It’s Saturday evening, around midnight, and while tourists are pouring their last drop of rum before spending the night in one of the many seaside resorts that dot the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, Sylvia Baptiste’s day does not is just getting started.
Six days a week, she travels through the capital of Castries to the enormous open-air market, down a narrow lane which, at midday, is bustling with vendors selling the day’s catch of seafood, local spices and fresh fruit. In her small kitchen, Sylvia’s Place, she will prepare noodles with salted fish and vegetables, beef broth, cocoa tea and other local delicacies before sunrise to sell for breakfast and lunch. .
The market, which opened in 1894, is home to several family businesses that have spanned generations, all proud and passionate about sharing their taste of the Caribbean with those looking to try. Here’s a taste of everyday life there.
I take a break from the tropical sun at the counter of my new friend Nick’s colorful vegetarian food shack, Mokocho’s. His Rastafarian father (the Mochoko at Mochoko) opened a shop 20 years ago, and Nick joined him in 2002. Mochoko’s day begins at midnight; Nick is at 2 a.m. They cook most of their menu in their home kitchen, transporting roti, fried plantain stews and pizzas to the shack for lunch It hasn’t always been easy, but the duo dedicated now enjoys having a family business that allows them to do what they love.
With her hearty laugh and generous portions, Sylvia is the Caribbean mother you’ve always dreamed of. She has spent the last 19 years of her life feeding those who visit Sylvia’s Place, but her love for cooking started much earlier. She remembers making her first chicken and rice dish around the age of 11; it quickly became a family favorite.
Jacinta Williams, whom the Small Business Awards in Saint Lucia recently named Vendor of the Year for her commitment to selling quality products to visitors and locals, has been in the market for 21 years (since she was 7 year). She first started helping her mother, who now runs a textile stall next door, and eventually branched out with her own stall. On Sundays, the family often cooks together for church, preparing pulled pork with soursop, avocado salad, and fish with split peas.
Opposite Sylvia’s, this stand’s daily menu includes beef broth, stewed turkey, rice, potato salad and macaroni and cheese.
At the bend of the fish market, you are immediately approached by several sellers eager to capture your attention. Hanging out by the water with their hand-painted barrels and Instagrammable displays of the latest catches, they share their days negotiating with fishermen and cutting fish for customers. Peter Butche has an intense gaze that instantly catches my attention; I take photos between an informal conversation with his cousin, who often comes to visit the market. Peter, born and raised in Saint Lucia, has been involved in fishing and the market since he was eight years old.
It doesn’t take long to feel like a local here. On my second visit to the market, several vendors recognized my face and opened up to talk for hours; we always keep in touch via What’s App. It’s hard to ignore the pride they take in their work; it’s even harder to ignore how good all foods are.