Marie Galante


di Luca Gargano 19 aprile 2021
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Marie Galante is the typical Caribbean island of popular imagination. It is still on a human scale - roads are just narrow paved lanes wide enough for no more than two cars, buildings are no taller than two stories and there are no huge hotels occupying the beaches as on other islands. Despite being surrounded by the sea it's a very bucolic place, where much of the land is divided into small plots and farmed.

Unlike other Caribbean islands, its position in what could be defined as a double insularity ghetto has enabled Marie Galante to preserve some of its cultural, agricultural and culinary specificities.

Unfortunately, recent global economic and social revolutions are leading to the gradual disappearance of local culinary delicacies. And, like the rest of the world, even Marie Galante is not immune to change. But, more than many other islands, it still allows travellers to savour truly delicious specialties, products and preparations.

In recent years, one of the changes that took place in Marie Galante was the closing of the abattoir, the slaughterhouse, shut down in 2015. Since then, the island's superior quality cattle need to be shipped to Guadeloupe to be slaughtered. Their meat is then shipped back but without the entrails, which is a problem, particularly for one of the island's main dishes called bébélé.
Another recent closure was the Vieux Fort bakery, which used to sell bread on Fridays.
The island's culinary wealth has been further impoverished by the fact that lambi is an endangered species and cannot be fished until 2024.
Despite all this, travelling to Marie Galante still means enjoying unique, excellent food that has very few similarities with the rest of the Caribbean.

So, this guide is dedicated to travellers wishing to seek out and savour typical local products. Even compared to nearby Guadeloupe, Marie Galante offers unique delicacies no traveller visiting it can afford to miss.
These include products - from the island's unique citron vert to pork and boef créole; preparations - sirop de batterie, cassave, shrubb, sirop de grosseille, and a kind of Ti’ Punch made with special ingredients, unique to Marie Galante; and typical dishes, notably chaudage and bébélé.

Products

The culinary wonders of Marie Galante

Citron Vert
Marie Galante's citron vert deserves a special mention. According to Vittorio “Gianni” Capovilla, one of the world's leading experts in the subject, it is the best in the world.
Marie Galante's is a wild, ungrafted variety of citron vert. The tree is extremely thorny and the fruit not very juicy, but the peel is packed with extraordinary essential oils giving off an exquisite fragrance and offering a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.
The island has always been full of them. Unfortunately, in recent years the trees have been decimated by the “dragon jaune” disease, also known as “citrus greening”: a deadly bacterial infection for citrus trees.
Luckily, it is still possible to find some. if you wish to buy them, they’re easy to find at the Grand-Bourg market.
Citron vert is part of a large number of preparations in Marie Galante's cuisine, but its perfect mariage is the Ti’ Punch.

Sugarcane
Marie Galante is the last île à sucre in the Caribbean, with 92% of the arable land farmed with sugarcane.
Varieties grown in Marie Galante include: R570, R579, B47.258, B69.347, B69.566, B80.08, B82.139, the most common being B80.689.
In addition to being used for producing rum, sugarcane is also kept in jardins - or family gardens, where the oldest varieties are grown - to be drunk fresh as jus de canne - pure cane juice produced and consumed in many Caribbean islands, obtained by grinding freshly cut, cleaned and chopped canes in the typical “moulins à canne” - or even eaten fresh - the so-called “canne à bouche”.

Canna da zucchero

Rum
Marie Galante is a little like the Islay of the Caribbean, with five distilleries over an area of just 160 square kilometres - an average of about one distillery every thirty square kilometres.
Four of these produce rhum agricole: Bielle, Pèrre Labat, Bellevue and Rhum Rhum. The fifth, the Grand'Anse distillery, produces traditional molasses rum.
The impact of fertilizers, herbicide and fungicides on the island is much smaller than in other Caribbean islands, as sugarcane is only grown in small quantities.
Rum in Marie Galante is still produced with an ABV of 59%, as in the old days. The calcareous soil makes Mare Galante's rum unique - not a trivial point, as it was traditionally associated with Guadeloupe rums until just a few years ago, when Velier contributed to bringing its specificities to light.
The island's leading distillery is Bielle, although in recent years Père Labat has been gaining significant market share. The distillery with the largest production is Bellevue, which following a joint venture between Damoiseau and la Martiniquaise, produces excellent quality rum that could potentially become the island's next up-and-coming brand on the international market.

Rum

Boeuf
Equally typical of Marie Galante are the boeufs créole, a crossbreed between cattle and zebus, recognizable by a little hump. No one in Marie Galante would dream of castrating cattle, so it would be incorrect to call these animals "oxen", although the boeufs are actually used for transporting sugarcane until the age of eight or nine. They are then left in "retirement" for at least a year, during which they rest - usually in front of their owners' houses, tied to a chain like garden dogs. During their retirement year, boeufs eat and rest before being slaughtered and becoming an ingredient in one of Marie Galante's most iconic dishes, chaudage.

Boeuf Creole

Cochon Cochon
Marie Galante's cochon planche, also known as porc Créole, is the island’s typical swine breed, whose origins date back to the fifteenth century when the Spanish conquerors first started introducing European livestock into the Caribbean. The present species is the result of subsequent crossings with French and English breeds. The pigs' meat has unique qualities due to a diet mainly consisting of mangoes, which abound on the island and which the pigs are extremely fond of. Marie Galante's cochon planche is the main ingredient in the pork version of chaudage, one of the two best-known dishes on the island.

Crabes de terre
Unlike sea crabs, this crab species lives far from the coast and digs tunnels in the sandy, crumbly soil to reach underground aquifers. It is mainly eaten stuffed or as an ingredient in traditional island dishes like calalou.

Other products to enjoy in Marie Galante

In addition to typical Caribbean products, in Marie Galante you can also find:

Fruits
Carambola (Averrhoa carambola), which in Marie Galante ripens from June to December.
Goyave (Psidium guajava), which in Marie Galante ripens from July to October.
Mango (Mangifera indica), which in Marie Galante ripens from February to June and which the island produces in such large quantities that most of it is not consumed and is fed to animals, especially pigs. 
Mombin (Spondias mombin), which in Marie Galante ripens from December to April. Fun fact: it was distilled by Vittorio Capovilla in 2007.
Papaya (Carica papaya), which in Marie Galante ripens all year round.
Quenette (Melicoccus bijugatus), which in Marie Galante ripens from June to September. 

Vegetable / racines
Side dishes in Marie Galante are always made with vegetables, legumes, racines or a kind of banana used as a vegetable. Racines are the main source of carbohydrates on the island and accompany nearly every dish. They include:

Above-ground
Giraumon (Cucurbita moschata) is a kind of pumpkin also called Mushroom Squash or Turk's Turban.
Pois d'Angole (Caianus cajan) is a type of bean named after the fact that it was probably introduced by African slaves. 
Fruite à pain, produced by the breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis), which in Marie Galante bears fruit all year round, although fruits are at their ripest between July and August. 
Banane jaune (Musa acuminata) also known as poyo, banane-légume, banane verte or figue verte, is one of the racines traditionally accompanying all local dishes, especially bébélé
Cristophine (Sechium edule) is a traditional vegetable of Marie Galante's cuisine, usually prepared au gratin.

Underground
Manioc (Manihot esculenta), or bitter cassava, is still widely grown in Marie Galante, home to the last existing "manioquerie". It's the plant from which cassave is made. 
Igname (Dioscorea) is the best-known root vegetable in Marie Galante together with patate douce.
Madère (Colocasia esculenta) is used as an ingredient in acras de morue. The plant's leaves are also used for making calalou.
Malanga (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) is also an ingredient in acras di morue.
Patate douce (Ipomoea batatas) is yet another ingredient in acras di morue.

What else to look for in Marie Galante

Fish
Marie Galante is an extremely dry limestone island, but there is a small brook flowing through a wet lake area near the Vieux Fort beach where the island's last wild crevettes can still be found.

As in the rest of the Caribbean, the sea is teeming with octopuses, lobsters, vivaneau and poisson chat.
Currently there is a ban on fishing for lambis - which the sea around the island used to be rich in - until 2024, as the species has been declared endangered.
Octopuses and lobsters, on the other hand, are still abundant. However, the most common and iconic fish is definitely vivaneau, also called red snapper in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Chickens and ducks
In Marie Galante you can still find free-range chickens and ducks, reared free in farmyards. There is no real market for these animals: when a resident has some to supply, they are contended then sold or exchanged.

MARKETS IN MARIE GALANTE

Mercati

Market is held every morning between 8.00 and 9.00 am in the Grand-Bourg church square and is the largest on the island. In addition to local goods, here you can also find relatively more international items from Dominica coming in via Guadeloupe. Together with the generally higher prices, this makes it the best-stocked market and the most popular with tourists. It's absolutely packed with local staples and delicacies. 

Two more – but much smaller – markets are located in Saint Louis and Capesterre.
These are not so much real markets as essentially a collection of stalls set up by Dominicans. There are no specific market days or times, they are held randomly depending on the availability of the goods. 

Preparations

Sirop de batterie
Marie-Galante is the last island to produce sirop de batterie: sugarcane juice still made according to an old process, which requires cooking it in a battery of boilers, moving it from one to the next in sequence. The result is thick syrup with a high sugar concentration. It can be used in cooking in the preparation of desserts or mixed with ice water and citron vert juice for a thirst-quenching drink, but it’s mostly used to make Ti’ Punch.

Marie Galante's two producers of sirop de batterie are Moysan and Les Delices De Siblet. Moysan is a historic producer located on the upland of Capesterre.
Les Delices De Siblet was only recently established but is quickly becoming the island's go-to place for sirop de batterie.
Both can be purchased on site:

Ti’ Punch

Marie-Galante's is actually the Ti’ Punch par excellence, whether it is prepared with sugar or sirop de batterie. This is for two specific reasons. The first is that, as mentioned, the island is home to the world's best citron vert. The second is the rum: Marie Galante still produces rum at 59% ABV, the alcohol content of real rum.
Ti’ Punch is always served at the start of the meal by bringing all of the ingredients to the table: a bottle of 59% ABV rum (the most traditional is Bielle, but in recent years Père Labat has also become more commonly used), a saucer with citron vert, a bucket of ice, cane sugar and sirop de batterie.
This allows each diner to prepare their own Ti’ punch according to their personal preference, using sugar or sirop di batterie and measuring each ingredient to their liking.
Today you can also have a C’ Punch, as long as you can get hold of a great rum. C’ Punch is Vittorio Capovilla's version of Ti’ Punch inspired from Marie Galante's citron vert and is made by squeezing the peel with no added syrup or sugar.

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Ti’ Punch

Marie-Galante's is actually the Ti’ Punch par excellence, whether it is prepared with sugar or sirop de batterie. This is for two specific reasons. The first is that, as mentioned, the island is home to the world's best citron vert. The second is the rum: Marie Galante still produces rum at 59% ABV, the alcohol content of real rum.
Ti’ Punch is always served at the start of the meal by bringing all of the ingredients to the table: a bottle of 59% ABV rum (the most traditional is Bielle, but in recent years Père Labat has also become more commonly used), a saucer with citron vert, a bucket of ice, cane sugar and sirop de batterie. This allows each diner to prepare their own Ti’ punch according to their personal preference, using sugar or sirop di batterie and measuring each ingredient to their liking.
Today you can also have a C’ Punch, as long as you can get hold of a great rum. C’ Punch is Vittorio Capovilla's version of Ti’ Punch inspired from Marie Galante's citron vert and is made by squeezing the peel with no added syrup or sugar.

ti-punch.png

Sirop de groseille
Groseille-pays (Hibiscus sabdariffa), roselle in English, is a variety of hibiscus. In Marie Galante, the fruit is picked during the Christmas period and used to make a red syrup called sirop de groseille, one of island's specialties typical of the Christmas holidays.
Its preparation is very traditional. After being picked at the end of the year, the juice is extracted from the flower and mixed with brown sugar and spices, including cinnamon and vanilla.
Sirop de groseille is used to make punches - either mixed with rum as an aperitif or diluted with water as a thirst-quencher.
You can find it at the Grand-Bourg market or at the small deli market open every Sunday at the Bielle distillery boutique.

Cassave
Cassave is a typical local focaccia made with cassava flour. In Marie Galante it is still made as it was in the old days.
Today it is produced by the House of Kassaverie in Capesterre. It is often eaten for breakfast together with honey, jam or sirop de batterie. It can also accompany meals as a kind of bread, especially fish dishes.

Shrubb
Shrubb is a traditional punch made with rhum agricole, orange peel and sugarcane syrup. In Marie Galante it is mostly drunk during the Christmas holidays but it can be enjoyed all year round, both as an aperitif and as a digestif.

Dove mangiare

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Marie Galante's restaurants are much changed today. But if you’re looking for the traditional cuisine of the old days, you can enjoy it at these trattorias.

L’Eden Voile

  • Map: link
  • Phone: 0590 484983

Located on a terrace overlooking the sea by the Saint Louis exit towards Grand Bourg. Madame Jacqueline - known only by her first name on the island - previously ran a restaurant in the old Creole houses on the Saint Louis beach, next to the port. Since she moved here, she has become the true keeper of Marie Galante's culinary heritage. You can watch Jacqueline work in her open-view kitchen and enjoy the island's most authentic dishes like bébélé, chaudage and all of the classics of the local cuisine.

Eden Voile
O bou du monde

O bou d' monde

  • Map: link
  • Phone: 0590 508741

Although Marie Galante is very small and every part of it is completely accessible, this restaurant is almost impossible to find. It's a well-kept wooden building with a small vegetable garden. You can only eat here if you're in luck, as the owner, Marius Lubin, is a fisherman who, in addition to supplying the restaurant's kitchen with his catch, has no fixed opening days. But we strongly recommend giving it a try, as we think the cook Marisa has an excellent hand. Home-style cooking at its best. Her specialty is, as might be guessed, fish.

Le Footy

Le Footy

  • Map: link
  • Phone: 0590 975471

Located on the sea front, it boasts a terrace with a panoramic view of the island of Dominica. A more touristy place compared to the others, here you can still enjoy Creole cuisine together with the island's residents. Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday. Best dishes include fish court bouillon, lambis, bourgaux.

La Source

  • Map: link
  • Phone: 0590 972601

The typical family-run restaurant with a terrace. The owner's name is Rudy, and on the island the restaurant is known as Chez Rudy. Dishes are made with fresh products sourced from Marie Galante, particularly the catch of the day, octopus, shellfish, lobster. Open every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm and from 7.00 pm until late at night.

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Distillery boutiques

Mappe: 

Another possibility to enjoy Marie Galante's cuisine is to visit the Bielle, Père Labat and Bellevue distillery boutiques, where you can also find local products made by neighbouring ladies and served as a sort of street food..

Dishes

Marie Galante is especially famous for two extraordinary dishes perfectly embodying the typical Caribbean cuisine - a mixture of native, African and French cooking traditions: bébélé and chaudage.

Bébélé
Bébélé could be defined as a soup combining flour dumplings, tripe cut into small pieces, breadfruit and green bananas.
More specifically, the main ingredients are: breadfruit, green bananas, tripe, smoked bacon (optional), lemon, garlic, cloves and other spices. The gnocchi-like dumplings are only prepared with wheat flour, salt and water. It's cooked in a pot, strictly over low heat.

Chaudage
Chaudage is a kind of pot-au-feu, a French beef stew made with the meat of the island's retired boeufs or typical pigs, with the addition of racines.
More specifically, the main ingredients are: cochon plache or boef créole, bananas, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, madère, seasonings - pepper, salt, onion, parsley, thyme, garlic. All of the ingredients are cooked over low heat and served with a side of Creole black pudding (boudin).

Chaudage

Other dishes to enjoy on the island

Aside from the island's two iconic dishes, bébélé and chaudage, recipes in Marie Galante are largely the same as those of the main island, Guadeloupe:

Acras de morue
Lunch and dinner always start with acras de morue and Ti’ Punch. It's a must-have ritual part of the island's conviviality. Acras are pancakes made of morue séchée, or dried cod - a kind of stockfish - combined with malangà or madère flour.
The quality of the acras is a sure-fire way to test a restaurant. They must be served hot, the batter crunchy and not too greasy. Bad acras are brought lukewarm, soggy, too greasy or bland.

Calaloo
It's a vegetable soup entree made of madère leaves. It is often served with boiled rice, which is why it's often called "riz calaloo". One variant is calaloo aux crabes, prepared with the addition of crabes de terre, Marie Galante's typical land crabs.

Ragoût à lambis
Lambi, a shellfish with a huge shell typical of the Caribbean, is a traditional ingredient of Marie Galante's cuisine. They can be served grilled or, as in this case, stewed with tomato, garlic, onion, vegetables and spices.

Vivaneau grillé sauce chien
Vivaneau is a red-coloured fish found in abundance in the Caribbean seas. In this dish it's grilled, seasoned with Marie Galante's citron vert and served with sauce chien, a sort of Creole vinaigrette.

Boudin
A kind of traditional black pudding made from the blood of the island's pigs, Marie Galante's boudin créole is a truly exceptional delicacy. Its uniqueness is in large part due to the excellent quality of the island's free-range pigs, which live free and mainly feed on the mangoes that abound on the island. Marie Galante's boudin alone is worth the trip.

Colombo d’agneau
Colombo is a spice mix vaguely similar to curry and, by extension, it gives its name to the dishes where it is used. Colombo d'agneau is a lamb specialty from Guadeloupe and Marie Galante. It's eaten all year round, but it's never missing from tables on carnival days.

Matété de crabes
Matété de crabes is a very popular dish in the French Antilles. In Martinique it's called matoutou de crabes, while in Marie Galante it's called matété and is perhaps the most typical way of cooking Marie Galante's land crabs at home.