By Stephen Weir in St Lucia
How does Charmaine Desir do it? Her food shack on the edge of Castries Central Market doesn’t have a sign, has only a bench for three and one seat at the dinner table. Oh yes, it doesn’t appear to have power and the roof leaks over the visitors when it rains.
It is easy on the island of St Lucia to enjoy expensive fine dining 4-star restaurants abound. Finding a hearty, gut-pleasing meal for $5? Now that is an adventure that seasoned travellers should consider taking.
For the past 17 years the Castries shack chef has been feeding customers one serving at a time in an unmarked shed (look for a cartoon of a young couple having lunch and checking their smart phone). Those in the know find her because there is always a customer or two outside waiting to be fed.
Since she can only seat one or two people at a time, she gets to know her customers really well; “If you don’t make people happy, they won’t come back” she told the Caribbean Camera. She serves mostly locals shopping at the market but tourists do come in when there are cruise ships in the port. Now and then she feeds lost journalists too!
Rainy season hangs over the small mountain nation of St. Lucia, in the Caribbean Sea. Saturday was one of those days: sunny skies in the morning, buckets of rain by noon.
I was walking aimlessly near the under-construction Castries Central Market in the capital city when the clouds rolled down the high mountains to the south; a light mist turned into a deluge and within minutes the rain seemed to be falling sideways.
I looked for shelter and saw a woman sitting on a chair in front of a dinner table in a small shack on wheels at the edge of the market. It was Charmaine and she was beckoning me over to her door.
“Come in” she said. “Take a seat and dry yourself off.”
“What are you serving,” I asked.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Veggie stew?” I suggested.
“Well I am only serving one thing today because it is Saturday. It is a stew and it is filled with veggies.”
I sat at the table while Charmaine stirred the one pot on a portable stove behind her. There was a cooler near by with sodas and fruit drinks. There was no room for anything else aside from a small bench beside the door where people could wait for take-out.
Charmaine brought over the stew. At my request she point out what was in it – breadfruit, plantain, carrots, pork. Guess she misunderstood the word veggie.
“I don’t work on Sundays because I have to cook for the week. I live close by but I don’t have a car so I get rides from friends who help me with my food.” She told me, “One meal. One pot. One day. Except on Fridays and when cruise ships come into port. Then I might make Mac and Cheese, a chicken dish, and of course pork.”
We talked. I ate. I was too hungry to care about the chunks of meat. I ordered another pork-stew meal. I made her promise not sell me a third, even if I started to whimper and beg for more. It was that good.
Half way through the second dish she covered the open window with a board to block the rain. I ate in the dark (she has little or no power) and put on my baseball cap because of the holes in the roof directly above me.
When it stopped, she opened a door and a young woman came in. The visitor stood beside me as I finished my meal and listened to us talk. As I left, the woman slipped into my seat and loudly called out for some of that damn fine Vegetarian Pork Stew.