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Although Martinique is known for its beautiful beaches, aqua blue sea and Creole cottages in bold pastels, this French Caribbean island has a fascinating food, drink and restaurant scene. From rhum agricole to French haute cuisine, there’s a wealth of culinary attractions to explore in Martinique.
Here’s a look at what not to miss on this French Caribbean island.
1. Experience Martinique’s Grassroots Culinary Initiatives
While eating locally is a movement that is well underway across North America, it’s an emerging concept in Martinique where agricultural production devoted to sugar cane, pineapple and banana exports has meant 80% of the food is imported.
A fresh crop of grassroots-based culinary tourism initiatives is hoping to change that.
One of the leaders in this initiative is the TakTak Network, an association of farmers, fishermen, chefs and agri-tourism operators who are trying to carve a living out of tourism and at the same time preserve their culture. TakTak believes that by building on such diversity, culinary tourism can boost the local economy in a way that sustains residents’ way of life instead of trampling it.
2. Explore Martinique’s Food Heritage
Martinique’s cuisine is an inventive blend of French haute cuisine and Creole culinary traditions drawn from a mix of African, Indian and Caribbean influences.
One of the top places to visit is in the north of the island. Here, the road criss-crosses past beaches of black volcanic sand, lush rainforest and deep canyons shadowed by cloud-shrouded Mount Pelee, the devastating volcano that erupted in 1902. Driving is a stomach-churning corkscrew ride around pitons, dramatic rock outcroppings that emerge like teeth out of the landscape.
At the TakTak headquarters, located in a restored stone cottage, culinary workshops introduce visitors to cuisine inspired by the Creole garden. Outside, hummingbirds flit between tangles of dasheen (leafy cabbage), giraumon (squash) and yams.
“Every home used to have a garden that produced enough to sustain a family throughout the year,” says Duchel. “Now everyone heads to the supermarket and we’re losing our traditional knowledge of how to grow and prepare food.”
3. Never Skip Breakfast in Martinique
Breakfast in Martinique is a colourful affair you absolutely don’t want to miss!
A typical breakfast in Martinique might feature a madras tablecloth of cinnamon, orange and yellow topped by pitchers of guava juice and a platter of salty-sour hareng fume (smoked cod) surrounded by shaved cucumber, carrots and lettuce.
A gratin of christophene (chayote) and baked ti-nain, a tiny banana, often anchors the offerings.
4. Enjoy Laid Back Dining at Le Carbet Beach Restaurant
Next, we head to Le Carbet on the Caribbean Coast, to sample contemporary interpretations of local fare under the creative direction of artisan-restauranteur Guy Ferdinand. A keen supporter of sustainable local producers, Le Petibonum is a restaurant close to his heart.
His menu, inspired by the sea and the senses, includes a lusciously smooth avocado puree shrimp cocktail, grapefruit salad and a platter of shrimp, lobster and ouassou (fresh water crayfish) so dripping with juices that we’re forced to bathe in the sea and scrub our hands with sand to wash off.
“It’s inspiring to revive the flavours of the past and merge them with the techniques of today,” says Chef Ferdinand who relies on artisans such as Ziouka Glaces to supply him with unique offerings such as manioc ice-cream. The hand-drafted creation pays homage to the island’s slave ancestry who once relied on the root vegetable as a dietary staple.
5. Escape to Ilet Madame in Martinique
The commitment to preserving the past also extends to Ilet Madame, a protected island archipelago on the Atlantic Coast.
Here we take a picnic excursion by boat and munch on Martinique’s version of tapas, accras de morue (crisp fritters made of cod) accompanied by ti-punch, a powerful aperitif made of aged Martinique rhum, cane syrup and lime juice.
The calm waters are ideal for swimming and it’s possible to see starfish and other marine life in the clear waters.
6. Soak up Culture and History at La Savane des Esclaves
Further south in Trois-Ilets, at la Savane des Esclaves, Gilbert Larose has taken guerrilla gardening to a whole new level in his quest to preserve island history. Beginning by planting a few plants on an abandoned piece of land, he’s now added several huts, built using the same techniques slaves would have used in the early 1800’s.
Now, he serves lunch, a hearty cabri (goat) stew topped with delicate skewers of dorado.
“In the old days we’d cook communally and talk about our troubles together,” he says “Now, we’ve lost that part of our culture.”
The future holds even more challenges. According to the University of Hamburg in Germany, islands in the Caribbean are expected to be severely impacted by global warming due to rising sea levels and increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms.
Mountainous islands such as Martinique, where 80% of the population lives on the coast, will be particularly affected. Many believe that the traditions of the past can help islanders deal with an uncertain future.
7. Sample Neisson Rhum Agricole in Martinique
When in Martinique, be sure to visit an agricole rhum producer such as Neisson or another along the rum trail. Unlike other countries where rum is produced from molasses, Martinique’s rum is produced from sugar cane juice.
This means it preserves the subtle nuances of the terroir where the sugar cane is grown, much like fine wine reflects the growing conditions of the grapes.
8. Stay Local at a Gîtes de France
One sure way to get a sense of the local culture is at a Gîtes de France, one of the island’s vacation rental homes. More than a room for the night, these accommodations which range from quaint Creole cottages to luxurious villas are opportunities to sample rural life and often, cuisine.
9. Indulge on an Abundance of Fresh Seafood
10. Sample Local fare while Beach Dining
At one home/restaurant combo just steps from the fishing boats at Grand Anse,you can find crab-stuffed rock lobster, plantain and boudin noir, a sausage made of fresh pig’s blood, French bread and spices wrapped in intestine.
Despite my reticence, I pick up my fork.
When it comes to authentic local culture and Martinique food, there’s no better way to dive in.
Martinique Food, Drink and Restaurant Travel Planner
Getting Around: You’ll need to rent a car to explore this mountainous island fully. Brush up on your French language skills as well. Even a few of the basics will help you navigate your way award this French-speaking island.
Le Petibonum Restaurant in Le Carbet : www.babaorum.net
Gîtes de France: www.gitesmartinique.com
La Savane des Esclaves: www.lasavanedesesclaves.fr
Martinique Tourist Office: www.lamartinique.ca Phone: 514-844-8566
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