Sitting outside the front of the Spice Island Beach Resort I asked a young bellman where he would go to get the best food on the island of Grenada. He smiled, his eyes glazed over and he described how his mother makes the local porridge called tanya log. “She puts bay leaves and nutmeg into the porridge and stirs until the mixture thickens.”
He mimicked scooping it out of a bowl with his fingers. “Hmm, it is just simple food, you know, but it warms you.”
I had travelled to this island on the southern tip of the Grenadine Archipelago in search of an authentic taste of the Caribbean and I had found a man who might help me get the experience I was looking for.
Grenada is often referred to as the Island of Spice. Its main export crops have traditionally been nutmeg and mace. Historically Europeans believed that nutmeg had the power to ward off viruses like the common cold; they even thought that it could prevent the bubonic plague. As a result the spice has, at times, been worth more than its weight in gold.
More recently it is Grenada’s cocoa trees that have been sparkling. A boom in the trend for ‘bean to bar’ chocolate making has delivered entrepreneurs from the US and the UK to the Caribbean islands searching not for beaches and rum, but for world class cocoa, gilded by the chocolate tasters with awards and medals.
The craft chocolate industry is unlike other highly sought after delicacies. Imagine a world in which France made no wine, exporting all its grapes elsewhere to be bottled in huge steel vats. Imagine a wine producer marketing their product as ‘vine to bottle’, and that being unusual.
This is the reality for chocolate. Most cocoa growing countries don’t make any chocolate, and most chocolate you will buy in our shops will contain a mix of cocoa, bought for its low-price alone. The concept of terroir, so lauded amongst oenophiles, is lost in the mix.
Grenadian chocolate is different – The Grenada Chocolate Factory, started by the late Mott Greene in 1999, has been producing ‘tree to bar’ chocolate on the island since 1999 and has attracted significant acclaim. Remarkably, by keeping the processing and packaging of chocolate within Grenada, Greene established the first and only chocolate-making company in a cocoa-producing country.
Working with small cocoa farmers and demanding that all his cocoa was certified organic, Greene was able to control the quality of cocoa beans he bought, increase price paid to the farmer and crucially remove the best chocolate from the government supported cocoa cooperatives that still sell in bulk to the mass market chocolate producers. It was a simple idea that allowed the quality of Grenada’s cocoa to be recognised internationally.
The craft chocolate industry has taken note and among the cruise ship tourists visiting the factory’s outlet at the Belmont Estate are a steady stream of new wave ‘bean to bar’ chocolatiers, coming here as a sort of pilgrimage to the sustainable, ethical, quality driven operation that the Grenada Chocolate Factory has come to represent.
I drove up to visit the factory from my base at the impeccable Spice Island Resort. The location ticks every magical desert island box; palm trees, white sand, clear blue seas – check. The hotel is both close to the airport and sits right on the quiet end of the spectacular Grand Anse beach.
The southern tip of the island is the ideal place to stay, and such short transfers to incredible beaches are increasingly rare. Any concern over an extra hour flight time from a stopover in St Lucia will evaporate when you realise you’ll be by the pool with cocktail in hand within half an hour of hitting the tarmac.
If the south is the place to relax, the north of the island, with its lush rainforests and rugged coastline is the place to explore.
I suggest heading up the winding roads above picturesque capital St George’s then heading east and inland to cut across the island. You’ll wind towards The Belmont Estate to see and buy that chocolate, and then carry on to the River Antoine Rum Distillery.
Here, the flavour takes a back seat because at 150 proof (75 per cent alcohol) the rum bottled at River Antoine is hard to enjoy. Like liquid bleach, lighter fluid and tear gas, it’s also illegal to carry on an aeroplane. The tour of the buildings (unchanged since 1785) is well worth doing even if the tasting session at the end is guaranteed to leave you speechless.
On another day I stuck to the coast road out of St George and passed colourful roadside rum shacks with knockout views (stop for a beer, a Ting, or a barbecued ear of corn at Charlie’s Bar) before coming into the seaside towns of Victoria and Gouyave.
If you’re on the island on the last Saturday of the month then Victoria hosts the Sunset City Food Festival. The food loving bellman at the Spice Island resort tells me is the best place to get the full flavour of the island. He insists you try the tanya log, fresh sour sop ice-cream and punches topped with grated nutmeg.
The Friday fish fry at Gouyave is also worth a visit. Starting around 6pm and ending late it’s slightly rougher around the edges than the more tourist focussed events of some of the bigger Caribbean islands but the locals will be there and the steel drums will be playing. Grenadians like their rum, so be prepared for a lively time and plenty of dancing. Have a good browse of the stands before diving in - don’t miss the jerked marlin, fry jacks, and of course some beers to wash it all down. (It’s probably worth hiring a driver for this one!)
If street food’s not your thing then most of the resorts and hotels on Grenada have more formal restaurants attached. The beach-side Oliver’s Restaurant at the Spice Island resort is widely touted as the pick of the bunch but the meals I ate there were slightly dumbed-down in a way that hotel food often is.
If you stick to island specialities – the headily spiced soft blood sausage with eggs at breakfast and homemade nutmeg ice cream in the heat of the afternoon stick in the memory – you should eat very well.
The restaurants and the roadside rum-shacks may not be attracting the accolades of the Michelin inspectors any time soon; but the chance to combine golden beaches, guaranteed sunshine and medal-winning chocolate makes Grenada well worth a culinary diversion.