The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's Cultural Exchange Pavilion features Belize in 2016. It includes the culture of the Garifuna, who are descendants of Africans and Native Americans who settled along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Two local women with Garifuna heritage, Norma Palacios and Isa Velazquez, present a cooking demonstration at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the festival's Cajun Cabin. They will prepare hudutu, a traditional seafood and coconut soup. Palacios spoke with Gambit about Garifuna culture and cuisine.
What is traditional Garifuna cuisine?
Palacios: For me, there are so many different dishes that represent Garifuna food. The traditional soup we serve is called hudutu. It's a coconut and seafood soup served with mashed plantains. It's made with coconut milk, shrimp, fish, cilantro, plantains, peppers, garlic, onions and basil. We'll be serving this at the festival and demonstrating how to make the soup. On the day of the demonstration, we'll be doing all the shopping and preparing beforehand at my home, because the soup takes quite a long time to make.
There is a thing called the hana in Garifuna, or mortero in Spanish. It's a large wooden mortar and pestle that we use to smash the plantains that we then serve with the soup. It comes from West Africa and traveled through the Caribbean through the migration of the Garifuna people. There's also a coconut shredder called a rayador that we use in traditional cooking. It's a wooden board with tiny stones on it, and we use it to shred the coconut to extract coconut milk. For the demonstration, we won't use that, because it's very labor intensive and takes a long time.
We also eat a lot of cornbread, rice, beans, yuca, cassava bread and treats with coconut. We eat a lot of things that are available here in New Orleans, too. You don't even have to go to a Latin supermarket. You can find most of the ingredients anywhere.
How has traditional Garifuna cuisine changed through the years?
P: A lot has changed throughout the years. The ancestors cooked a lot more simply, with much less spice and no condiments. Their systems were less able to handle certain ingredients and foods. They liked garlic but not much else. Now the Garifuna people, especially those living in New Orleans, have expanded their tastes; they want more things. They're accustomed to more flavors, so they've incorporated more local ingredients and more spices.
There are two ways to prepare the hudutu — with a water-based stock or with coconut milk. There was a yellowing disease that befell the coconut trees a few years ago in Honduras, and during that time, the soups made were more water-based.
What similarities exist between New Orleans and Garifuna food and culture?
P: When I first came here, the gumbo really surprised me. I thought that it looked like something I knew, but it was way different. It had so many ingredients familiar to me, but it was such a strange thing. When I first moved here, the music and culture were similar. We love food, we love music, and those were part of the lifestyle here, too.