In the early 1600s, as he sailed past en route to Mexico, Christopher Columbus admired the blooming tropical island of Martinique, then known by local Caribs as Madinina, or Island of Flowers. However, it was the French who eventually settled here and their roots have been long lasting. Martinique, located on the eastern rim of the Caribbean in the French West Indies, is now a French department and Gallic flavour pervades every facet of island life, from language to customs and, of course, its standout food.
With an intriguing Afro-Caribbean culture, rhythmic beats and glorious beaches designed for catching waves or simply lazing about, Martinique is about as exotic as it gets. Throw in a little European style and comfort (including the motherland’s fantastic road system, which makes travel from one side of the island to the other quick and pleasurable in an affordable rental car) and you have a little piece of tropical France surrounded by turquoise seas.
Francophiles will be in seventh heaven. Along with French staples of stinky cheese, artisan charcuterie and crusty baguette from the grocer for a do-it-yourself meal, there are French classics at nearly every restaurant, from steak frites to crepes.
If you came for Caribbean flavour, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, the local cuisine is a focal point for overseas visitors and a source of pride for the people of Martinique, both natives and mainlanders, who savour their vibrant food with noteworthy gusto.
Among the most famous (and must-try) dishes are acras, savoury seafood beignets (most often cod); crabe farcis (stuffed fried crab); and poison grille a la creole (whole grilled fish with creole sauce). Martinique makes the most of its watery locale with plenty of fresh-caught seafood at rock bottom prices. Creole cornerstones – spice, heat and colour – also dominate, with heartwarming colombo (curries) and braises (think mango chicken with Tabasco). Drop by for a sampling at a local Creole eatery and soak up the fun and flamboyance of the brightly decorated venues.
What to take home?
For centuries, the islands of the Caribbean thrived on the back of vast sugar plantations. While sugarcane is a common commodity now, grown throughout the world, the vestige of sugar lives on in Martinique in the form of delicious rum – and it is some of the world’s best. Visit one of many rum distilleries dotted around the island where you can taste their golden selection (don’t go past the XO) and buy a bottle to enjoy back home. Or, order a ti punch from just about every restaurant, eatery or ramshackle bar – this generous pouring of rum served in a tumbler with raw sugar and lime is the national drink.
How to get there?
As a French department and one of the larger islands in the region, Martinique is well serviced. There are direct flights from Paris, or from the US via Miami. If you’re travelling through the region, numerous flights connect Martinique to nearby St Lucia and Barbados, as well major Caribbean islands further afield.
At many eating and accommodation venues in Martinique you’ll find Bois Lele: Le Guide des Bonnes Tables, a free fantastic guide to restaurants serving top French and Creole fare (it’s in French, though). Restaurant La Table de Mamy Nounou in Presqu’ile de Caravelle, a wonderful venue with striking views over the ocean, stocks it and is worth a visit for the food alone.