Gari-Foods » Garifuna Foods in History and Future Aug 18, 2009 by Ma Barley
TRUJILLO -- It used to be thought that agriculture in the New World started in the dry areas of Mexico with the cultivation of corn or maize. More recent studies in the Amazon basin and its tributaries have revealed that the cultivation of rain forest root crops dates back to at least 5,000 B.C.
Honduras was the frontier between Mesoamerican corn, bean and squash growers like the Mayas and South American root crop growers. The ethnic groups here that have predominated cultivated root crops are the Garifunas, Pech, Tawahkas and to some extent the Miskitos. This is probably due to the influence of South American Arawak Indians, who used to live on the BayIslands and other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, Gran Cayman, and Grenada. BayIsland traditional food is also heavily influenced by root crops.
The principal root crops consumed in Honduras are manioc (yuca in Spanish), taro or malanga, white yams or name, red grow or nigger yams, called nam pan in Spanish, sweet potato and yams, both called camote in Spanish, red and white arrowroot, called yuquilla here and badu.
By far and away the most commonly found root crop in Honduras markets is yuca. Ethnic groups like the Pech and the Tawahkas grow around 14 varieties, notes ethnobotanist Paul House, including yuca dulce and the poisonous yuca amarga or bitter manioc. The only things made with bitter yuca are breads like sasal among the Tawahkas, Pech and Miskitos, and cassava bread with all of its derivations among the Garifunas. The Bay Islanders make a thicker bread, called bamy in Bay Islands English, somewhat similar to marrote of the Garifunas.
After squeezing the liquid out of the yuca to make bread, a fine layer of pure starch settles to the bottom. This starch is used to make a porridge, atol de yuca, among the Miskitos. This starch is what Americans use to make tapioca pudding. In Honduras, yuca starch, when mixed with lemon, is considered good medicine against diarrhea, notes the book "Common Medicinal Plants of Honduras." Feeding starch to babies is supposed to help them get fat and sleep through the night.
Grated yuca is also used to make the sweet pot cake pan de yuca by the Garifunas and Bay Islanders. It is mixed with a little flour, coconut cream, rapadura or raw cane sugar, and cinnamon, then cooked. Bay Islanders used to cook pot cakes by digging a hole in the ground, preparing hot coals, and then burying the cakes, a style of oven known as fire hearth, says Arnold Auld of Roatan. This custom is no longer practices, but pan de yuca is sold by Garifunas on the beach.
Camotes are also easily obtained in markets. There are two kinds -- a red skinned one and a longer yellowish yam. These sweet potatoes and yams are used to make porridge with coconut milk (atol de camote), pot cakes (pan de camote), fries, eaten boiled, in soups, and in tamales (tamalitos de camote). Candied yams (camote en miel) are known in Honduras, but the most popular way to eat these and other root crops is in a Garifuna, Bay Islander, or Miskito stew known as tapado.
Yams, green bananas, and malanga (white coco in Bay Islands English) are cooked in a coconut cream broth with natural spices, garlic and onions. As the coconut cream boils, a layer of coconut oil rises to the top. This is skimmed off and used to cook the fried fish that is served with this dish. Tapado is available at Garifuna and BayIsland food restaurants. It is considered a "strong" food by the Bay Islanders, says Roatan native James Thomas.
Name and badu are large root crops that can weigh up to 25 pounds each. They are mostly prepared like mashed potatoes. Garifunas also make dumplings (bondiga) of the names to put in coconut soup. Migo is a Garifuna dish where mashed name, nam pan, malanga are mixed with coconut cream and nutmeg, notes Garifuna Sebastian Marin.
HARD TO GET
Nam pan is called red grow or nigger yams in the BayIslands. While name is probably of New World origins, nam pan is probably from Africa. Garifunas and Bay Islanders cook nam pan is soups. Bay Islanders also eat them just boiled. Neither names nor nam pan are available in Honduran markets, so it was surprising to see them is U.S. markets in Atlanta.
Nam pan is hard to find anywhere. Along with BayIslands red arrowroot, maybe it should go on the list of endangered domesticated crops.
Arrowroot is called yuquilla. Arrow root porridge used to be traditional in the BayIslands, but the plant has either become locally extinct or endangered on the Islands since most Islanders have lost their farm land. The porridge is made from the starch of the plant, which is considered very good for children. The white arrowroot is medicinal and its starch is sometimes sold in Honduran pharmacies.
Malanga or coco was used in BayIslands soup like conch coup, says Auld. Malanga can be eaten just peeled and boiled. There is a pot cake made of malanga, pan de malanga. In spite of its importance, if we wanted to have a BayIslands food festival, we would wipe out the existence of the plant on the Islands, since Ladinos do not usually plant it. It is amazing that Honduras is exporting malanga to U.S. markets, but it is not shipped to the BayIslands, even though boats travel frequently between the Mosquitia and the Islands. Lack of access to ingredients is one reason why BayIslands traditional food are more endangered than black coral.