“Fishman, Fishman, Fishman”, echoes faintly in the distance in harmony with the chimes of a noticeably aged bell and the cranks of a squeaky bicycle chain. Slowly and painfully we watch as a gentleman, who by anyone’s standards should be sitting under a coconut tree enjoying his final years, fights to pedal the terrain of the beachside island hills. However, the treasures he holds in his wire basket quickly gather a mob of curious onlookers and the Mamas of the community sit patiently knowing that they will have first pick of the litter. These little treasures –6 for $5, 10 for $8 and a special bundle for my grandmother, the community’s informal Matriarch, sits fastened with a little straw string as Fishman clumsily pitches his bike against the tree.
As sure as the sun sets, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4:15pm Mr. Brown aka Fishman can be found at the same point in Nassau. Fishman’s customers as just as predictable; the same customers receive the same order, with the occasional newcomer getting the leftovers and subsequently moving up the hierarchy for his next visit. Jacks and snappers were his specialty – all still sweating with ocean water and minutes away from the pan of flavored oil on my Grammy’s stove.
I remember telling this story a few months ago to some young students at a culinary school as they sat in a combination of awe, disbelief and frowns. “Selling fish from a bike, Chef?” one proclaimed. “Isn’t that bad sanitation Chef?” another asked.
Then in the middle of the storm of questions I asked, “What is the Bahamian National dish?” A surge of silenced entered the room; doubt and uncertainty calmed their voices and made them think. No one wanted to answer so I started point to them in the right direction. 12 different answers later and still no one was in agreement. Determined to make them understand the riches of our food culture I pried deeper. Has anyone ever had a salty sausage? What is fat back? How is dried conch made and what dishes do we use dry conch in? What is Johnny Cake? Have your even seen a rock oven? What is cup? How do you make a baggie?
As one who deems himself a curator of Bahamian culinary arts, not only did their responses scare and disappoint me, but their answers prompted me to challenge my students to create what I believe will be the next generation of “the baggie” –Bahamian frozen treat.
As a Chef, I could not simply prepare red, purple and orange KoolAid flavored-baggies, so I created a template that can take any local fresh fruit and transform it to an upgraded, modern version of this nostalgic treat!
Island Baggie - frozen Bahamian summer drink - Makes 4
Mango Thyme Baggie
1 cup fresh mango puree (substitute your favorite summer fruit puree)
3 cups of distilled water
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
juice from 1/2 lime
1 cup fresh cane juice (substitute 1/4 cup light brown sugar and 3/4 cup distilled water)
Simmer the water and thyme on low heat. Reduce the 3 cups to 2 cups to infuse the thyme flavor. Strain and cool.
Combine all the remaining ingredients and thyme water . Place in sandwich bag with twists. Freeze for 5 hours.
Serve semi or fully frozen on a hot day!
Try some of my new favorite combinations made from fresh fruits-
Pomegranate beet root and strawberry
Tangy lime and white grape
Mr. Brown may be long gone, but the culture of food in the Bahamas is beginning to find new life once again. History always repeats itself and for us this is a great thing. We may not all agree on our Bahamian national dish, but we can all agree that a cold frozen drink in a plastic bag would take any and all of us back to a time and place filled with incredible memories. Our hope is that this article will remind our readers of a great past and take our younger Bahamians into a great future. Isn’t is amazing what food can do?