In 2000, Calabash Chef Cullin David travelled to Georgetown, Guyana to prospect for gold and study the native food.
One day, while relaxing in his hammock, he noticed a young woman across the way baking salara bread in an oil drum over her backyard fire. Later, he saw her again selling it from a hut in the town. Of course, he had to try. It turned out to be the best stuffed coconut sweet bread he’d ever had.
Providentially, on his Strathcona Village restaurant’s brunch menu, you’ll find his version…and I can’t imagine another recipe tasting any more delicious.
His main inspiration, however, comes from his Guyanese grandma.
“Seeing how much time she put into things, and how she put her heart and soul into the food. There were no teaspoons. Her recipes were measured by ‘a tick of this’, ‘a bit of that’. That’s what authentic food means to me.”
At Calabash, you won’t eat jerk chicken before it’s been marinated at least 12 hours, nor will you drink a Dark and Stormy without an alluring garnish of fresh coconut and cinnamon. From your greeting to your last course, the Calabash experience is special.
Here are five unique Caribbean flavours Chef Cullin recommends you try at his cozy Gastown dining room.
1. Ackee and Salt Fish
“Salted cod has a big history in the Caribbean rum trade. Sailors would visit the island with huge shipments of rum and trade it for salt fish. Ackee is a fruit from West Africa that looks kind of crazy. It can cause Jamaican vomiting sickness unless its harvest properly. The seed and the membrane are outside the flesh, which is yellow, creamy and eggy in texture (it looks like scrambled egg). This is classic Caribbean, Jamaica’s national dish. We make it fresh-to-order, with peppers, tomatoes and onions.”
2. Jerk Chicken
“This dish is rich in history, too. It used to be cooked over a grill made out of pimento branches until the Europeans came and invented the metal grill (which was the birth of barbecued chicken). Our jerk chicken is all about the marination of the spices and the herbs. We always marinate our meat overnight, but two days gives the best results. The spice we make in-house is a bit sweet, made with brown sugar, fruit juice, all spice, thyme, hot peppers and cinnamon. We have a dry jerk finishing spice that we put on our fries, too.”