Today is Independence Day in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, an island nation in the Leeward chain bordering the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Antigua was first settled by archaic foragers called the Siboney or Ciboney. Carbon dating has established the earliest settlements started around 3100 BCE. They were succeeded by the Ceramic Age pre-Columbian Arawak-speaking Saladoid people who migrated from the lower Orinoco River.
The Arawaks introduced agriculture, raising, among other crops, the famous Antigua black pineapple (Moris cultivar of Ananas comosus), corn, sweet potatoes (white with firmer flesh than the bright orange “sweet potato” used in the United States), chiles, guava, tobacco, and cotton.
The indigenous West Indians made excellent seagoing vessels which they used to sail the Atlantic and the Caribbean. As a result, Caribs and Arawaks were able to colonize much of South America and the Caribbean Islands. Their descendants still live there, notably in Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia.Most Arawaks left Antigua around 1100 AD; those who remained were later raided by the Caribs. The Caribs’ superior weapons and seafaring prowess allowed them to defeat most of the West Indian Arawak nations.
The island of Antigua, originally called Wa’ladli by Arawaks, is today called Wadadli by locals. Caribs possibly called it Wa’omoni. Christopher Columbus, while sailing by in 1493, may have named it Santa Maria la Antigua after an icon in the Spanish Seville Cathedral. The Spaniards did not colonize Antigua because it lacked fresh water and because the Caribs were extremely aggressive towards them.
The English settled on Antigua in 1632; Sir Christopher Codrington settled on Barbuda in 1684. Slavery, established to run sugar plantations around 1684, was abolished in 1834. The British ruled from 1632 to 1981, with a brief French interlude in 1666.
The islands became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 November 1981. The Right Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird became the first Prime Minister.
Antigua and Barbuda cooking is like much of the cooking of the West Indies, but with its own quirks. The national dish is fungie (pronounced “foon-jee”) and pepper pot. Fungie is a dish that’s similar to Italian polenta, made mostly with cornmeal. Other local dishes include ducana, seasoned rice, saltfish and lobster (from Barbuda). There are also local confectionaries which include: sugarcake, fudge, raspberry and tamarind stew and peanut brittle.
Although these foods are indigenous to Antigua and Barbuda and to some other Caribbean countries, the local diet has diversified and now includes local dishes of Jamaica, such as jerk meats, or Trinidad, such as Roti, and other Caribbean countries. Shawarma, an Arab dish has become popular as well, beings sold out of Arab shops along with kebabs and gyros. Chinese restaurants have also begun to become more mainstream. The supermarkets sell a wide variety of food, from American to Italian. Meals may vary depending on household income levels.
Breakfast dishes include saltfish, eggplant, eggs and lettuce. Lunches typically include a starch, such as rice, macaroni or pasta, vegetables and/or salad, an entree (fish, chicken, pork, beef etc.) and a side dish such as macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese), scalloped potatoes or plantains. On Sundays many people in the country go to church and afterwards prepare a variety of foods at home. Dinner on Sundays is often eaten earlier (around 2:00 pm) because people are often off from works. Dinners may include pork, baked chicken, stewed lamb, or turkey, with rice (prepared in a variety of ways), macaroni pie, salads, and a local drink. Dessert may be ice cream and cake or an apple pie (mango and pineapple pie when in season). Antiguan Butter Bread is also a main stable of Antuguan cuisine, it is a soft buttery loaf of bread that needs no butter added once baked. Many locals enjoy fresh baked butter bread and cheese for breakfast and throughout the day. There are many homes in neighborhoods all over Antigua that have small bakeries built on to them, where locals can go and purchase these fresh baked loaves. They are coupled with cheese, sardines, and a bright red sausage that locals sometimes call salami. They also have what is called “provisions” with most meals. Provisions are foods that are usually a root or starch like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, eddo, etc. During Carnival time, souse a very spicy soup with pigs’ feet, pigs’ knuckles, and tails with lots of onions is a popular snack, sold by vendors on the side of the road. Black pudding (blood sausage), a well seasoned sausage made with rice, meat, and pigs’ blood is also enjoyed by locals. Here’s a recipe for Antigua pepper pot. Pepper pot is found throughout the West Indies, and, like most such recipes is more or less cook’s choice. It is typically served with fungie.
Antiguan Pepper Pot
¾ lb pork, cubed
2 onions, chopped
2 lbs spinach
10 okra pods
4 cups beef broth
1 hot pepper, chopped fine (or more) Scotch bonnet is best
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsps fresh thyme
1 tbsp cooking oil
Heat the oil over high heat in a heavy pot and brown the pork and onions.
Add the broth, bring to a boil and simmer for one hour.
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer one hour more.