The Grocery Experience
If you are a true Foodie, then Montserrat probably is not the place for you. There are no artisanal cheesemakers or microbreweries, no raisers of endangered varieties of hog or purveyors of fresh sushi. There are no Whole Foods or Wegman’s or even Safeways. There are some pleasant restaurants, which we’ll discuss in a later blog.
There are a half dozen small grocery stores, reminiscent of the corner groceries that were common in the US say, 50 years ago, and perhaps still are in the smaller towns in lightly populated regions. They each have their specialties if you delve deeply enough, but they are superficially similar. They are all owned by people of Indian descent, and the names tend to reflect it; eg, Ashok’s, or Ram’s. Each has a frozen food section, a selection of produce of varying stages of freshness (most of which comes from off-island), a refrigerated section for yogurt and other dairy and cold drinks, a large selection of canned and dried goods, and a lot of alcoholic beverages. If you were a local Montserratian, you might also find that they have buckets of chicken necks and dried fish and other items for local dishes, sort of tucked away in the back. Some of them also carry an assortment of frozen, home-made Indian dishes, which are quite good. Local farmers sell their green goods at roadside stands, and there is a store in Brades called the Umpire Shop that sells a good selection of frozen premium meats and fish. Because most food has to be shipped in, it tends to be more expensive than similar food “at home.”
We have reusable bags so you don’t need to take the plastic: remember everything discarded here is trash, and there is no recycling. Although Montserrat is a pretty clean place, there is a tradition of dumping trash into one of the ghauts (valleys). There is a dump on the east side of the island, but plastic is plastic and tends to find its way to the sea. So anything you can do to reduce your trash imprint helps a little. When my parents first built here in the mid 1960’s, much was reused. For example, if you wanted fuel to use as a charcoal starter, you brought an old liquor bottle and they filled it for you. Not so anymore.
We do most of our grocery shopping at Ram’s, which is the largest of the grocers and also the closest to Moonshadow. If you are going to be on the island for awhile, they offer multi-bottle and case discounts on beverages. Ask at the register.
Speaking of beverages, we like Ting, which is a grapefruit soft drink and we usually get a case when we first arrive. Rum is cheap and good, and there is a good selection; you might even find some bush rum. If you are a wine drinker, be careful of the white wines, which don’t hold up well in the heat. Buy something with a recent vintage, and don’t expect to find anything of great interest. There is a green ginger wine that is just plain nasty.
For produce, we try to shop the roadside stands, and Friday seems to be the day with the best selection. There are usually several people selling on the road near or in front of Ram’s. Before the volcano, there was a large public market with local meat and a great selection of produce. Unfortunately, the most arable land was destroyed by the volcano, as was the market in Plymouth, and the Grove, which was the agricultural station. As a result, local produce is limited. There are peppers, pumpkin (squash), hydroponic lettuce (usually at Ashok’s), bananas, and an assortment of starchy root crops like yams, carrots. You might find coconuts and papayas; mangoes are plentiful in season, and may also be harvested from the two mango trees at Moonshadow. Season tends to be defined as whenever we aren’t there; mid-to late summer for example. I am told that avocados are usually plentiful in summer as well. Breadfruit makes a nice “potato” salad, and at certain times of the year you will be able to buy fruit to make your own exotic tropical fruit drinks: passion fruit, sorrel, and “blackberry,” for example. As mentioned, imported produce is available in the coolers at the grocers, along with onions and potatoes.
We do a lot of grilling. We get salmon from the Umpire Shop. There is not much fresh fish available; it goes to the restaurants or the local folks. There is no grocer with fresh fish that I am aware of.
Frozen chicken, pork and beef is available; finer cuts at the Umpire. There is a man who raises chickens and sells local frozen breast/legs/thighs. He sometimes stops at the house. His home-based store is on the road to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. He also has eggs, and fresh eggs are available from the grocers and sometimes at the roadside stands.
For frozen Indian food, we recommend Ashok’s, or Karishma’s, which is on the way to the airport and gas station in Saint Johns. Karishma’s is primarily a shop for electronics, clothing and so on, but they also cook and have a freezer in the back. You will be able to get samosas, naan, chickpeas with spinach, some rice dishes, and some chicken dishes. I believe they will cook something specifically for you if you ask. At Ashok’s I have seen them bring an assortment of freshly made items at lunch time for take out, so ask at either store. If you are a vegetarian, this might give you some good options.
Of course, the Island Specialty is Goat Water, tender chunks of goat in a spicy (cloves, cinnamon—not necessarily hot) broth. We like to get it on Fridays at lunch at the Attic, a restaurant that is close to the house. I believe you can get a goat, or part of one if you want to make your own. I have made goat water at home in Maryland a couple of times, but have not tried it on the island. The whole looking-your-food-in-the-eye thing is a little much for me. Susan at Tradewinds could probably steer you in the right direction; that said, I don’t think we have the cutlery at Moonshadow to make this an easy choice. It’s possible that you can find frozen goat meat, but I have not looked for it.
So: it’s a bit of an adventure. Try something new. If you see some vegetable you don’t know—ask the vendor. They are happy to tell you how to prepare it and to me, trying new things is a lot of fun!