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JOE AND THE MERCEDES

funny business

By tony deyal

Last week as I looked out of my kitchen window I saw a pair of "bananaquits" or "bannaquits", little yellow-chested "sugar birds" (or what we call "seek-kee-ay") eating the seeds of a spinach or "bhajee" plant in the yard.

These birds are notoriously brazen. Despite the noise from, and the constant wind-assisted swaying of, the oversized chimes hanging in our verandah, two of them built a nest in the wooden middle part of the chimes and ventured forth to poach on the sugar-water we leave out for the humming birds. Sometimes they will fritter away their time on the over-ripe bananas we leave on the verandah rail or even join the dogs in stuffing down the bread we leave out for the crows. This dry season has them eating bhajee. I told my wife that given the audacity of these birds, I would not be surprised if they flew into the kitchen and asked for some salt, garlic, onion and oil. In fact, I would even expect them to refuse soya oil and demand virgin olive oil and sea salt.

What surprised me though was an admission (in another paper) by Seeta Persad that seemed to me more incredible than my little bananaquits begging for condiments in my kitchen. She said, "I saw a huge heap of okra (ochroes) at a roadside vendor's stand in Princes Town (home for me) and it reminded me of my childhood days when my sister Geeta, my brother Teekaram and myself would run through the field of okra picking the young ones and eating them raw." Even a bananaquit would say that eating raw ochro takes some jumbo gumbo guts. If there was a way to take cooked ochro out of my wife's soup, I would immediately do it. But, as I learnt, the quality of ochro is not strained or filtered. If you want to slip before you slide, eat ochro. The only way I can tolerate the stuff is to chop it up, fry it very dry with some saltfish and lots of pepper, garlic and onion.  According to Seeta, Okra has a high fibre content. According to me, I would prefer to eat a long-time mattress if I needed fibre and get my mucilage from other sources (or sauces).

Incredibly, I like "caraillie" (cerassie or bitter melon). In fact, instead of reacting to its extreme bitterness with a shout of "Oh Gourd", I prefer to address it in more respectful terms and say, "Hail Cerassie." I grew up eating it the same way I was force-fed ochro – pepper, salt, oil and onion plus "sada" roti. Then I realised that there was a season for every thyme and loved it Chinese style, stuffed, steamed or stir-fried with black-bean sauce smothered in vast quantities of aromatic herbs like thyme, ginger, garlic and onions.

With all these onions in my diet, you would say that I am a man who knows his onions. However, Joe Pires, seasoned agriculturist that he is, has now overtaken me. His company, Caribbean Chemicals, teamed up with the Ministry of Food Production to produce the first ever commercially viable onion crop in T&T. Joe says that local restaurants are already committed to purchasing the entire crop because fresh onions taste better than those that have spent months in transit. Vasant Bharath was most present and it is rumoured that when Joe told him that the type of onions that was grown is known as "Mercedes" he was quite upset because there were no "Range Rover" or "Porsche Cayenne" varieties.

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