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A Taste of Honduras: Garifuna-style

Bowl of Sopa de Pescado (Fish Soup)

Orel Emile Gentle Steward traded his life as a chef on a cruise ship to be a chef in his hometown of Sambo Creek, Honduras. Sambo Creek is one of many colorful Garifuna villages that dot the north coast of Honduras. The Garifuna are an AfroCaribbean group who live on some of the most beautiful, palm-fringed beaches in Central America. The friendly town, the fresh salt air, gentle breezes, and the Caribbean Sea spreading to the horizon make it easy to understand why Chef Orel came home.

The Garifuna people originated from two Spanish slave ships wrecked off the coast of the island of St. Vincent in the 1600s. Today, Garafuna culture is so unique that, in 2001, UNESCO proclaimed their language, dance, and music a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. They are widely known for wonderful seafood dishes that are an integral expression of their culture.

In Sambo Creek, only a short ride from port city of La Ceiba, Chef Orel told us, “The Garifuna live off the ocean. Everyday the people go fishing.”

Sopa de Pescado

Woman preparing the manchuca

teh chef’s neighbor helped prepare the manchuca (plantain) by pounding it.

The chef offered to teach my husband, John, and me how make Sopa de Pescado (fish soup) with Machuca (plantain). Machuca is served like rice or mashed potatoes.

His neighbor, Hoga Lalyn Fermana, helped prepare the machuca by pounding the plantain in a traditional wooden mortar with a long-handled pestle. While she pounded the plant, she danced the punta, the Garifuna traditional dance.

Men Playing Drums and Dancing

Teh joyous Garifuna people are always willing to start dancing.

On the second floor of an alfresco restaurant with an expansive view of the Caribbean, we were enjoying the soup and machuca when a couple of the local people showed up with their drums and began to beat out a rhythm while dancing the punta.

“We look for any excuse to sing and dance,” said a smiling Chef Orel, as he pointed to the children on the beach who had heard the drums and were doing their very best punta.

As we finished the delicious Sopa de Pescado and slightly sweet machuca, Chef Orel glanced down from the second floor of the restaurant at his neighbor’s house. “Come with me,” he said excitedly. “Hoga is making a coconut candy. She will teach you how to make it. Hoga is everyone’s grandma.”

Woman kissing husband

A Garifuna woman rewards her husband for helping to make the coconut candy.

The neighbor had just finished making the Talbeta de Coco Hoga and the candy was cooling and hardening on the table. However, she showed us how she grated coconut and cooked it with cane syrup stirring with a wooden spatula until it sticks together.

Her husband came in and she grabbed him and gave a him great big kiss. He was cut the sweet into serving size portions for us. What a sweet end to our visit.

If you go:

We made our travel arrangements with Tourist Options Travel Agency in La Ceiba. The $27 tour included transportation, entertainment, an awesome meal, and a taste of Garifuna culture. Tourist Options is located two blocks from La Ceiba’s Central Park, on Boulevard 15 de Septiembre. Contacts: web site – www.hondurastouristoptions.com, Tel: 504-443-0337, or Fax: 504-443-2460.

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Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at realfoodtraveler.com.