Today, one simply walks into their kitchen, “nukes” food in the microwave and within minutes there’s a hot meal to enjoy. In years gone by, meal planning was entirely different and required hours of work and planning. It would start with visiting the grounds (farms) to collect breadkind (e.g., potatoes, cassava, yams, breadfruit, etc.), daily fishing trips, bartering with neighbours for other ingredients and provisions, and collecting firewood. The next step would be preparing all of the ingredients. Take, for example, the local dish of Stew Whelks. First the whelks were collected from the ironshore or reef, “scalded and picked” — which meant they were boiled in their shells, the meat was removed and the inedible bits were removed. Next, the meat was ground in a hand grinder, the sea pie was made (think flour dumplings but stretched out) and the coconut milk prepared (another labour-intensive task). Then everything was cooked together, with other ingredients like salt and fresh herbs, in iron pots over open fire/coals.
Many of the traditional Caymanian foods were eaten out of necessity in the olden days. One could not simply walk into a supermarket and buy ingredients, and there was no refrigeration to safely store food. Meats and fish were corned or salted to preserve them, and meals had to be cooked daily. However, these days, many of those “necessity” meals are considered a delicacy. If you were to ask a local, “What is your favourite traditional Caymanian dish?” some of the answers would include Cayman-style beef, heavy cakes (made from breadkind, coconut milk, flour, sugar, butter and spices), Stew Conch, Rundown (fish or salt beef cooked in coconut milk with breadkind) and fish fried and fritters (fried dumplings).
Over the years, the local palate has changed and Cayman is often referred to as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, where you can taste dishes originating from many countries, including other Caribbean nations, France, the Philippines, Australia, the United States, Canada, Germany, China and Japan. But the delight and craving for local traditional dishes is still prevalent, and if given the choice, many locals will opt for a plate of Cayman-style beef, rice and beans, cassava, cornbread, baked macaroni and cheese, and a roll. Hungry anyone?
Photographer: Courtesy of Cayman Islands National Archive