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A Visit to Curaçao

I just returned from a completely unexpected visit to Curaçao, one of the 5 islands of the Netherlands Antilles. The Netherlands Antilles, although being part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is located in the Caribbean Sea, comprising 2 groups if islands: Curaçao and Bonaire, just off the Venezuelan coast, and Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten, located southeast of the Virgin Islands. Due to the nature of my visit and the meetings, I unfortunately did not manage many photo ops, neither did I get to sample much local fare. But I tried my best. I had one afternoon with the camera during a harbour tour to show some of this beautiful colourful city – Willemstad. It’s even been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s that incredible.

Willemstad Bridge, CuraçaoThe city consists of two quarters: Punda and Otrobanda, which are separated by the St. Anna bay that leads into the large natural harbour called the ‘Schottegat‘. There’s water all around the city – the bay, the harbours and the sea – the sea being clear and a rich blue colour that I haven’t really seen in the Eastern Caribbean. The deep water harbour and drydock had water so clear that there were schools of fish and even jellyfish swimming happily along next to huge tankers and cargo ships. Apart from the colourful historic buildings, reflective of Dutch architecture, Willemstad is known in particular for its unique harbour entry and 2 bridges: one, the Queen Juliana, a blue metal arc that curves high above the city and the harbour; and the other a long pontoon bridge, the Queen Emma, that connects both quarters.

The Queen Juliana is impressive to look at, but the Queen Emma gives a distinct character to the city. It’s a swinging pedestrian bridge, the whole structure separating at one end from the shore and making its motorised way across the channel to line up against the opposite shore. It does this whenever a boat, or ferry or ship needs to pass. You may be walking along the bridge to get to the other side, and you hear a horn, giving you a couple minutes to try to make to the other side. If you’re headed to the shore where the bridge parks, you can just keep walking while it moves, but if you were trying to get to the other side…well, you’ll be sent right back to where you started. Where you can take a ferry, free while the bridge is open. Of course, the bridge only opens as long and as wide as necessary, so if it’s for a little ferry or tugboat, you can just wait it out.

Queen Emma Bridge - pedestrians Queen Emma Bridge - moving

The buildings are very Dutch of course, but the array of colours is incredible next to the blue Caribbean Sea. It really is a place that I took one look at and decided I must visit again. Very European in its history and architecture, but so Caribbean as well in culture and atmosphere, and even food.

Like I said earlier, I didn’t have the opportunity to sample much local fare. Apart from fasting during the day, we were only there for 2 days. But from all accounts, much of the traditional food would have strong links and similarities to other more common Caribbean foods. After all, Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles also have a similar history resulting in much African and Portuguese influences in their food and culture even though they are Dutch nationals. The proximity of Curaçao to South America, and relative isolation from the rest of the Caribbean island chain also results in a significant Spanish and Latin American influences.

Apparently one of the more traditional dishes is funchi, which is essentially a cornmeal dish like coucou, but without the ochroes that Trinis include. Coucou is of course also the Bajan national food, but it’s found in some form throughout the islands. When boiled red beans or black eyed peas are added to the funchi, they call it (and correct me anyone, if I am wrong) tutu. And I listened to that with a straight face indeed. Not sure if I could have it…but then is it as bad to contemplate as the intestine soup, called sopi mondongo. [Ok, I am not an entrails fan, although I have to admit that curry brains and intestines are very popular down my way…] I saw this soup and declined a closer look. I was fasting 😉 People seemed to enjoy it, perhaps they should not have told me what it was! I also heard about Guiambo a soup made from ochro and seafood, which we were told is very slimy (well, it’s ochro!).

Curaçao - Traditional Sweets Curaçao - Traditional Sweets

As for things I actually tried…well these were more of the snack food variety. I got a plate of traditional sweets, which at first glance appeared to be a plate of sweets found at home. The moist, dark coconut-y thing in the front (first picture) looked to be like tulum, and it tasted like tulum, albeit a slightly less molasses-y tulum. And served on a bit of coconut husk, so watch where you’re biting! Then there’s a nutcake. The white round sweet in the middle I wasn’t sure about, the texture reminded me of peyra (Indo-Trini sweet made from a base of dry, finely shredded roti) but it wasn’t very sweet and I couldn’t pinpoint the flavour – perhaps some coconut? – the serving was just too small for my investigations. The fudge (the front right of the 2nd picture) was just like Trini homemade fudge – hard and sugary, with a mild flavour, yumm. The tart/pie with the fancy crosshatch pattern was almost like a mince pie, with fruit jam and a very thick base compared to the layer of filling. One day, when I go back, I’ll learn the names and ingredients for these things. From Wikipedia:

“At weddings and other special occasions a variety of “”kos dushi”” are served: “”kokada”” (coconut sweets), “”ko’i lechi”” (condensed milk and sugar sweet) and “”tentalaria”” (peanut sweets).”

Wikipedia also says that they make hallacas in Curaçao, which is not surprising considering their location next to Venezuela. Hallacas are essentially what we make in Trinidad and Tobago as pastelles, and both are a Christmas specialty.

Curaçao - Boiled Peanuts by the bag Curaçao - Boiled Peanuts texture

I was also surprised to encounter a street vendor by the Queen Emma bridge, selling Boiled Peanuts! Surprised because I had only ever heard about these things on bureka boy’s blog a few days before and described as being very Southern American. I was curious then, and bought a bag (for about US$1) to try after breaking fast. And a large bottle of water since I thought they would be very salty, as you cook the peanuts in their shells in lots of salted water, until they get dark and very wrinkly at the ends. They weren’t overly salty, perhaps because I wasn’t sucking the salt out of the shells! And they tasted almost exactly like chataigne seeds (breadnuts).* I love chataigne seeds, but chataigne isn’t always readily available and is so labour intensive sometimes to prepare the chataigne and get the seeds that we haven’t had this in a while. And before my mother says anything, I can only remember cleaning chataigne once before in my life. These were a great and slightly addictive snack (but I love nuts anyway anyhow) and an interesting alternative to both regular baked/fried peanuts, or indeed chataigne!

The next time I get to visit the Netherlands Antilles I will be sure to track down some more local foods for tasting. And blogging.


*Chataigne is the French Creole term (used in Trinidad and Tobago and possibly Saint Lucia and Dominica) for the jackfruit found in the region, whose seeds may also be called breadnuts. Châtaigne is of course French for chestnuts and the seeds of the chataigne do in fact resemble chestnuts and are boiled and eaten, while the surrounding layered flesh is a delicacy, served curried at Indo-Trini occasions.

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27 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. My dad was born there, and I would love to visit there one day…even if I have to eat McDonalds. lol

    1. courtney on September 25th, 2007 at 3:00 pm
  2. They had some excellent French Bistros and Asian restaurants, places on the water’s edge, lovely locations. I am sure you won’t have to resort to McDonalds, just learn the names of the intestines 😀 I for one love coucou, just that name…
    Do you speak papimientu?

    2. chennette on September 25th, 2007 at 3:05 pm
  3. I love reading about your travels and the delicious food. I’ve collected your recipes and now that I live on my own, will be trying them out….esp the trini pelau…i will let you know how it goes.

    3. Cranky Putz on September 25th, 2007 at 3:53 pm
  4. she always used to make me the youngest clean it
    i know
    and i’d hurt my fingers and they’d just bleed from the torture
    i hated that
    especially since i didn’t even eat the stupid curry chataigne

    4. Lilandra on September 25th, 2007 at 4:52 pm
  5. I ate boiled peanuts for the first time one Summer in Gainesville , Florida. Not sure if you and your siblings tasted it well you and your bigger sister as Lilandra was too baby then. And it tasted so much like chataigne.
    Lilandra , you cleaned chataigne …….hmmm ……. losing my memory hehehehehhehe. But I am sure you did if you remember so vividly the hurting fingers……….

    5. TriniMom on September 25th, 2007 at 5:11 pm
  6. and i protested
    and refuse to do it ever after

    6. Lilandra on September 25th, 2007 at 6:06 pm
  7. Thanks CP – look forward to hearing about/seeing your kitchen forays!

    7. chennette on September 25th, 2007 at 7:57 pm
  8. For those of us in the dark ages of this foodie business who are trying to make it to the renaissance…what exactly are these breadnuts?/chataigne’s?

    8. Rone on September 25th, 2007 at 8:18 pm
  9. I love breadnuts too, Chennette. I admire the fact that you manage to take in so much when you travel, even if it is for business.

    9. Cynthia on September 25th, 2007 at 8:27 pm
  10. @ Rone – I tried looking for a picture, or a better explanation but no such luck. However, I assumed Jamaicans would know, since some sites said it was Jamaican breadnuts? Unless that was something different.

    @ Cynthia – thanks! Honestly, it is part of what keeps me sane during such trips. I always needed something to occupy the part of my mind that can be easily distracted, while the “work” part stays focused :-) I used to read books under the desk in school, or doodle intensively. It helped me distract the idleness and still pay attention.

    10. chennette on September 25th, 2007 at 8:35 pm
  11. I too went in search of pics…I know of breadfruit, but breadnuts?? Unless it is the seeds of the jackfruit, which I have heard that people boil. Yes the use of the term ‘people’ is deliberate I’ve never done that. So it seems there is research to be done.

    11. Rone on September 25th, 2007 at 11:19 pm
  12. ah! Jackfruit! I believe that’s it. Sounds familiar – I knew I had heard of the other term. Breadnuts was new to me but everyone else kept saying when they tasted it Chataigne or breadnuts. Bajans and Lucians etc. Jackfruit. I have damaged many a nail peeling the nuts to eat them. Boiled peanuts is much easier, although the mouthfuls are much smaller.

    12. chennette on September 25th, 2007 at 11:23 pm
  13. Apparently it is like a jack fruit-



    who knew jackfruit was so popular? It isn’t very popular here and there is a lot of folklore surrounding it. I believe it is said that you shouldn’t transport it on long journeys as it brings bad luck. There are some duppy stories associated with the fruit as well, not so sure why. I know a lot of people just can’t take the smell of the fruit so they never go beyond that. I remember eating the fruit, usually soaked in brine but doubt we ever cooked the seed/nut. This was totally my father’s provenance though Mummy was never that into it :-).

    13. Rone on September 25th, 2007 at 11:26 pm
  14. I didn’t think you’d be up I certainly shouldn’t be but the other half desired my assistance to surf men’s clothing sites…and I was only just released. Alas I’m tired, have a good night.

    14. Rone on September 25th, 2007 at 11:28 pm
  15. Good night, and thanks for the research :-)

    15. chennette on September 25th, 2007 at 11:28 pm
  16. you are welcome :)

    16. Rone on September 25th, 2007 at 11:29 pm
  17. Jackfruit also called Cowah(spell check anyone) is a sweet fruit but some people find the sweetness nasueating at times. The pulp of the unripe fruit is curried and the seeds are also used in the curry just like Chataigne. The seeds are also boiled and eaten like the seeds of Chataigne.
    Chennette , do you remember the tree by your grandparent’s house , it was outside the second bedroom and the fruits were huge and were everywhere on the tree not just the branches but also the tree trunk.
    The ripe Jack fruit makes a very nice drink and no sugar is needed as it is so sweet. No milk added either. Similar to soursop or sweetsop……

    17. TriniMom on September 26th, 2007 at 4:17 pm
  18. I know Cowah – so that’s Jackfruit? which would make sense since I see a lot of Asian photos of Jackfruit as a dessert. So what’s the Chataigne equivalent then? Apart from being smaller or differently shaped from the jackfruit?

    18. chennette on September 26th, 2007 at 4:32 pm
  19. Oooh! Looks and sounds lovely! I want to visit!

    19. ewe_are_here on September 26th, 2007 at 4:32 pm
  20. Yes. I think you’d love it.:-D

    20. chennette on September 26th, 2007 at 4:34 pm
  21. Found this on Google…..

    Comparing Breadfruit, Breadnut, and Jackfruit: How are they Related?
    by Fred Prescod

    In the first article we traced the arrival of the breadfruit plant into the New World. Now we compare breadfruit with its close relatives, breadnut and jackfruit, both also found in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

    These three plants all belong to the botanical genus known as Artocarpus. The name Artocarpus is applied to about 60 different trees, all members of the fig or mulberry family (Moraceae), a botanical division which at one time included
    Cannabis. Trees of this genus are native to Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. The generic name (Artocarpus) is derived from the Greek words ‘artos’ (meaning bread) and ‘karpos’ (meaning fruit). The name is thought to have been established
    by Johann Reinhold Forster and J. Georg Adam Forster, botanists aboard the HMS Resolution on James Cook’s second voyage. In J.W. Pursglove’s publication on tropical crops, he reports that Joseph Banks, James Cook and other early travelers
    brought back descriptions of the breadfruit plant using phrases such as ‘bread itself is gathered as a fruit’.

    Breadfruit tree – Calliaqua, St. Vincent
    Breadfruit tree at Calliaqua, St. Vincent.
    [Photo by Jim Lounsberry]
    Unfortunately some confusion often arises from the use of common names, where a single common name may be applied
    to different plants in different areas. Nevertheless breadfruit itself is recognized as a seedless form of the plant known
    botanically as Artocarpus altilis (also Artocarpus communis), while breadnut (often also listed as Artocarpus altilis) was
    originally thought to be simply a race or form of the same plant with fruits containing seeds. However recent literature
    from the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii lists Artocarpus camansi as the
    botanical name of the breadnut. As recently as 2005 Dr. Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute, along with two other
    colleagues published a taxonomic assessment (classification indicating natural relationships) of breadfruit and its closest
    relatives, based on their research. The research involved molecular investigations, as well as morphological (form and
    structural) and geographical considerations. These researchers believe that a single derivation and thousands of years of
    vegetative propagation and human selection have led to a unique combination of characters that distinguish the
    domesticated breadfruit. These circumstances have also resulted in the development of numerous varieties. Actually the
    seedless breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) may really have been derived from the seeded breadnut (Artocarpus camansi).

    A close relative of the breadfruit and breadnut is the jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), known for its enormously large
    fruit. Not common is St. Vincent, but worth mentioning also is a tree called breadnut or African breadfruit (Treculaia
    africana) that is grown for the seeds, which are ground into flour. This tree is also in the fig family.

    The superficial external appearance of breadfruit, breadnut and jackfruit trees is quite similar. The trees grow from 9 to 27
    metres (30 to 90 feet) high with spreading branches. The leaves of breadfruit and breadnut trees are large, bright green
    and glossy, often with anywhere from 4 to 10 pointed lobes towards the terminal portion; but breadnut leaves are more
    hairy. Jackfruit leaves are usually entire (without lobes) and are much smaller than breadfruit and breadnut leaves. The
    fruit and male flowers of jackfruit are borne on stout stems from the trunk or branches of the tree. On breadfruit and
    breadnut trees they occur at the end of branches. The leaves, twigs and stems of all three trees exude sticky white latex,
    which is characteristic of plants in the fig family.

    Some observers distinguish the jackfruit tree by the copious hairs on the heart-shaped leaves, which end in a long, sharp
    tip. Others note that breadnut leaves in bud are covered by a conspicuous leaf sheath. In the case of jackfruit, only the
    young leaves have lobes and the twigs and midrib of the young leaves generally have minute bristles. But the most
    distinctive feature that differentiates between breadfruit, breadnut and jackfruit is the type of fruit.

    The fruits of most breadfruit varieties grown in St. Vincent generally lack seeds, but have a cream-coloured fleshy starchy
    interior. The shape of the mature fruit is irregularly oval to round, 9 to 45 centimetres (3 1?2 to 18 inches) long and 5 to 30
    centimetres (2 to 12 inches) in diameter. The outer skin is patterned with irregular 4- to 6-sided sections, more or less
    prominent, depending on the variety. There are numerous recipes for preparing the ripe fruits, most of which involve
    roasting or boiling.

    21. TriniMom on September 27th, 2007 at 8:45 am
  22. Hi Chennette
    Just reading your blog and wondering if you are the same person I met: Did we meet last year in Suriname and also went to dinner at the Indonesian and Chinese restarants?

    23. Nicole on September 28th, 2007 at 6:00 pm
  23. Hey Nicole. It is indeed me. Incognito. But apparently not so well 😀 And I remember that peanut sauce in that Indonesian restaurant. And the decor. You’d done your homework and had yahoo maps of places to visit. I remember!

    24. chennette on September 28th, 2007 at 7:14 pm
  24. LOL Small world, eh? Drop me an email when you have time so we can catch up.

    25. Nicole on September 28th, 2007 at 7:22 pm
  25. Suriname?

    You should get frequent out-of-country miles.

    26. ewe_are_here on September 29th, 2007 at 3:21 pm
  26. love love love your blog. am adding you to our blogroll.

    27. bee on October 2nd, 2007 at 8:24 pm
  27. Hi and welcome Bee! :-) and thanks for the compliments

    28. chennette on October 2nd, 2007 at 8:36 pm

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  2. […] 2 years ago, I wrote about my visit to Curaçao, the lovely island in the Caribbean Sea that is part of the Netherlands Antilles. Back when I would […]

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