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Exploring the flavours of Guadeloupe and Martinique with Chef Vanessa Bolosier

From patties to plantain, Vanessa Bolosier selects her favourite flavours of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

By Vanessa Bolosier
Published 13 Aug 2021, 06:07 BST
Several dishes introduced during colonisation have also been integrated into Creole cuisine, among them beef patties, ...

Several dishes introduced during colonisation have also been integrated into Creole cuisine, among them beef patties, black pudding and rice pudding.

Photograph by Clare Winfield

The word ‘Creole’ makes lots of people think of New Orleans. But Creole represents the convergence of many different peoples and cultures; it’s a word associated with those who were born in a former colony, as opposed to those who migrated there as adults.

The islands where I grew up — Guadeloupe and Martinique — have seen many cultural influences over the centuries. The Amerindians cleared land on which to grow cassava and maize, and lived near rivers and on the coast, so fish and seafood were staples. Native plants included chillies, pineapple, pomme cannelle (sugar-apple), guavas and coconuts. Cassava, sweet potato, pumpkin and various peas and beans also grew wild.

The Spanish introduced onions, garlic, oranges and more. Other Europeans came later, bringing culinary trademarks such as the use of saltfish and pickling, as well as foods from their trade with Asia, including rice, limes, ginger and mangoes.

Most Creole cooking is a legacy of the slaves and indentured servants, and when it came to meat, they were left the parts of the animals the Europeans didn’t want; pigs’ tails, cows’ feet and offal are frequently found in Creole single-pot stews. The tradition of slow-cooked food was reinforced by the lifestyle of slaves on plantations, with stews simmering throughout the day as they worked. If fish or vegetables were available, slaves would use them in quick-fried foods such as fritters. Several dishes introduced during colonisation have also been integrated into Creole cuisine, among them beef patties, black pudding and rice pudding.

This is an edited extract from Sunshine Kitchen: Delicious Creole Recipes from the Heart of the Caribbean, by Vanessa Bolosier, published by Pavilion Books (RRP: £12.99).

What to eat in the French Caribbean

Travelling to Guadeloupe without trying a bokit is considered a sin. This superstar ‘sandwich’ is simply deep-fried dough, split in half, and filled with fillings such as saltfish, charcuterie or smoked chicken. It’s generally available from roadside food trucks.

These small dough balls are a staple in the French Caribbean. The simple way to enjoy dombrés is with red kidney beans and cured meats, while the five-star version is a large bowl of them in a tomato-based sauce with shellfish (crayfish, prawns, lobster or crab).

Plantain gratin
The mother of all French Caribbean gratins, this side dish is both sweet and savoury. Plantain is a local favourite and this gratin can be made in myriad ways. Whether the plantain is pureed or sliced with bechamel sauce, it never disappoints.

After slavery was abolished in 1848, plantation owners still needed low-cost labour. Immigrants from India arrived, and after serving their years of indentured servitude, many decided to make a go of it and built a small community of farmers. Their descendants still own plantations, and they herd the best goats to make Colombo curry — now considered one of the ‘national dishes’ of the French Caribbean.

The ingredient

Piment végétarien is similar to the habanero, but without the heat. Its popularity has grown in recent years and it’s the star of many contemporary French Caribbean dishes.

Vanessa Bolosier is a food writer and the author of Sunshine Kitchen

Published in the September 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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