Antigua Carnival - July 2010
I had the pleasure of enjoying Carnival in Antigua for its 50th anniversary Three of my girlfriends and I rented a house and headed down to enjoy the celebration. My only mission for the next 10 days was to eat all the food I don't get to have in the Bay Area, and to get a little Soca dancing in too.
Antigua Carnival celebrates the emancipation of the slaves from British colonial reign, and it is held at the end of July yearly. You'll find people from every generation playing mas (dressing up with a carnival troupe), dancing in the streets, and singing the signature Soca songs for that carnival year.
During carnival Food IS Street Food! Most business owners close their doors and join in the revelry. Surprisingly many of the street food options seemed quite American. Fried chicken, hamburgers, fish burgers etc.... Of course, I wasn't having any of that! I came on a mission to for new taste experiences and I wasn't disappointed.
Jerk Chicken - Antigua Style
Jerk Chicken is a cultural culinary staple across the caribbean street food scene. In the Caribbean jerk chicken is also refereed to as Drum Pan Chicken. Drum Pan comes from the oil drums that are cut in half and converted to charcoal grills.
Jerk chicken in Antigua tastes slightly different from the Jamaican variety. Notably absent were the aromatic flavors of pimento seed, thyme, and scotch bonnet. I enjoyed the chicken without it, but nothing can replace the heat and flavor you get from scotch bonnet peppers. They also covered the chicken with barbecue sauce. Sadly, this overwhelmed the flavor of the jerk and converted the dish to basic spicy barbecue chicken. If your ever in order Jerk, remember to lose the sauce or get it on the side so you an appreciate the true flavor.
One of the most enjoyable delights during the hot days of carnival is a fresh cold coconut. It is a cool break from the humid heat and sweaty dancing in the streets They are freshly cut from the trees by the locals and sold whole and opened right in front of you. The meat is sweet and thick and the juice is flavorful and naturally sweet.
We quickly found a bar around the corner with a friendly bartender. She was kind enough to fill them with ice and Koko Karibe Rum. Koko Karibe is a local coconut rum which is not as sweet as the Malibu variety by Bacardi that you find in the states. It paired perfectly with the natural juice and needed nothing else. It was the highlight of our day playing mas!
St. Johns Produce Market
There is no shortage of amazing produce in Antigua. You will find vendors selling fresh produce like coconut, mangos, guinep,
corn, yam, and much more.
Another common street food in the caribbean is Roti. Most islands along the West Indian spice route have a culinary influence from India. Curries with various meats are rolled in Roti similar to a burrito. Roti is a spongy flat bread that as a little softer than Naan in texture and rolled into a tortilla like shape and baked on a tawa. The Dal Puri variation of Roti is filled with a spicy chick pea mixture. The soft texture of the chick pea of Dal Puri combined with the spicy tang of the green curry tastes amazing and is very satisfying.
Water (Wah'Ta) = Soup
There were several variation of soup among the various street vendors. They refer to soup as "water" in Antigua. The few I tried were great. The bases of the soup varied depending on the meat used. Fish or Conch Water had a clear fish bone stock base. Beef and Goat had a bone broth and tomato base. All of them were spicy and used peppers, onion, garlic, and leafy greens to add complexity. Eating a hot soup on a hot day had a cooling effect or at least the pepper distracted you long enough not to notice.
Yes. You read that right. Bar.B.Qued Lobster is a street food in Antigua and man is it good. The lobsters are caught my local divers and sold by the locals during carnival. The lobster is barbecued shell on with butter, garlic, salt, and pepper. The meat is fresh, juicy, and tender. Make sure you get one right off the grill. Don't get the ones sitting off to the side. They've been overcooked and lobster gets tough quickly.