On a recent trip to Guatemala, I journeyed from the central Mayan highlands to the Caribbean coast to find the minority population of Garifuna people. Descendants of escaped African slaves who once lived in the hills of the island of St. Vincent, the Garifuna were exiled to the Caribbean coast of Central America two hundred years ago. Here they maintain their African traditions transformed slightly by their years on St. Vincent among the Arawak and Carib Indians, and by their new hosts: Honduras, Belize (formerly British Honduras) and Guatemala. The Garifuna were in the news recently when accounts of the automobile accident that killed hip-hop diva Lisa Lopes mentioned she’d been vacationing in a Garifuna village in Honduras.
I’d come to Livingston, the center of Garifuna life in Guatemala, mostly for the music, which I’d found vibrant, soulful and very African. Hearing the Garinagu riff on the street, in clubs and at ceremonies was a joy, but not unexpected. (Strictly speaking, Garinagu is the name for their nation, Garifuna the language, but Garifuna is generally accepted for both.) What was a surprise, though, was the food, just as zesty as the music, globally tropical, locally Caribbean, and painstakingly prepared.
With large numbers engaged in fishing, Garinagu cuisine is trademarked by fresh fish and seafood, enhanced by the nutty sweet flavor of coconut. Tapado, a favorite in Livingston, is a rich fish-and-seafood stew with green and ripe plantains, yams, tomato and herbs, simmered in coconut milk. I became a tapado junkie, sampling it wherever I could, insinuating my way into kitchens and talking tapado to anyone who’d want to share its secrets with me.
Back home, I determined to pursue the search for scrumptious Garifuna fare. I guess the mark of the Garinagu’s talent over a fire and their love of cooking at home is that there is only one restaurant, Yoli’s, for the 50,000-plus Garifuna in the New York area, and it opened shop only months ago.
I arranged to meet the brother of a friend from Livingston at Yoli’s, in the South Bronx. Titiman brought the posse with him: Hondurans and Guatemalans curious about a journalist curious about them. With punta rock, the top of the Garifuna pops blaring, we talked of Livingston, the music and the food. Yoli’s hadn’t been able yet to include tapado on the menu, but I had another tasty fish and coconut dish, hudutu (or judutu).
Later on, I mentioned that I had a to-die-for dulce de coco (shredded coconut cooked until golden in caramelized raw sugar) sold to me on the street by a just-as-dulce village elder woman. That woman, Titiman told me, is Yoli’s mother. My appetite just whetted, I began to ask around where I might find more Garifuna food, perhaps home-co
HUDUTU (MAIN DISH)
This is the name for both the plantain paste and the dish it accompanies
4 lbs. of fish, either large, such as bluefish (somewhat oily) or snapper, cut into approximately 2” steaks; or small, such as dentex or rockfish, scaled, gutted and left whole, head and tail intact
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable or coconut oil for frying
8 cups coconut milk (see below)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, flattened with the broad side of a knife blade
12 okra pods, trimmed of stems and tips
1. Salt and pepper the fish and sear in the oil. Set aside, separating the better-browned from the lesser.
2. Place the coconut milk (fulumoun in Garifuna), onions, and garlic in a
large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.
3. Add one half the fish, the less-browned portion. Stir gently.
4. Add the okra and allow to simmer for a few minutes until the okra is almost tender.