Welcome to the Bahamas, where the Sky Juice flows like honey and the cruise ships flock like the wild salmon of Capistrano.
For those seeking a more authentic experience, travel correspondent Jordan Whitley caught up with Nassau local Christopher Chea, chef/owner of Chea’s Corner Bistro—a true hidden gem tucked into the corner of Dowdeswell and Armstrong streets in Nassau.
Here, the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef dishes on the history of Bahamian cuisine, the best spots for local eats, and whether it’s OK to eat Guava Duff before the main course.
1. How would you describe Bahamian cuisine?
It is a melting pot of Dutch, English, Asian and French cuisines. Curries and stews and fried foods are most popular. Steamed fish, chicken or beef is often seasoned and fried, then simmered in gravy.
The English do a suet pudding and our national dessert Guava Duff is made in this fashion, minus the suet.
French or classical cuisine has en papillot style, which means to cook in a paper bag or parchment paper. Bahamians use this method, placing fish, conch, chicken or meat in greased foil with finely sliced peppers, onions, tomato, celery and plantain with herbs, then sealing and placing over hot coals until cooked.
Our ancestors used to cook in huge cauldrons where meat and vegetables were placed and boiled to make stews, if only with vegetables like sweet potato, cassava, pumpkin, okras, tomatoes, cabbage and beans.
2. Where do you like to go in the Bahamas to be inspired?
I get inspiration by going fishing on a day off or holiday with group of friends around the Exuma cays [an archipelago of 360 islands] which has many reefs where schools of fish live.
3. Where do you like to go for fresh fish in Nassau?
The Fish Fry [an assortment of small, colorful restaurants on West Bay Street] and under the Paradise island bridge at Potters Cay Dock are the two most famous places in Nassau for good quality and inexpensive seafood dishes.
However, practically all of the islands have caught on and have started a fish fry. Fried conch fritters, cracked conch, fried fish (snappers, grouper, jacks, grunts and barracuda), conch salad, scorched conch are the most popular dishes, but you can get chicken or steak if you are a land lubber!
These dished are washed down with our own Kalik beer or Sky Juice [gin and coconut water with some sweetened or condensed milk].
4. What do you consider the most unusual dish in the Bahamas?
We are a cosmopolitan nation with diverse tourist and locals who have worked and studied abroad and brought home recipes, so everything is available. But to the tourist, the conch is the most unusual item, or fish cooked with head on and eyes looking at you.
Some are squeamish about conch salad when they see that the conch is served and eaten raw—until they try it and see how good it tastes!
5. What influences you as a chef?
Traveling and watching food shows to compare my knowledge and style of cooking is a big influence.
When customers say what a great meal they had or that “it’s just like my mother’s cooking,” it gives me immense pleasure.
And when they ask for a certain dish and I can readily prepare it for them is always nice.
6. Are there any local dining customs we should know about?
Just relax and enjoy yourself. If you want to eat dessert, like Guava Duff, first, go right ahead!
Text and photos by Jordan Whitley for PeterGreenberg.com. Jordan Whitley is a seasoned adventure traveler, photographer and action sports host currently based in Birmingham, Alabama. Visit her on the Web at www.jordanwhitley.com or at www.jordanwhitleycanvas.carbonmade.com.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Oprah’s Former Personal Chef Art Smith Dishes Up Recipes, Art and Soul
- The Truly Local Restaurants Of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo
- Caribbean Travel Beyond the Beaches: Food & Markets Of Curacao
- Leah Chase, Queen of Creole Cuisine
- Culinary Adventures: Jamaica’s Roadside Food (With Recipes!)
- Caribbean Travel section
Check out some Caribbean recipes from Chef Chea….
Bahamian Boiled Fish Recipe
- 4 pieces of 8 oz grouper steaks seasoned with salt/pepper
- 1 oz finely sliced onion
- 1 lb potato peeled and diced
- Juice of 2 lemons or limes
- salt/pepper to taste
- 1 pint water
- thyme/bay leaf
- 1 oz bacon sliced (optional)
- 1 oz butter
- In skillet sweat the bacon and onions 3 minutes
- Add water and potatoes and bring to the boil
- Add fish and let simmer for 10 minutes
- Season with salt/pepper, thyme bay leaf and juice from lemons
- Serve hot in bowl with grits, Johnny cake (similar to an American biscuit, but baked in loaf form) or potato bread
Fish Chowder Recipe
- 4 oz diced onion
- 4 oz diced celery
- 4 oz diced green sweet peppers
- 4 oz diced tomato
- 4 oz diced potato
- 1 lb grouper fillet (diced conch, whelks, clams or any firm white fish can be used)
- thyme/bay leaf
- 3 oz tomato paste
- 4 oz flour
- 1 qt water or fish stock
- salt/pepper to taste
- 2 oz bacon or salt pork (if omitted, replace with 4 oz butter)
- In large skillet fry of bacon or salt pork to render the fat
- Add diced vegetables and allow to sweat 5 minutes
- Add flour and tomato paste and mix well.
- Add diced fish and water or stock, thyme/bay leaf
- Stir and bring to the boil
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper allow to simmer 30 minutes
- Garnish with hot peppers red pepper flakes or Tabasco if desired. Serve hot as a soup or main course with bread, Johnny cake or steamed rice.
- The flavor is enhanced if made one day in advance and reboiled.