Packing a real Caribbean punch

By Max Davidson, Daily Mail

Last updated at 15:55 25 March 2002

Anywhere calling itself the Spice Island is bound to strike terror in British stomachs.

The name conjures images of dodgy curries with grisly after-effects.

I feared the worst and arrived in Grenada with a suitcase full of pills.

I need not have bothered. Instead of fiery foreign condiments, my stomach was assailed by nothing more sinister than nutmeg, saffron and cinnamon.

Grenadians are gentle souls: they do not try to blow the roof off your mouth.

It is an enchanting island and a good part of its enchantment comes from its food.

On the harbourside at St George's, the capital and one of the prettiest towns in the Caribbean, brightly coloured stalls sell everything from cloves to plantains, guava to goatmeat and coconuts to lambi, a local name for conch.

'How you doin', my friend?' asked a man with dirty dreadlocks at the end of the quay.

He was cooking some kind of fish soup on a small primer stove.

The smell wafted gently across the harbour: past the Grenada Co-Operative Bank; past the Baptist church; past the garage; past the shop selling T-shirts.

There was a policeman in a red cap watching the proceedings from across the street, nodding his approval as salt was added to the soup, followed by rice.

He was flanked by two schoolgirls in white blouses, who were similarly absorbed.

Grenadians, I realised, take their food seriously.

That impression persisted as I drove into the lush, mountainous interior.

Where other islands in the region rely heavily on bananas, Grenada enjoys real agricultural diversity.

Huge stands of bamboo were punctuated by a bewildering variety of crops: from cocoa and maize to sugar-cane and nutmeg.

Grenada is the world's biggest producer of this spice and you see nutmeg-processing co-operatives scattered all over the island.

Although Grenada is a former British colony, many of the villages still have French names such as Perdmontemps, Pomme Rose, and Lance aux Epines that they were given by the first settlers.

Perhaps that also explains why, in culinary terms, Grenada is a notch above other former outposts of Empire, where they are still at the roast-chicken-and-spotted-Dick stage.

Ten years ago, eating out in the Caribbean was a desultory business: dreary buffet after dreary buffet, punctuated by the odd chicken stew.

But as Grenada shoots up the ladder of fashionable holiday destinations, it is smartening up its act in the kitchen.

At my hotel, the Spice Island Beach Resort, the food was immaculate throughout.

From the Eggs Benedict at breakfast to the last rum punch of the evening, I ate and drank like a prince.

The rum punches were particularly moreish: not too sweet, a common fault in Caribbean resorts, and liberally sprinkled with nutmeg.

Dinner was a six-course affair under the stars.

The dasheen soup, made from a local root vegetable, was glorious; but the real highlight was something called diamond back squid, caught that morning, served with chillis.

The one disappointment was the head chef, who came out to say 'hello' when he heard his work was drawing rave reviews.

I had been hoping for a born-and-bred Grenadian with dainty hands and a diploma in spice management.

In fact, he came from Coventry.

Local men think cooking is for wimps. Real men run rum-shops.

But that has not stopped Grenada from becoming what one might call a gastro-resort.

Drive up to the north and treat yourself to lunch at Morne Fendue, an old plantation house, wonderfully dilapidated and overrun with hibiscus and poinsettias.

There is a set Grenadian lunch for about £12 and it is really very good, with everything from pepper pot and pumpkin puree to a sinfully rich local speciality called oildown, made with coconut and sweet potatoes.

Or you could spend the day in St George's and take your pick from the cafès and restaurants which line the old harbour.

There is something for everyone, whether your taste is for callaloo soup, one of the classic Caribbean dishes, or stir-fried rabbit.

Best of all, just wander along the glorious two-mile beach at Grand Anse and follow your nose.

It may lead you inland, to somewhere chic and stylish such as La Grand Creole.

Or it may lead you to somewhere local and intimate.

Mine led me to an emporium called Janice Shady Heaven, which was a wooden shack on the beach.

The name intrigued me, as did the smell of fish from inside.

But, alas, it was closed; there were problems with the wiring in the kitchen.

I was disappointed, but not downcast. In Grenada, island of spice, there are always other options.


Seven nights at the all-inclusive Spice Island Beach Resort cost from £1,591 per person, based on two sharing.

Seven nights at the Rex Grenadian, room only, cost from £725 per person.

Prices include direct British Airways flights from Gatwick and transfers.

Flights from Heathrow to Grenada involve changes at Barbados or other Caribbean islands.

Details from Kuoni ( tel: 01306 747001).

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