A little over 2 weeks ago an exchange took place on Facebook between Vibert Cambridge and Henry Muttoo. They started off talking about Salara, but then the talk turned to Mauby.
Vibert: Talking ‘bout mauby, Henry. Ah had a taste of some real, real mauby in Port Mourant last Saturday—not dat ting—de syrup dat does come in a bottle and sell in supa market. It was like the one you planin fuh mek. It was the real ting! The ting we uses fuh get in de cake shop in a big glass wid a chunk of ice—dat yuh uses fuh stir with you index finga of you right hand! Mauby is de prince of de local drinks!
Stop and think for a moment. How many times have we not complained about the lack of taste in many of the food and beverage we consume, especially those sourced from outside of the home? What is even more disappointing (at least for me) is that increasingly, many of these encounters have been with the shop-around-the-corner vendors, the stalls at Church and community fairs and some street vendors. I do not except homemade quality products with superior taste from any supermarket, so I am never really disappointed if I buy something there and it turns out to be all about looks rather than taste. Here in the Caribbean, we’ve long had a reputation of being excellent cooks and bakers, and while many not know how to make everything, the things we do make, we do the best. How then did we go from making mauby with the bark complete with its distinct bitter finish – which studies have shown aid in the reduction of blood pressure – to a thick, dark, sugar-laden syrup overpowered by essence and void of any mauby flavour?
I have more questions.
How can sweet bread crumble and turn to dust at the first bite, showering my lap and the floor with crumbs while the rest of it falls like sand from my hands?
Why does the pastry for Cheese Rolls and other such delicacies stretch and tear rather than flake or crumble? Why must it be chewy rather than delicate?
Why do scones leave a waxy coating on the roof of one’s mouth after eating? Could it be because the baker used a fat other than butter that was not melted at the right temperature when baked? And could it be that the non-use of real butter caused the scones to be tasteless?
How can the shark be fried without seasoning? Could it be that the only way we can get taste from fried shark today is to load it up with a dizzying array of condiments that overwhelm the fish?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my mom’s complaint about the lack of proper bread. That is a complaint I hear all over this region. Last month when I was in Trinidad one of my friends begged me to make some homemade bread for them. In Barbados we hear the same complaints about the lack of proper quality bread. Bread is essentially 4 ingredients – flour, yeast, salt and water. How can many of our bakeries be getting this daily food so very wrong?
You go out to community events and expect to get some tasty food. Think again. You search in vain for the salt fish in the fish cakes and the coconut in the turnovers. Oh don’t talk about cassava pone, flour is added to give it heft and height.
This lack of quality products of taste is one of the factors that contribute to people eating fast food. With the chicken and chips, burgers and pizzas, they know exactly what they are getting for their monies worth and the taste. Let me share this with you.
A couple of years ago a friend and I decided to get something to eat after a morning spent shopping. We opted not to have fast food because we had both eaten fast food recently and in the spirit of practicing everything in moderation, we opted to buy cooked local food. Among the things we got were rice and peas, vegetables, baked chicken and pork chops.
We headed out to one of the beaches and sat on one of the bench-table combos, shaded by the trees. With the wind at our back and the tranquil turquoise sea spread as wide and far as the eyes could see, one could not have asked for a better dining atmosphere. We lifted the lids of the hot Styrofoam boxes and dug in. We each took a forkful of our food and turned to look at one another, chewing slowly and frowning. We tasted each other’s food and had a little bit of everything. We never finished our food and each ate a quarter of what was there, if that much. By this time we were hungrier than ever.
The wind seemed to mock us as it plastered the distinct aroma of fast food across our faces. I turned in search of the smell. Not far away, a couple sat in a car, windows rolled down, each with a box of Chefette chicken and chips, eating happily and clearly enjoying every bite. Chefette is Barbados’s largest local fast food chain. My friend and I looked at each other; we didn’t say a word, we didn’t have to because we were both thinking the same thing – we should have bought fast food!
There are many things we have lost, continue to lose and will lose in the future. That’s life. Things change, some evolve and new things are taken on board, it’s how we know that we are living. What I would like to do is to appeal for us to not lose our ability to taste, to taste proper food and drink. Cooking, as we all know is a skill and an art. Cooking and our cuisine are tightly woven into who we are; it’s in our DNA. Let us not lose it. Please. These days people travel all over the world to taste other people’s food; many tourism destinations are diversifying, they are offering more than just the sea, sand and sun. These destinations know that people are travelling to eat, they understand the uniqueness of the cuisine and are building tourism products around food.
We have to and must get back to tasting our food.