Friday, April 15, 2016

Sprats and Cocoa Tea

For this story, I'm combining two different experiences (which normally don't go together) that I had the opportunity to enjoy recently—one involved eating and the other involved drinking. The eating experience occurred today at the end of the school day.
While painting some playground activities on our school driveway (sort of a fancy version of hopscotch), our local fisherman came over with a gift for me—freshly roasted sprats. These are small fish (similar to sardines) that are caught with nets. Today some locals were catching them and immediately roasting them over a fire on the beach across from our school.
He showed me how to pinch in the lower area behind the gills to remove the guts from the fish. Then it is easy to just eat the meat from both sides of the body of the fish. Usually sprats are caught and taken home, where they are seasoned with spices and cooked on a stove. However, today they came straight out of the saltwater (retaining a nice salty flavor) onto the fire, and then delivered to me on a big sea grape leaf. They were very good!

Cocoa tea is a delightful departure from traditional hot chocolate. My host mom on St. Lucia introduced me to this Caribbean staple, but it is also very popular on Dominica. Cacao trees are quite common on these islands, and I've mentioned this in previous blog stories. These trees produce large pods, which turn yellow when ripe, as shown below.
Inside the pods, the individual seeds are surrounded by a thick, gelatinous coating that can be eaten (sucked on would be a better description) as can be seen in the photo below. The dark seeds inside need to be washed and then sun-dried. Once they have been dried, they can be used for making cocoa tea.
I was invited to assist one of my friends in the village one night when she was making the cocoa tea sticks (in some respects, it was a bit like folks in West Virginia getting together to string beans or make apple butter). She had purchased a large bag of the dried seeds. Her first step was to roast the seeds in a large pot on her gas stove. This heating process helps to separate the outer seed coating. As it gets hot, the individual seeds often create a loud popping noise.
Once the seeds have been roasted, we gathered around the dining room table to “shell” the seeds, pulling off the outer skin (as shown above) and just dropping the hull on the table to be cleaned off later. The uncovered seeds are then placed in a large bowl, prior to running them through a hand-turned grinder clamped to a wooden table (see below).
The resulting chocolate “sludge” is then placed into a container and mixed with a secret combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices. This mixing is done by hand as shown below.
This mixture is then rolled between the palms of your hands to create “logs.” These are finally placed on a banana leaf (commonly used here in place of wax paper) to dry.
After they are dry, these logs can then be grated (or some choose to chop off slices, but my host mom says that grating is the best way). It is then mixed with water and/or milk and heated on the stove. Even though spices have already been added, most cooks here will doctor it up with additional spices, a bay leaf, or something to make it unique. Sugar can be added to sweeten it according to your taste.

Don't expect cocoa tea to taste like hot chocolate or like tea—it has its own unique flavor. In some ways, it is similar to coffee, except with roasted cocoa beans instead of roasted coffee beans (it also has the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee). Some tout it as a health food (especially if it is not overly sweetened), because it has lots of anti-oxidants. I enjoy it! Just like the sprats at the top of this story, it is another wonderful food experience that I never would have had if I had not joined the Peace Corps!

P.S. A friend from America, who visited me and took some cocoa tea sticks back home with her, made a funny request to me. If she unexpectedly dies, and her brothers come to clear out her home, I'm supposed to inform them that the plastic bag in the refrigerator containing what might appear to be dog turds is really cocoa tea sticks!

No comments:

Post a Comment