Home on a plate
There was a time when you could not find bora (aka yard long bean, snake bean) in Barbados so the first time I walked into one of the supermarkets and saw bora I trembled with excitement. I was momentarily breathless as I caught sight of the long, green vegetable.
I stood there admiring the bora for a long time and whispering to myself: oh my gosh, I can’t believe they have bora here, I can’t believe it. I grabbed two bags, I headed for the cashier and dashed for the car to race home and cook the bora. In no time, the bora was cut up. I “fry it up” (saut?ed) it with onions, tomatoes and fresh herbs. I did not add any meat, chicken or shrimp because I wanted to taste the bora alone.
I sat down to the table with a plate of hot white rice and a little mound of bora in the middle and smiled, it was pure joy. Aloud I said: “This is home on a plate!”
Home for many of us living abroad is a merged space that is made up of our birth country and the country we now live in. We’ve combined the two spaces and made them our own unique home.
We’ve done this by embracing and adapting to our new homes, the physical space — meaning the country, the neighbourhood, and the house. For example, those living in North America and Europe have acclimatised to four seasons and the pace of life. We’ve also created “little Guyana”, “little Barbados” spaces, inside our homes, never losing sight of where we’re from such as the playing of music, including folk songs.
We enjoy all the trappings, sights, sounds and activity that go with the country we live in but inside of our homes we conduct ourselves as if we were in Guyana, Barbados, Grenada or Antigua by the foods we cook, eat and share, and by the traditions and customs we uphold.
We reminisce on the things of our birth home that, we hope, will always stay the same — like Sunday-morning market shopping at Bourda market or Bridgetown on an early Saturday morning, liming on the sea wall or beach and eating cook-up rice or souse on Saturdays. Nevertheless, while we hold on to the images and memories of home, we must not forget that these countries are constantly changing.
Sometimes we get so caught up in preserving all the old memories that we fail to notice the change. We can be so stuck in ole time Guyana or Barbados that we take the developments of today for granted; we might even take the people for granted. The most popular liming spot may no longer be liming at Jerries or eating Demico’s fried chicken, while other places may no longer exist. We can forget that while we were away adapting to a new country, a new way of life and creating new memories that they too were changing and adapting.
But definitely when you’re away you change and adapt. When it comes to food, it is impossible to live in a country and not adopt a few of their dishes as your favourites or merge some of them with your own to create one that truly represents the new hybrid home — the home on a plate.
Our palates adapt to the new tastes just as we adapt to the new spaces. Richard, a friend of mine living in New York, boasts, (like any good American), about his barbecue prowess on American Independence Day and on Labour Day. Another friend enjoys the turkey at the American Thanksgiving and for others, some Italian-American pasta dish is a must-have on their dining tables. These dishes have become part of their culinary repertoire, even though week in and week out they go to the large West Indian markets in New York, Boston or Brixton for all the gilbaka, salt fish, breadfruit, dried coconuts and spices.
For me, there is nothing quite like some hot Bajan fish cakes — eat it with some good ole Guyanese sour and it’s a match made in food heaven.
For other friends spread throughout the Caribbean, St. Lucia’s fig (green banana) and salt fish makes them weak at the knees; Grenada’s oil down requires going back for more; Jamaica’s goat curry is spicy and flavourful; Trini calaloo is sweeeeet and Vincy bakes are a mouthful of happiness.
This word, home, which we bandy around, is relative — it means different things to different people at different times.
The strange thing is that while “home” means many things, the answer, we almost always give when someone asks us: Where is home? Home is Guyana, home is Barbados, home is St. Lucia… The reason is simple really — it’s because it is the only home some of us have known; some of us are never really comfortable in our new surroundings; and much of who we are as individuals, our identity, is that of being Guyanese, Bajans, Trini, Vincy etc.
Oh Home on the Plate
(sung to the tune of Home on the Range)
Oh give me a home with cassava in pone
And where deer and the labba do play
Where Bajan cou cou
And the sweet calaloo
Might all appear on my plate
Oh home on the plate
Where the jerk and the fried rice do play
Where sour and fishcakes
Choka and fry bake
Mean “home” in their own special way.
(Lyrics by the Phood Phantom)
So where is home? For me:
Home is Guyana — it’s where I was born, it’s where my family lives; it’s the place that contributed to the molding of my character.
Home is Barbados — it’s where I live, work and bask in my independence.
Home is the house I live in — it is my sanctuary, my cocoon when the place seems cruel and indifferent.
Home is on a plate — when I sit at my table to a meal infused with the flavours of Guyana, Barbados and the memories I evoke of my family and friends.
Where do you call home?
Cynthia Nelson is a journalist, tutor, food photographer and author of the award-winning book: Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook (IRP 2010). She writes regularly about food in various Caribbean Publications.
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