweet breads with the dough containing cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and sometimes a little vanilla for depth of flavour. The dough rests for a while, and then formed into cylinders which are deep fried until crispy and golden. Perfect for dipping in the escoveitch or sauce on your fish.

Fried Snapper and Festivals on the beach in Jamaica

So next time you are on vacation, and a fruit salad is just not gonna cut it, ask around (preferably your hotel information desk) on where you can get prepared local seafood.

*Notes: Unlike North American culture, whole fish are served on the plate - the head and tail still attached. Scotch Bonnet peppers are VERY hot, more than 10 times the heat of a jalapeno, so please proceed with caution. Be sure to check with your hotel's information desk or your tour guide before venturing out to local spots; security comes before your hunger.


  1. Interesting! I wish I was in Caribbean!!

  2. Yummy, I had no idea festival had cornmeal in it!