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Easter in Martinique: between religion and gastronomy
Bel bonjou (hello there) little hummingbird!
If I say “Easter”, you’ll probably think “chocolate,” and so will I to be honest (#CEOchocolateaddict). But in the Caribbean, and especially in Martinique, Easter has a whole other meaning.
Easter, above all a religious holiday
Meaning of Lent
The Martinican community is predominantly Catholic and the Catholic religion punctuates all (or almost all) major events on the calendar. Easter is therefore above all a religious holiday. It marks the end of Lent, which began the day after Ash Wednesday (the last day of carnival), and lasted 40 days. Lent, in the Christian religion, corresponds to the period during which Jesus would have retreated into the desert to fast, served by the angels, and repeatedly tempted by the devil. During this period, Catholics are invited by their Church to do certain days of fasting and abstinence, to engage in prayer and penitential practices, to rethink their way of life and to refocus on them and their loved ones. In short, it is a period of restraint that is more or less respected.
Good Friday and its “accras”
Good Friday is the last day of deprivation. Tradition has it that families gather in the morning to “relive” the passion of Christ, walking along the “Way of the Cross” (often winding, steep, and difficult, marked by several prayer stops), fasting. Then comes the time to break the fast, usually around 3 p.m., eating good accras, with different flavors (the accras being made of water and flour, are the perfect setting to break a fast). There, everyone is free to express their creativity. But the most classic accras are the accras of cod, vegetables, or titiri (small river fish). I invite you to discover some recipes that will make you salivate on Tatie Maryse’s website (you can also go see Timolokoy’s recipe – photo credit)
Easter Sunday and Monday
The crab matoutou
Easter is for me synonymous with family, sharing, and above all… crabs! Indeed, in the West Indies, each feast its traditional dish. And on Easter, it’s the “matoutou of crab,” made from land crabs. To eat a good one on the D-day, you have to anticipate: crab traps (called “ratière”) and baits must be placed in nature (mangroves, fields…) months prior. Once a great amount is caught, they are fed leaves, vegetables, peels, and water. This step is crucial to give them flavor. Finally, on Sundays, we take out the biggest of our cooking pots and let it simmer slowly… very slowly, all these crabs in a juice made from hot pepper and Colombo. It will be then served with vegetables and rice.
Each family has its own matoutou recipe. Personally, this year I will follow this one, and will be replacing the crab with shrimp (Photo credit: @MissNatïaa)
The origins of crab matoutou
The matoutou of crabs (or matété for The Guadeloupeans) is a Native American heritage (Caribbean and Arawaks).
When the settlers arrived in the West Indies, they denigrated the dish and labelled it as slave food. Then, when the slaves arrived from Africa, they were forced to the Christian religion, and thus the traditions that flow from it, including that of Lent: they were deprived of fatty meats, and had no choice but to fall back on crabs, considered at the time to be a lean meat. They consumed it throughout the Lenten period, and then on Easter Sunday, they gathered to finish the large stocks.
What was then the punishment for slaves, became a traditional dish in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
During the Easter weekend, tradition also dictates that families and friends pitch their tents by the beach, in a festive and friendly atmosphere, to enjoy this delicious dish. Young and old listen to music, playing dominoes, belote, football… The lucky ones bask in their hammocks. The keywords are sharing, rest, conviviality, respect for culture and traditions. On the beach, everyone is welcome, and the sound of laughter is heard miles away.
Definitely an atmosphere that I miss!
How about you? What does your Easter weekend look like?