St. Croix: La Reine Farmers Market

Apr 26, 2012 9:01 am

A must-visit market in the Virgin Islands

Market
Nana holding mauby tea (similar to chai).
 
Fruit
The exotic soursop fruit is used to make ice cream.
 

For most of the week, Crucians (i.e. people from St. Croix) line up outside of the Le Reine Chicken Shack for the best rotisserie chicken in the Caribbean. On Saturday mornings, though, they're there for the small market that takes place behind the restaurant. Imagine your local farmers' market, but replace half of the items with things you've never heard of. That's the La Reine Farmers' Market.

The whole thing is set up flea market-style with crops overflowing on table after table. The flea market comparison is apt because the farmers here don't exactly seem like farmers. They're really just Crucians with overflowing gardens who are happy to sell you their excess produce. You'll find tomatoes and peppers and other staples of the traditional American diet, but the real fun is in the stuff you don't recognize, like soupsop. It's a green spiky fruit that looks like a large punk rock avocado. It has creamy white flesh dotted with big black seeds and locals like to make ice cream out of it. Good luck finding some at the Piggly Wiggly.

There's also a ton of breadfruit, which appropriately has a texture comparable to a compressed loaf of Wonder Bread and appears to be covered in a reptilian exoskeleton. On one table, there's a plastic container full of what seems like thick brown cigars. They're cocoa sticks. Shave a little off into some hot milk with sugar and boom, you've got a cup of hot cocoa that would be perfect for a cold winter day if the island ever gets around to having one.

Another ingredient to turn into a beverage is mauby (MAW-bee) bark, which comes from the indigenous buckthorn tree. You can buy it from Mary Nana Adwoa Lewis (aka Nana) who's happy to share her recipe for making the slightly bitter, chai-like mauby drink. She'd also be happy to sell you some hot sauce. So would everyone else here. At pretty much every table, there are jars of homemade hot sauces, jellies, and coconut oil. They're not packaged with mason jars or cute bows like you might find at your neighborhood Hipster Swap Meet. Instead, they're in whatever's around and empty. Mystic iced tea bottles, old Ragu jars, you name it, it's filled with unregulated Crucian products. Think of it as DIY island recycling.

Just outside the market space, there's a row of fishermen selling the daily catch out of coolers. Multi-hued parrotfish and surgeonfish lay on top of each other looking so fresh you're sure they're just napping. They're not. Grab one on the way out and head home to prepare your island feast. With all this incredibly fresh food around, who has time for rotisserie chicken?

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