Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ti' Punch Tales

I was almost knocked out in Martinique. Not in a brawl but by the heady power of the national drink, ti' punch. A deceptively simple mixture of cane syrup, rhum and lime, ti'punch is not so much a cocktail as a way of life. There was no part of the island, no time of day, where I didn't see the telltale bottle of rhum lined up with syrup, lime and an empty glass. This is a drink so singular that locals prepare their own versions at bars and restaurants. I watched countless mixers until I dared try a version whipped up by Steve, Uncommon Caribbean's rhum connoisseur. The pure strength of the rhum burned my throat and threw me off balance. They don't say,  "chacun pre'pare sa propre mort" or "each prepares their own death" while making ti'punch for nothing.

I discovered that the type of rhum used depends on your location on the island, with different areas pledging loyalty to the local distillery. Martinque rhum (that's not a typo that's the elegant French spelling) isn't distilled from molasses like other rums, but from sugar cane juice, for a more distinct flavor and aroma. It also depends on if you use rhum blanc or vieux, with blanc traditionally downed early in the day and vieux in the evening. Of course, ice is frowned upon, least it water down the potency. I never learned to mix my own ti'punch or even to drink an entire glass while I was in Martinique but I watched lots of mixing. I appreciate the devotion and skill that goes into its creation and I think the drink reflects Martinique's refined Caribbean sensibilities. The video below shows a ti'punch concoction shaken up  and served while  I visited Ilet Oscar, off the coast of Martinique.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Silkworms on the Streets of Granada

I've discovered that when it comes to travel photos and experiences, it's the unexpected that leaves the strongest impressions. Strolling the cobblestone streets of Granada, Spain, I spotted this little boy in his doorway. He's playing with silkworms, an especially symbolic past-time because just steps away from his doorway, the legendary Granada silk bazaar or Alcaiceria unfolded on several streets during the 15th century. From the 15th through the 19th centuries, the Moorish tradition of silk production supplied the Alcaiceria with fine fabrics that filled hundreds of small shops that dotted the labyrinth of streets and alleyways. The original Alcaiceria  burned down from a fire that raged for eight days in 1843. By that time, silk trading was firmly entrenched in Japan and China and the Spanish silk trade never recovered. But remnants of that history, like these silkworms stored in a shoe box with holes, can be glimpsed if you keep your eyes and mind open.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Browsing Fort-de- France's Covered Market

The heart of any Caribbean island is always a bustling, open air market where locals buy fresh produce, crafts, clothes and anything else considered a staple. In Martinique, the cosmopolitan capital of Fort- de- France hosts the island's shopping mecca, Le Grand Marche' Couvert or covered market. It was designed by a French architect in 1901 and still serves generations of locals.

I love shopping in local markets because it's the best way to sample cultural hallmarks. In Martinique, spices are essential. The line-up of spices shown above include a heaping pile of columbo, the curry powder that flavors many Martinican dishes.

The madras cloth that represents the island's cultural tradition fills many stalls. The boldly colored cloth appears in basket linings, on dolls, purses and  on an array of clothes. I spent a long time looking through all the dresses and shirts until I found a turquoise madras sundress that I quickly snapped up.

Jewelry also plays a significant role in Martinican culture, rows of traditional necklaces and bracelets made from seeds and stones claim a prime spot in the market. Notice that the sign welcomes visitors in French, English, Spanish and creole.

Of course, you can actually buy fruit and vegetables at the market as well. Seasonal tropical fruits like genips,  and tamarinds and vegetables like christophene dot  the stalls with pretty colors and scents. I left clutching my dress and munching on a bunch of tangy genips and I felt like a true Martinican. What are your favorite markets that you've discovered  on your travels?