Dede Wilson

co-founder of

Caribbean Fare

My first trip to the Caribbean was in 1984. That’s easy to remember because my twin boys were conceived on that trip. Anyway, I had never been to those islands and my ex-husband, Harry, worked at a local real estate company where the top selling employee owned a house on Montserrat that she rented out. It was a done deal. We were going to the Emerald Isle, so called not only for its lush vegetation but also for its Irish heritage, which dates back to 1632. To make the trip economically doable, we invited my best friend Emily and Harry invited his friend Tim. The house slept eight, so there would be plenty of room for all.

Off we went. Landing at the Montserrat airport, or should I say air strip, is an adventure in itself. We flew from Hartford to Antigua and then boarded a smaller plane for the hop to our destination. The landing strip is on this tiny piece of land surrounded by water. The pilots don’t, or rather can’t, make mistakes.

We landed and took a taxi to our rented house. The driver was friendly and informative, pointing out all the local sites he thought we should know about on the way. We came around a sharp turn (there were many of those) and he gestured to an odd looking plant in someone’s yard.

“That’s the Easter egg bush,” he told us.

We all nodded in harmony until, about 15 seconds later we realized we were all the butt of his joke. The plant was actually some sort of succulent with rigid, sword-like leaves jutting out from a common base. It was shaped like a spiny sea urchin. At the end of each spike was a colorful oval. It was quite festive looking. We realized quickly (thankfully) that these were plastic Easter eggs that had been stuck onto each leaf and that this was a joke he played on each and every mainlander that came by. But he was very good-natured about it and laughed at himself as well and it was all taken in a genial way. Indeed friendliness was to be a hallmark of every local we met. We were very happy to be there.

We settled into the house that was huge, light, airy and complete with a pool that overlooked a valley. We explored out-of-the-way beaches, shopped for locally made gifts to take home to family and Harry tried to convince me that we should buy a bar that was right on a beach. We could live right above the bar, he suggested. He was serious. I was perplexed. Move here? It was all too much for me to contemplate. Luckily for us, we didn’t pursue the matter, as it was not long after we visited the island that they experienced a volcanic eruption that devastated the island.

Among the highlights was a dinner we had one evening. We wanted to experience local fare and were told that the roti was the thing to try. Roti are simply wraps containing a filling of curried meat, similar to an Indian dosa. Sounded good, genuinely local and cheap, so we were all on board. We were given directions to a roti shack, somewhere up in the mountains.

We arrived at the casual eatery and settled into the open-air, picnic table-like surroundings. The shack was a cement floor affair with a tin roof, open to the view. Red Stripe beer was the beverage of choice, but we had to decide on what roti to have. Our server explained that they were known for their mountain chicken roti, so we ordered four. It was delicious. A tender wrap that yielded easily to the teeth, a curried chicken filling that was full of flavor and spice, but not too hot. There were no vegetables to get in the way. This was about the meat. After we had made a good sized dent in our meal the server re-appeared at our table.

“How are you enjoying your mountain chicken?” she asked in her Irish lilt. Affirming nods all around.

“You do know what mountain chicken is, don’t you?” she inquired, a smile spreading across her face. We looked at one another and I am sure we were all thinking the same thing. Wasn’t it, well, chicken?

“Do you hear that?” she asked. We all got quiet and tuned our ears into the surroundings. We could hear peeping noises.

“Those are the mountain chickens,” she explained. I pictured chickens, hunting and pecking in the dense, forested mountainside. Could that be right, I wondered?

“Mountain chicken are frogs that live in the mountains and are as large as chickens!” she exclaimed. Silence.

As we digested our roti we digested what she had just said. I instantaneously went through a mental checklist. Not chicken, check. Frogs, check. Frogs as large as chickens? Hmm that was a bit, pardon the pun, hard to swallow. But the deed was done. We were finished with our meal and we had enjoyed it. Would I have enjoyed it as much if I had known it was shredded frog’s leg meat? I am not so sure. And that is probably why they took our money first and explained later. If you are visiting Montserrat, I highly recommend the mountain chicken roti. Just leave any amphibian prejudices at home.

PS: Image is of Soufriere volcano with clouds around the top