Every lantern lights up the town, making for a picturesque night scene as I descend the hill towards Anse Le Raye on the island of Saint Lucia. The sun has set, and from where I am standing only the sound of the crickets can be heard. That is about to change as I make my way to this fishing town near beautiful Marigot Bay. It’s Friday night and I’m about to experience “The Fish Fry,” an open invitation town block party.
The Street Scene
Every Friday evening, the locals of Anse Le Raye put on a block party on Front Street, close to the ocean. Though the celebration occupies only a street, the entire town gathers here. It is a chance for local fishermen to boast about their prowess on the waters, and a chance for their wives to display their culinary talents. Nearing the scene, sounds of laughter and drums greet me. Soft yellow street lamps give a welcoming glow to the packed thoroughfare. Entire families crowd picnic tables set up along the street. Food stalls are cramped along the sides, their cooking highlighted by fluorescent lights. Teenage girls strut up and down the street dressed in their night-time island finery: short shorts, neon tube tops, and off-the-shoulder blouses. Teenage men follow them with whistles and shouts and the girls respond by rolling their eyes and giggling. Older men thoughtfully chew on their tobacco while sitting on doorsteps. Dogs lie in wait, deftly avoiding the crush of sandaled, dusty feet, patiently waiting for food scraps. Children shout with delight and run in circles, overwhelmed by the stimulation of sight and sound. It seems the whole island is here, because mingling with the townies are adventurous tourists searching for delicious home cooked food and an atmosphere of fun.
The Food Scene
My grumbling stomach reminds me I need to make some decisions. I wander from stall to stall examining the cooking. Each stall is a makeshift kitchen staffed by a local deftly preparing various aromatic dishes. Charcoal grills are covered with freshly caught conch and lobster. Steaming pots of fresh rice stand next to kingfish being fried on a makeshift stove top. Cooked plantains and breadfruit swim in four different shades of yellow curried sauce. I taste test a sample of fried plantains offered by a smiling old woman wearing colorful yards of fabric on her head. She nods encouragement as I bite into the sweet and mushy dish. Enjoying the new taste, I smile and give her a thumbs up, my mouth full. The next stall’s cook is a master of starches. He’s steamed up breadfruit, cassava, dasheen and even macaroni! As I eye the unknown dishes from afar, he beckons me over and offers a cake of baked dasheen: golden brown and crisp on the outside, the inside tastes like the child of a baked potato and a yam. I decide on a meal of fried kingfish, rice in curry sauce, and cassava. In a quiet corner underneath a tent, I rest on a lawn chair to enjoy my dinner.
The Party Scene
Around me the atmosphere is electric, warm, and friendly. Although I am a tourist, the townspeople treat me as if I had just moved in. I am drawn into an argument between two cricket enthusiasts. They attempt to explain to me the intricacies of the game before lapsing into a long-standing debate about their favorite teams. Over their din, I hear steel drums playing “Calypso Medley” fade away to be replaced by the hectic sounds of dance radio mixes blaring over the loudspeakers. Then my attention is diverted to an elderly man boogying in the middle of the street to the band, waving his cane wildly. His awkward antics make me laugh, but some young boys eagerly join him shaking their feet and arms in unison. Quickly, small girls and mothers with babies in their arms join in. The street becomes an open air night club and my feet involuntarily pat the dust in matching rhythm.
The group expands in my direction and I am pulled out of my chair by a grinning girl of twelve who grabs me by both writs and shimmies me onto the pavement. She happily lets me twirl her around until my skills become too tame for her. She breaks away giggling and skips over to her father. I wave at them as I walk back towards the food stalls. As the locals and outsiders form into a conga line, my eyes discover a stall selling fried shark! Regretfully I gaze at the tempting dish, too full to enjoy any more bites. Perhaps I should get in some more dancing? I slip into place in the conga line and trot off to the music. The night is young and, if I’m lucky, I can dance my appetite into trying some of that shark later. The strains of “Chico Chico” grow louder over the megaphones strung along the street and the clasping line of dancers around me break into cheers. The Friday Night party is just beginning.
The Friday Night Fish Fry is a jubilant weekly event in the small fishing town of Anse Le Raye, Saint Lucia. The roaring all night party goes until the wee hours of Saturday, but guests are welcome to come and go as they please. The Fish Fry allows travelers to interact with Saint Lucian locals and gives the town of Anse Le Raye the opportunity to promote local seafood and handicrafts.