March 11, 2013 by Last Star blog
Okay, I am trying to not have orgasmic dreams …about Joe & Harris. Trader Joe’s and Harris teeter. Right now, I just want some fage yoghurt. Some asparagus would be nice, basil, and how about fresh organic whole chicken? Someone asked me the other day how I spend my last birthday…I was in Clarendon with some great girlfriends eating and drinking. I started to think about the mussels at Liberty Tavern and the fabulous Greek food at Cava and I realized how much I miss real restaurants and real grocery stores.
Here, eating out is usually (95%) a local’s place. Every now and then you get an upscale restaurant like we saw in Harbor Island. However, here in the Exumas the restaurants are usually a house that has been opened up as a diner. Cinder block construction, plenty of plywood for windows, plastic porch chairs, plastic table cloths…you get the picture. Rarely are they actually on the beach taking advantage of the Bahamas biggest asset, instead you usually have to wander through neighborhoods to find it. The menu is almost always the same, regardless of the island: pork(ribs),chicken(jerk), fish(fried),conch(fried), French fries, rice and peas(together), and mac-n-cheese. Every now and then you can find beef hamburgers, if the ‘mailboat’ has come that week. Don’t get me wrong, my friends know I love mac-n-cheese and the fish is so fresh I am not sure I care it is so bad for me fried in batter. We go out to dinner to get off the boat and have a few beers, as we don’t usually keep beer on board. We also go out to dinner to be social, as lovely as it is to spend all this time together sometimes it is a real bonus to talk to someone who doesn’t know every story before I tell it. So, here it is not so much a culinary event as a culinary diversion.
However, the real work is finding groceries. In the Abacos the islands are little more populated and a little closer together…and they have one really terrific American style grocery store you can sail to easily in a day in Marsh Harbour. Alas, in Eluethra and the Exumas groceries are a real treasure. People wait on the ‘mailboat’ like it is Christmas morning…how many hours until arrives and what could it have this week. It is scheduled to arrive in Staniel Cay on Wednesdays–or at least 3x a month, sometimes. It can have fresh produce once week or bread the next, or just not show up, it’s a lottery. Eggs are pretty easy to find and some kind of milk, be it fresh or shelf-longlife, and usually butter too. Now, produce, that’s a different story. Cabbage is usually available, broccoli if you’re lucky, government cheese (orange but tastes like wax), white sunbeam bread, and frozen meats are usually on the mailboat. I have learned that canned chicken is a great in any casserole type combo, eat salad while you can, and buy all and fruits they have in ’cause you never know when you see it again. We talked a bartender out of some cilantro from their upscale kitchen one night, he was a great dude from S. Africa. So, as you can imagine the shelves of any store are going to be very limited to mostly can goods, some frozen stuff, a meager selection of fruit and veg. The real issue is the actual ‘store.’ There is a decent one in Rock Sound in Eluethra but that’s 45 miles from the heart of the Exumas. An eight hour sail, for groceries, well we have done it and were rewarded with two–count them two–single servings of FAGE yoghurt and fresh strawberries! It was a miracle. Of course the single serve were $3 and the pint of strawberries $9, at that point we were like giddy little kids, damn the price! Now this particular store is like an IGA in any small town in America. Smattering of everything, but the prices are a little better than the small ones. A half gallon of milk is only $5 and bread $4. The ‘grocery’ stores in the Exumas are like the restaurants, usually in someones garage or front rooms. We bought bread from a woman…in her kitchen one day. It was wonderful, but passing through her living room and past the formal set dining table was odd, but if you wanted bread that’s where you went.
The Blue store in Staniel Cay is literally a room attached to a blue house, it has a few shelves, a fridge and a free standing freezer.
The pink house is ‘Isles General’ and it has a few more shelves favoring home improvement…ok, 4 shelves for hardware, but hey it’s the only one around.
The reason I call it foraging is you never know who is going to have what or how much, so you could end up at the blue store for milk and the pink one for cauliflower. Everyone talks on the radio the day the mailboat comes: “They have bananas!” followed by the rev of 30 dinghies and the race is on. Adderly’s in Black Point had limes but no lemons, she had grapefruit–I bought both of them. My friend Pauline is a chef, so she frowns on canned goods of any kind. I used to as well, now I am very creative! She is extremely talented in the kitchen, one day she asked us to come for dinner, but she thought she only had an onion! She made farrow risotto with dried mushrooms, it was heavenly. If you only come down here for a month or so, you can stock your boat with staples…after three months I am out of most of my staples. It is part of the adventure poking around in these small alcoves of a slower lifestyle. There are no megaplexes, no parking lots, no carts, and no one is rude. I miss the choices in the Harris Teeter but not the pace that goes with it. I miss the organic surplus at Whole Foods but not the attitude. I guess you have to pick your poison. However, paying $15 for a block of cracker barrel sharp cheddar in the islands is not in my regular grocery budget. I have no idea how the locals do it, they shop the same shops and pay these crazy prices. When the boys were with us, they compared the grocery shopping to a video game (RPG), where you go from person-to-person and place-to-place asking questions and trying to accomplish your objective: buying food. I laughed and yes, it is the same and I am enjoying the quest.