Hunting Possum Dinner in Saint Lucia

In Oak Park, a varmint; in St. Lucia, a beloved local dish

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By David Hammond

Moments after getting off the plane In St. Lucia, I was grilling Larry, my driver, about where – but more importantly what – he liked to eat. I was on the island to attend the Rum & Food Festival and staying at the Capella Marigot Bay, so I knew I'd be served some excellent chow, but whenever and wherever I travel, I'm most interested in what's being eaten by the locals on the street and in their homes.

I was glad to see that at Capella resort they had several items that Larry mentioned, not always the fancy stuff but the more common, every person's food, like salt fish.

Salt fish is a fascinating cultural artifact, a carry-over from the earliest European voyages to the Caribbean. Before refrigeration, there was no way to take proteins on voyages of many months, unless it was preserved, which meant the meat or fish had to be pickled or cured. Salt-cured fish, almost always cod, was carried to the islands in the days when cod was a common, inexpensive protein (now it's rather expensive, having gone up 50 cents per pound in past year). Salt cod is still found in many Caribbean dishes: we've had breakfast salt fish on St. Lucia other islands; it's a refreshing change from yogurt and granola.

As I quizzed driver Larry about the food he liked to eat, he mentioned two foods that he and his family particularly enjoyed: dal and possum.

We stopped for dal on the way to the resort. Dal, a word of Indian origin (there are many Indians in St Lucia) is a kind of empanada, a folded piece of circular bread, stuffed with salt fish and yellow peas, then fried or baked. I enjoyed it quite a lot; the pea paste blunted the fishes' salty smack.

The possum, called "mani coup" in St. Lucian creole, may be a varmint in Oak Park, but in St. Lucia it's a beloved traditional dish. It is not, and would probably never be, served in a restaurant. It's a local food, a humble favorite, and people in St. Lucia always seemed to laugh nervously when I mentioned it, kind of like the Taiwanese would giggle shyly when I mentioned stinky tofu (also a beloved island favorite). They have tender feelings about beloved local foods and are not sure if foreigners will either like or respect what they eat. I do.

Larry offered to get me some possum, but there was none to be had. Apparently, a friend of his was able to corner a possum, but it had little babies, so he let it go.

Alas, I returned home from St. Lucia, having had some fine food and fine rum, but I never got that possum. Still, I know that the next time I see a possum crawling around in the alley behind our Oak Park home, I won't be looking at it as though it were a pest. I mean, it is that, of course, but now I know it's also, possibly, dinner.


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