The plain wooden table in front of me groans with produce. Some are familiar to me – mango, papaya, sweet potato, jackfruit – and others not – breadnut (similar to a chestnut), soursop (a pastry cream), and mamey (a fleshy red fruit).
There are aromatic cinnamon sticks, gnarled bits of ginger, peanut-like bowls of tamarind, plump, glossy gourds, and pentagonal star fruits.
There is also a small round yellow fruit with a bright red center: this is the nutmeg that gave Grenada, the Caribbean island I am visiting, its nickname, the Spice Island.
Although Grenada is only 34 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide, it produces more than 20 percent of the world’s nutmeg.
Nutmeg is such a valuable export that it is known as “black gold” and even appears on the national flag.
I’m on the Belmont Estate, a sprawling 300-acre fertile farmland in the parish of St Andrew in the northeast of the island, discovering first-hand some of Grenada’s riches.
After walking me through the list of exotic foods grown here, Jason, an estate manager, offers a brownish-yellow oval pod and asks me to peel the pod.
This will reveal a slimy seed set that gives off a light chocolate scent. Belmont, like other properties on the island, grows cocoa – another successful export – to make chocolate in its own kitchen (tours available).
During lunch in the restaurant I get to taste some dishes from this pearl of the West Indies.
Aside from coconut buns, a traditional bread made with flour and coconut, I try callaloo – a spinach-like leafy vegetable – steamed with garlic and onions; Green banana and salty fish croquettes; Cou-Cou – a cornmeal dish similar to polenta – and a fish curry with provisions (vegetables such as yams, cassava and potatoes).
Everything comes from a few miles, if not a few feet, and tastes great. It’s an example of how the Grenadiers eat every day and a reason why the island won the inaugural title of Culinary Capital of the World last year.
Erik Wolf, founder of the World Food Travel Association, which created the award, explains: “It helps to promote destinations that are less known for their food. Each participating country had to demonstrate that it met five categories, including Culinary Culture and Culinary Sustainability, which Grenada succeeded impressively.’
Local residents are enthusiastic about the recognition. Belmont owner Shadel Nyack-Compton says, “We were blown away when we heard we had won. We are so happy that a small island like ours can be recognized without good food.”
Later I drive to the small, charming capital of Grenada, St. George’s, in the southwest – the route takes us through the island’s lush but winding and mountainous volcanic interior. Pastel houses cling to steep hillsides, lush flower bushes line the street, and trees groan with ripe fruit and vegetables, ready to fall to be fed by the forest-dwelling Mona monkeys.
The place names are a throwback to Grenada’s days as a British colony – it gained independence in 1974. Next to the street signs I pass the National Cricket Stadium – the people here love cricket.
In St. George’s, where moored boats float in the turquoise water, I meet Belinda Bishop, a cook, who shows me around the main market.
Some of the items here are used in dishes I’ve tried before. Others have more, shall we say, unique uses, such as Bois Bande, a tree bark said to have Viagra-like properties when brewed with rum.
I’m more interested in a spongy mass called sea moss, touted as the next superfood. “It’s one of the reasons why we all look so young here!” says Belinda, “because it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.” You can buy it ready-made as a gel that you add to food or water, so I buy several jars hoping to get ten years off my face.
We wander around for a few hours, tasting clove oil (good for a toothache), soursop tea (for sleeping) and an unusual but delicious porridge – made with condensed milk, tania (a kind of yam) and mint leaves – called the Tania log.
Before we say goodbye, Belinda gives me a necklace with nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and ginger. Weeks later, it still smells like my house – a charming reminder of Spice Island and their unforgettable food.
Five fun things to do in Grenada
Cruising the gentle-looking Balthazar River may sound like a lazy meandering experience. Don’t be fooled – palm trees flash by as you transition from a gentle bobbing to an inelegant nudge of a series of rapids and whitewater to the next, making for a thrilling wet wild ride. Email Funtantastic Island Adventures for pricing.
Sample local rum at Grenada Distillers Limited in Woodlands, which has been producing a huge range since 1937 under the Clarke’s Court label. Taste everything from light rums to dark, spiced and flavored varieties (from lemon to passion fruit).