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Culinary adventures on island – SXMCooks

Food shopping on island has changed over the last 30 odd years that we have lived on St. Maarten/St. Martin. This island has the best, simply the best, supermarkets and stores that carry ingredients from all over the world. Problem is, quite often the ingredient is unknown to us, or at least we think it is. The packaging looks different with info is most likely written in a language we can’t understand.

We arrived on island way back in ’88 and our culinary adventures on island began – SXMCooks. We found many items at the main supermarket on the Dutch side that we did not attempt to buy an’ try due to the language problem. The quirky and intriguing supermarkets called Afoo and Sangs in Philipsburg were a draw card for us. The smell was so different to high class city supermarkets. The shelves were full of dusty cans that were seemingly Asian. The fresh veg were local “provisions” that for the most part we had never seen before. The meat was sold in large slabs, hunks of unfathomable parts of animals. The fish did not look like those we were used to.

Being adventurous re what we eat (and feed the family) we would eventually buy the odd packet, can or bottle. We hoped we would make some headway in understanding the instructions on how to cook said item. We would get out the dictionary and begin the laborious task of deciphering the cryptic writing.  The packet(s), more often than not, would gradually go moldy, or the bugs would get to them before we got around to using them. Many had to be tossed. We had far more odds ‘n ends at the back of the pantry than in the back of the fridge. Ocassionally we would have a succesful outcome and declared we could eat that again. But those packets would not reappear on the shelves again.

As the years went by we began to understand French and Dutch on packets, cans and bottles to a degree. Feeling quite chuffed about this personal milestone until a couple months back we were excited to see a really good deal on the cans we believed to be duck confit. We bought a couple (they were not that cheap.) Came the time to open a can for dinner we found we had bought a can of duck hearts! The contents of the cans ended up being throughly wolfed down by the dog. We enjoyed the truffle mash and glazed carrots on their own. (Why are there so many French cans without the tell tale pictures?)

I had a natter with our snowbird neighbour who said she really just does not buy much she can’t understand or does not recognize. She told me they are not that adventurous in what they eat at home but on occasion would love to be able to try new things – if only they could understand the labels.

Well, here we are – this is where we will be shopping and cooking, hopefully getting a little more understanding of how to use some “exotic” ingredients.

The new supermarket on Bush Road is exciting even if it is all rather overwhelming for the first few of visits. The shelves are stacked high (often help is needed to get items from that high-top shelf) but oh, the variety they have is incredible. They carry everything they had in the old Le Grande Marche as well as all those fantabulous new products from France (which of course are written in French). Then there all those Dutch and Asian products one finds at Afoo, Kams and Sunny Foods; there are so many unrecognizable packets of herbs and spices Indian, Chinese as well as Middle Eastern products, yes, we are going to have fun!

Cooking with many of these new-to-me-ingredients takes me out of my comfort zone, I like a challenge. The fun is in finding new recipes to go with the ingredients. The cook and taste fest I hope will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Be a little more adventurous in your kitchen.