Justine Shapiro at a food market
Where: Central America’s Caribbean coast
Staples: Green bananas and coconut milk
Top dish: Fish balls & coconut soup
Tastes: Caribbean- sweet and creamy with spicy and bitter flavours
Who are the Garifuna?
Garifuna is the name used to describe all the black communities living in Central America’s Caribbean coast. The Garifuna people are a unique ethnic group descending from Africa that were brought to central America after the Spanish Conquest. In Belize, the Garifuna people settled in the area of Dangriga, which is in the centre of the coast in 1923. The Garifuna also settled in Guatemala, but the majority of the Garifuna people can be found in Honduras.
A distinct social group with their own language, garifuna food is also quite different. Green bananas and coconut milk are staples of Garifuna cooking and are found in almost everything.
Even garifuna snack food makes use of the coconut tree. Coconut water, coconut bread and even coconut candy can be brought at local stores. Traditional drinks include lemon grass and bitter orange leaf tea.
Garifuna cuisine is by its nature, very labour intensive. Just making the coconut oil to fry their fish in can be a two-day ordeal. First fifty coconuts must be cut down, cut open and grated with anequi, which is a small quartz and mahogany grater. The coconut flesh is then mixed with the milk, which is then pressed to form coconut milk. To turn the coconut milk into coconut oil you must then boil, ferment and skim the liquid. Finally, the Garifuna would take this oil and fry their fish in it to make one of their most popular dishes.
Recipe: Fish Balls in an Achiote and Coconut Soup
Using similar ingredients to the fish fried in coconut oil is this recipe for fish balls in an achiote and coconut soup. Whilst this recipe may not sound like the best thing you have ever eaten, the garifuna people love this dish and insist the results will speak for themselves.
Fish balls ingredients
6 slices bread (dry)
¾ kilo white fish filets
¼ tsp of coriander, cumin & chilli powder
½ tsp oregano
1-2 cups coconut milk
4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp achiote paste
Chop the fish and bread and put in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and spices and mix until well combined. Roll this mixture into balls (roughly egg size). Fry in shallow oil.
To make the soup simply mix all ingredients together over heat.
Serve the fish balls in a bowl filled with some of the soup.
This dish can be accompanied with warm bread or tortillas, which are another garifuna staple.
Overview of the Garifuna people and their history
Garifuna people’s history