Chez Leyla: Sunday Lunch in Martinique

My little Twingo huffed and puffed its way up the windy roads of the Montagne de Vauclin this past Sunday. We climbed until it seemed like we could climb no further, and then turned into a small courtyard surrounded by three houses. My friend Leyla led us through her house onto a porch that overlooks “just the south of Martinique,” as Leyla put it modestly. She grew up in this house on the mountain.

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She had invited me and another assistant named Alicia over for lunch on Sunday, and her mother had prepared a veritable feast for us. First, her father asked us if we wanted Punch Coco “fait maison”—homemade coconut punch. The answer to this was a resounding “yes.”

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Leyla brought out a huge pot with vegetable soup and whole lobsters cooked inside. It was delicious and it should be: Leyla’s family sells soup in the Vauclin market every Saturday.

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It’s very simple, her mother told me, just giraumon—a form of squash found in Martinique—with onion, pepper, carrot and scallions. The lobsters were cooked beforehand in oil with spices, lime and onion and then added to the soup.

And then I learned that this was just the starter.

Leyla’s mother had also made gratin de christophine, gratin de bananes jaunes, and Colombo de poulet. All are very typical Martinican dishes.

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Gratin de bananes jaunes is one of my favorite discoveries from Martinique: it is plantains cooked in a béchamel sauce and covered with cheese. Far from a typical gratin, this gratin combines sweet and savory to bring out both flavors perfectly.The Colombo de poulet, something I had never tried before, is a chicken stew with spices and vegetables, a bit like the Martinican version of curry.

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When we were done with lunch, Leyla’s mother took us to meet her sister and her parents, who live in the house next door. Leyla’s grandfather had sugar cane stalks and was chopping the cane with a coutelas. He handed me a piece and told me to bite into it. You don’t swallow the sugar cane, but the juice is sweet and refreshing.

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Afterwards, we headed over to Leyla’s uncle’s house. He told us to pick a coconut each off the tree by twisting it until it broke free. Then, he chopped it open with a coutelas so that we could drink the juice and eat the milk.

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The sun was setting behind the mountain when we left, marking the end of another weekend in Martinique.

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