Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Independence taught me: Oil Down (Grenada Edition)

If I were to title this correctly, it would be Independence schooled me and schooled me well. There is nothing sadder than wanting to cook the most important meal of your life and being unable to find the staple ingredients.

The national dish of Grenada is Oil Down, the basis of which is breadfruit (Atrocarpus altilis), salted meat, dumplings and callaloo (leaves of Colocasia esculenta), flavoured with fresh coconut milk and tumeric (Curcuma longa). I repeat 'fresh'.  Usually other ingredients such green bananas, tuber crops, chicken, crab  are acceptable but with 90% of them unavailable, it was Mission Impossible starring Hopeless Grenadian.

My mom warned that if there was no breadfruit, it was sacrilege. However, being my last Independence in China I forged on. I spent a whole day searching every market in Chongqing with no success so my country-mate and I settled on what we thought were good substitutes and newcomers.  We started with well seasoned chicken drumettes, Irish potatoes and dumplings and covered that with eggplants (Solanum melongena) and zuchinni (Cucurbita pepo) for nutrition and spinach. This was drenched in tinned coconut milk and tumeric powder (from home, thankfully). The thing about Oil Down is that you really can add whatever you want so long as you control your liquid portion and this is where problems arose for me. Zuchinni, being a member of the cucumber family, produced much more water than I expected. Oil Down was not meant to be a soup, so it was only after scooping out and re-seasoning that we survived to night.

Today, I not only want to share the challenges of making Oil Down in a foreign country, but tips to successfully adapt your dish in an Asian environment. After polling various Grenadians who lived or are currently living in China, I assembled the following list of appropriate substitutes. I hope this can be a helpful guide to making your February 7th more memorable.

Original Ingredient Available Suggested Substitute
Meat: Salted Meat  Yes but due to
different processing
methods flavour is deeply altered.
Good ole Chicken and Beef
Meat: Salted Fish Same issue as above Fresh-water fish (salt-water
varieties are a rare find),
prawns, crab
Vegetables: Breadfruit,
Green bananans
No *sobs* Try

Vegetables: Tubers
(yams, dasheen,
Yes but yam varieties
produce too much secretion
Stick to potatoes
Vegetable: Callaloo/Dasheen leaves No. But there are so many
leafy greens in the supermarket.
Spinach but watch out for the bitterness.
Gourd leaves have extra secretion.
Bok Choi is also bitter.

Liquid: Coconut milk Yes. Fresh coconuts are imported
but have low fat content and little meat thus producing thin milk
Tinned Thailand coconut milk is rich and creamy and
close enough to the real product.
Spices: Tumeric Not to my knowledge Try or
International supermarket or an Indian friend

Feel free to leave other suggestions and make this a knowledgeable forum for the love of a 'GUD OIL DOWN'