Eating during Lent

When I was growing up, Lent — the 40 days leading up to Easter — always meant that there was a radical change in diet in our home. It was a time to eat more fish, more vegetarian dishes and yes, it was even time to fast.

Frankly, as an adult, I can appreciate that but let me tell you, as a child that was like torture.

As with everything when you are still a minor (at least in my days) you followed the rules, regulations and eating regiment set out by your parents, (read my mom). We had to follow the Lenten restrictions she put on herself where food was concerned. We did not like it one bit but what were we to do? And no, cooking for ourselves was not an option.

During lent, we ate fish almost exclusively and then on Wednesdays and Fridays, we ate vegetarian. On Good Friday, we had to fast from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some of my friends had similar experiences while others did not. Throughout most homes that observe Lent, there is usually some change in diet, whether it is eating more fish, vegetarian food, fasting or giving up of some indulgence.

For example, my mom would give up eating sweets: no cakes, no sugar in her tea, so sweet drinks etc. yeah, you know what that meant but let me tell you, we would eat it outside of the home. And I suspect she knew that.

The price of fish is always at a premium during the Lenten-season because demand is more than supply. The fisher folk knew that you had bound yourself to a commitment with a higher being and would do all that you could to maintain it.

The first year that I moved to Barbados, I rebelled big-time when it came to eating during Lent. No lot of fish, no veggie dishes and definitely no fasting! I ate just as I would normally. I wanted to do Lent my way, make my own sacrifices and give up my own indulgences. So on that Good Friday, I ate chicken. Don’t judge me!

The following year, I experienced along with many Barbadians, the mad-rush for fish to cook on Good Friday. On the Thursday before, a friend of mine and I went down to Oistins Fish Market. Parking was a nightmare, and the crowd that had gathered was reminiscent of Oistins on a Friday night (on Friday nights, the fishing town comes alive with music, dancing and lots of food, it is reputed to be where you can get some of the best fish dishes. It is also one of the places for visitors to go when they visit Barbados).

Mahi Mahi (aka Dolphin) was priced as if one was buying precious diamonds; all the flying fish was almost gone, what remained were for regular customers, so the only fish remaining in abundance was bill fish. A fish I am yet to find a way to cook that would not result in something chewy and tasteless.

These days, I’ve found that some people are not as rigid when it comes to eating during Lent. Instead of maintaining a fish diet throughout the 40-day period, they are more inclined to do the must-have-fish-meal on Good Friday, me included. I like to opt for a hot fish curry and rice with lots of pepper.

I know that Lent is supposed to be a time to take a break from all the flair and fancy of life and its activities in order to pause and look inward and to reconnect with a higher being but I don’t think that that means that we cannot think of new and different ways to present the same thing.

And we can think of other seafood available too such as shrimp and squid (calamari). We don’t only have to go for the big, thick steak-like cuts of fish like snapper; the small ones, such as pot fish, jacks, banga-mary or butter fish, work just as well.

As to the vegetarian dishes, a little effort is all that is needed to feed the cravings of all the meat-mouths in your family. Or better yet, get them involved; let them suggest some of the things and ways to prepare their food. Lent is about sacrifice not extreme deprivation.

* 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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