I’ll apologize in advance if I’m a little incoherent today. After last night’s roach episode, I did eventually get to sleep, but under the circumstances slept rather less well than usual, and I’m still a bit frazzled. (I have been trying to convince myself that a roach is simply a beetle, and a two-inch beetle crawling over you isn’t anything to panic over, it’s merely annoying. I have thus far completely failed. Beetles I can deal with. But roaches are roaches, and no matter how hard I flex it, I just can’t convince myself they’re anything else.)
Anyway, I managed to catch the bus up to Crooked Tree (pop. 800) today, and made it to the festival without incident. It’s a pretty small operation–fifteen or twenty stalls, a live band, some minor prizes–but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in diversity. You can buy all kinds of cashew products–fudge, cookies, jam, syrup, and wine. The last three are made from the cashew apple–the fruit, not the nut.
Cashews are nearly unique in the botanical world in having the seed outside the fruit. A cashew has a fleshy fruit, the cashew apple, and at the bottom dangles the cashew nut (inside shell and hull). The nut is easy to twist off the end of the cashew apple–it’s only cursorily attached. The nut has some rather nasty irritants associated with the outer shell (this is why some people are allergic to cashews), which are removed during the shelling process.
The cashew apple looks a bit like a small, somewhat withered yellow bell pepper. It’s hollow inside, like the pepper, but is soft and juicy, with a stringy interior. It is not going to win any awards for flavor–when I bit into one I found it astringent, and oddly musky-tasting–but it is sweet, and quite juicy.
Regarding cashew wine, the less said the better. Actually, some of the cashew wines are moderately drinkable (as Paul Simon famously said, “all right in a limited sort of a way, for an off night”), but Napa isn’t exactly quaking in its boots. I’m bringing one small bottle home with me; if you want to delve further into its secrets, get in touch with me once I return.
I did see one very unusual thing while I was there, though: one of the band members was playing a “drum” composed of three tortoise shells! He had the three dangling from a belt attached to his waist, and played them just as you would any other drum. It was astonishing the different range of sounds he produced–hollow clicking sounds, deeper-throated knocking noises, depending on which tortoise he was playing and where on the scutes he was drumming. I got a photo which i’ll post once I get back. I was fascinated, and spent half an hour watching and listening to him.
I should mention that Belize is musically a very gifted nation, with a wide variety of instruments and a strong music tradition. I am unfortunately a complete musical illiterate, so I can’t give you an adequate description–but if you are a music junkie, come to Belize. It’s basically a Caribbean rhythm, but with variations.
I did have one very bizarre moment today, musically speaking. The DJ was playing a song over and over which was hauntingly familiar, but which I couldn’t place. It drove me crazy for several repetitions, then I suddenly recognized it as “Father Abraham”, a British nursery rhyme I’d learned from a pair of British nannies one drunken night in Laos. It’s rather like the Hokey-Pokey, and goes
Had seven sons
Seven sons had Father Abraham
And they never laughed
And they never cried
All they did was go like this:”
followed by waving about whatever random body part is indicated for that verse (adding body parts cumulatively as you go).
If you try to imagine a bunch of Westerners in backwater Laos, dining with a hilltribe so isolated that children have never seen white people, singing “Father Abraham” and waving their arms and legs drunkenly about while the Lao whisky goes around yet another time, well…that was THAT evening. I’ll never forget the British nannies who taught it to us, either. Mary Poppins would have had a heart attack–tattoos, body piercings, drinking and swearing. These weren’t no namby-pamby prim-and-proper nannies–these were punk nannies.
At any rate, just as I realized that the tune was “Father Abraham”, it dawned on me that the refrain was “Scooby-Doo, we love you”. I THINK someone was trying to mix the Scooby-Doo theme with “Father Abraham”.
The mind reels.
Fortunately, most Belizean music isn’t like that–it’s a refreshing, original Caribbean mix that’s very enjoyable, even to the musically illiterate ear.
I unfortunately missed the cashew-processing demonstration, which is happening tomorrow–I had been hoping to see how they remove the irritating oils and extract the cashew. It was great to taste the cashew apple, though.
Speaking of tastes, I finally got my hands on gibnut today! Gibnut is an animal generally described as “a 60-pound rat” (I thik technically it’s an agouti), and is one of the “interesting” foods native to Belize. I had almost resigned myself to not finding it, as it’s a wild game animal and thus not on most restaurant menus, but found it in a stall at the festival. It has an interesting flavor…I had it barbequed, and the taste and texture were very similar to slow-cooked pork ribs, but with an odd, soapy flavor. Maybe a bit like cilantro, but without the “green” flavor. On Tien’s exotic scale, it tasted better than rat, scorpion, mealworms, and moth pupae, but not as good as dog or grasshopper. (I’m still sorry I didn’t try bat. *sigh* Everyone makes mistakes.)
However, I can now say that I’ve eaten a R.O.U.S. (Rodent of Unusual Size), which is certainly something. Together with the cashew apple, it’s been a pretty adventurous day.
Off to bed (perchance to catch up on non-roach-infested sleep)–