Hello, or alo! This weekend’s globetrot brought us to Antigua and Barbuda, the first country we’ve visited in the Americas, and the first one in which English is the official language (though many people also speak Creole in this former British colony). Neither Derek nor I have been to this Caribbean nation, but out of all the places we’ve “visited” so far, this is the most popular American tourist destination.
Antigua and Barbuda consists of two major islands called—you guessed it—Antigua and Barbuda, and a number of smaller islands. The island of Antigua houses most of the country’s inhabitants, and its capital and largest city, St. John’s.
Summer in Boston seems like the ideal time to “visit” Antigua and Barbuda, since the New England weather is probably the most similar to Antigua and Barbuda’s right now than at any other time of year.
Derek took charge of our Saturday lunch and made dukuna, a steamed dumpling made with shredded sweet potato, coconut and brown sugar. While preparing the dukuna, we listened to calypso music, which is popular in Antigua and Barbuda, though the genre originated in Trinidad and Tobago. Antiguans would typically eat dukuna with fish, but for us, Derek sautéed some onion, garlic, black beans and sliced chili peppers together. Here’s what our plates looked like:
“Smells like pumpkin pie,” Derek said, when we unwrapped the dukuna, which was a pretty accurate description. The spicy beans complemented the dukuna pretty well, even if they might not have been very authentic. The sweetness of the sweet potato and coconut would have been overwhelming on their own.
In the afternoon, we read a few stories from Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid’s 1978 short story collection At the Bottom of the River. I’ve read the first story, “Girl,” before—perhaps you have, too. While none of the stories specifically mentioned Antigua, I think we still got a good sense of setting, and what Antigua may be like, from Kincaid’s writing. We also watched a few short videos about Antigua and Barbuda, including this one:
We had been hoping to have dinner at a Caribbean restaurant in Somerville, Some ‘Ting Nice, but Derek was still feeling tired from some long hikes he had taken the day before, so we decided to order delivery instead. (The restaurant isn’t centrally located, and we don’t have a car, so we would have had to walk, take a bus, and then walk some more.) You’ll have to excuse the styrofoam containers in these next two photos, as we were too eager to dig in before transferring our food onto real dishware.
This is Derek’s meal, mango chicken and pork, with two sides: aloo (curried chickpeas and potatoes) and provisions, a mix of starchy vegetables such as cassava and yam.
Please note that I didn’t eat all the food in the following picture myself. The food in the foreground is mine–veggie roti with a side of aloo. The purplish drink behind it on the left is also mine, sorrel. The drink to the right, mauby, a licorice-like beverage made from tree bark, is Derek’s. I did order the small dish in between the drinks, macaroni pie, which is essentially a baked macaroni and cheese, but I ended up saving most of it for later after taking a few bites. (The veggie roti was filling enough!)
After a little break, we also shared the final item in our order: black cake. I was a little disappointed to open this box and see what looked like a plain chocolate cupcake and a little condiment cup with a maraschino cherry, but the cake had a lot of rum flavor, and tasty morsels of rum-soaked dried fruit.
We enjoyed our dinner and only wish that we could have visited the restaurant in person—another time!
Sunday began with a big breakfast, recipes courtesy of the Trade Winds Hotel in Antigua. Again, we skipped the fish, but made chop-up, which were mixed vegetables cooked until soft and then mashed, hard-boiled eggs, fried plantains, and johnnycakes. Luckily, I had done a lot of prep work earlier, like cooking the eggs, and chopping up some of the chop-up ingredients; otherwise, this meal may have taken the whole morning to make.
The johnnycakes were our favorite items in the spread; they tasted like fluffy biscuits, only larger and flatter. It was only later that I discovered that I hadn’t quite made them right. In the United States, johnnycakes are usually flat cakes cooked on a griddle or in a skillet, somewhat similar to pancakes. In the Caribbean, on the other hand, it seems like johnnycakes are deep-fried and puffy. I’d used the Caribbean list of ingredients (American johnnycakes usually have cornmeal), but panfried my johnnycakes like an American. Still, they were tasty.
Since Derek was feeling better, we packed the leftover johnnycakes and some fruit, lathered on sunscreen, and went outside in search of Antigua-like places in the Boston-area. We headed to South Boston, where we first stopped at the Pleasure Bay beach. The sand hurt our bare feet a little, since it was hot and had a lot of little rocks and broken shells mixed in, but we braved on and walked to the water, standing ankle-deep in it for a short while. We didn’t stay too long, since we noticed quite a few jellyfish and even an icky-looking common clam worm. While Boston’s Pleasure Bay might not be as nice as Antigua and Barbuda’s stunning beaches, it was still pretty nice on a warm day.
Don’t you think Derek is dressed perfectly for Antigua and Barbuda?
We put our shoes back on and walked on the paved paths to Castle Island, admiring numerous sailboats on our stroll. Every April Antigua and Barbuda hosts the Antigua Sailing Week, a regatta that draws sailors and spectators from all over the world. Derek and I don’t know anyone with a yacht who would kindly take us around Boston Harbor to boost our Antigua-esque experience, so we settled for looking out at the boats from land.
Like Antigua and Barbuda’s capital, St. John’s, which has Fort James, Castle Island is home to a fort, Fort Independence. The British built Fort James in 1706, fearing French invasion. Several forts have stood on the site of Fort Independence—its original purpose was to defend colonial Boston from attack by sea, and the British also used the site in the time leading up to the American Revolution. We took a guided tour of Fort Independence, which must have seemed pretty imposing back in the day, with all its cannons:
The tour was very informative and gave us a chance to see some great views of Boston. We can only imagine that Fort James also offers some great views to its visitors as well.
Back at home, Derek made fungi, a cornmeal dish similar to Italian polenta, for dinner. Fungi is a lot more labor-intensive than polenta: much, much more stirring. I should also note here that fungi came up in our recipe searches for our Angolan weekend, spelled funge, or funje, made from cassava flour rather than cornmeal, but I had decided not to make it, since it seemed to take too much time for what sounded like a very bland dish. For Antigua and Barbuda, however, Derek decided that fungi would be one of his dishes to make. After about two hours of stirring, these were his fungi (I think they look like matzah balls):
Fungi is just one-half of Antigua and Barbuda’s national dish: fungi and pepperpot. We didn’t miss the pepper pot (a spicy vegetable stew with pigeon peas and ham hock), though, because we had so many leftovers from all our other weekend meals: chop-up, dukuna, and Some ‘Ting Nice’s macaroni pie. Here’s a shot of my partially-eaten smorgasbord plate:
With some sun on our faces and lots of food in our bellies, we’d like to think that we got the spirit of Antigua and Barbuda right, even if we never left Boston this weekend.