Orel Emile Gentle Steward traded his life as a chef on a cruise ship to be a chef in his hometown of Sambo Creek, Honduras. Sambo Creek is one of many colorful Garifuna villages that dot the north coast of Honduras. The Garifuna are an AfroCaribbean group who live on some of the most beautiful palm-fringed beaches in Central America. The friendly town, the fresh salt air, the gentle breeze, and the Caribbean Sea that spreads to the horizon made it easy to understand why Chef Orel returned to Sambo Creek.
The Garifuna originated from two Spanish slave ships wrecked off the coast of St. Vincent in the 1600s. Their culture is so unique that in 2001 UNESCO proclaimed their language, dance, and music a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. They are widely known for their wonderful seafood dishes that are an integral expression of their culture.
In Sambo Creek, only a short ride from La Ceiba, Chef Orel explained, â€œThe Garifuna live off the ocean. Everyday the people go fishing.â€ He proceeded to teach my husband, John, and me how make Sopa de Pescado (fish soup) with Machuca. His neighbor, Hoga Lalyn Fermana, helped prepare the machuca by pounding the plantain in a traditional wooden mortar with a long-handled pestle. While doing so she danced the punta, the Garifuna traditional dance. The two seemed very closely associated in rhythm and movement. Machuca is served like rice or mashed potatoes.
On the second floor of the alfresco restaurant with an expansive view of the Caribbean we were enjoying the soup and machuca when a couple of the local people showed up with their drums and began to beat out a rhythm while dancing the punta. â€œWe look for any excuse to sing and dance,â€ explained Chef Orel as he pointed to the children on the beach who heard the drums and were doing their very best punta. As we finished the delicious Sopa de Pescado and slightly sweet machuca, Chef Orel glanced down from the second floor of the restaurant at his neighborâ€™s house said, â€œCome with me. Hoga is making a coconut candy. She will teach you how to make it. Hoga is everyoneâ€™s grandma.â€
The Tableta de Coco Hoga had just finished making was cooling and hardening on the table, but she showed us how she grated coconut and cooked it with cane syrup stirring with a wooden spatula until it sticks together. Her husband, who she grabbed and gave a great big kiss, was cutting the sweet into serving size portions. The big kiss seemed the perfect end to our visit.
We visited Sambo Creek in October 2008 and made our arrangements with Tourist Options travel agency in La Ceiba. The $27 tour included transportation, entertainment, an awesome meal, and a taste of Garifuna culture. Tourist Options is located two blocks from La Ceibaâ€™s Central Park, on Boulevard 15 de Septiembre. Contacts: web site – www.hondurastouristoptions.com, Tel: 504-443-0337, or Fax: 504-443-2460.
Sopa de Pescado (makes 2 to 4 servings)
â€¢ 4 cups fish stock made from scratch. Canned fish, chicken, or vegetable stock can be substituted
â€¢ 2 crushed cloves of Garlic
â€¢ one diced sweet pepper
â€¢ salt and other seasonings to taste
â€¢ 1 cubed yucca (or potato)
â€¢ 1 sliced onion
â€¢ 1 cup coconut milk
â€¢ 1 whole fish, about 9 inches in length, per serving or skinned fish meat cut in cubes. The Garifuna use red snapper, yellowtail, or king fish, but any fish will do.
1. Make a fish stock by boiling fish heads, shrimp shells, the non-white conch meat or any leftover fish â€œstuff,â€ and garlic. Boil for 15 minutes. Strain. It is similar to making turkey stock using the bones.
2. To the stock add onions, sweet pepper, salt, and any desired spices. Give it a little kick with jalapeÃ±o peppers. Add yucca (or potatoes), sliced onions, and coconut milk. Cook until the yucca is tender.
3. Fry the fish or boil it in the stock for 7 minutes.
If the fish is fried, place in a bowl and pour the liquid over it. Serve with machuca on the side with a few slices of lemon. Traditionally, when serving the soup to females the tail is cut off. Each chef has his own â€œsecretâ€ ingredients. We chatted with a chef in another Garifuna village and he said he likes to add cumin, and fry the fish and vegetables in butter before adding to the stock.
â€¢ 2 yellow plantain â€“ peeled and cubed
â€¢ 2 green plantain â€“ peeled and cubed
â€¢ Â¼ teaspoon salt
1. Boil the plantain with salt until soft.
2. Mash together until similar to mash potatoes. Traditionally it is mashed African style with long wooden pestle in a wooden mortar. Serve on the side with the fish soup.
Sandra and her husband, John, are compulsive travelers and writers who have been exploring the world since the 1980s writing all the way. To see more of their travels go to www.sanscott.com. They are on the road seven months a year â€“ half in the US and the other half exploring the rest of the world. They like to promote Slow Travel â€“ taking time to enjoy the uniqueness of each area.