The attitude of this girl selling bags of boiled peanuts and mango-on-a-stick at the side of the road was fantastic. You just know I had to buy some.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve breathed in that fragrant mix of flowers, fruit and tropicalÂ Caribbean wood andÂ wished I could somehow capture it and take it home. Just a little something to get me through the dog days of winter. So imagine my excitement at discovering how theÂ Spa at Four Seasons Resorts Nevis Â – intoxicating in its own sublime way – has partnered with noted organicÂ alchemist, Ajne,Â to take those smells a flacon further and create 100% natural, one-of-a-kind perfumes. Typically a customized formula takes weeks or even months to complete – and often costs a smallÂ fortune, too. Yet Ajne’s ingenious blending process takes a cool 90-minutes while lounging by the Spa pool or taking in the Nevis sunset, cocktail in hand.Â To create my bespoke formula a Melangeur, or mixer, administers a quirky computerizedÂ fragranceÂ analysis based on Sanskrit chakras,Â whichÂ divide the body into energy centers. Test questions determine fragrance preferences and helpÂ findÂ areas of the body and psyche in need of balancing.Â The Melangeur works like a private scent sherpa, guiding me over the fragrant terrain andÂ assisting me in discovering ingredientsÂ ideal to my body chemistry. Working one-on-one she mixes combinations of rare and precious plant oils – some worth their weight in gold. Not only do I walk away with aÂ greaterÂ understanding of myself, but the real results are delivered to my room an hour later: a hand-blended smell that is individual and entirely me. And totally Nevis, too.
Back in Hong Kong for a last look around before heading to the airport and home, the strangest fruit in this picture is probably the three sad apples at rear. Still, I’ve been wondering all day about what those pale clusters in the foreground could possibly be. They look like babyÂ potatoesÂ – growing like bunches of champagne grapes.
Without question, the Sugarloaf pineapple is the tastiest fruit I’ve ever sampled. (How’s that for a sweeping statement?) Native to parts of the Caribbean and South America, the fruit was brought to Hawaii where it was bred and branded as the Kona Sugarloaf, a miniature masterpiece with no acid, a high sugar content and only the slightest of woody cores. Squat and cylindrical in shape, it is an unusually sweet fruit in an unusually petite package – especially if you’ve grown accustomed to bigger equalling better. Far from the genetically modified consistency of large-scale commercial growers, the Sugarloaf in Jamaica maintains its naturally quirky appearance, like an heirloom. It’s a succulent testimony to the power of personality.
Despite a fondness for jerk, Jamaica’s true national dish – the food expats crave to a degree so obsessive that’s it’s canned and shipped around the globe – is something called ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a fruitÂ whichÂ when ripe splays open in an act of self-immolation to reveal a shiny black seed the size of an olive. Only then is the flesh fit for consumption and still it first needs to be boiled. Once cooked it has the deceptive texture and appearance of firm scrambled eggs,Â whichÂ might be one reason why the dish is a popular staple at both breakfast and brunch. Another is the fact that salt fish is the Caribbean’s answer to smoked salmon, and here it’s sauteed with sweet redÂ peppers, onions, a healthy amount of allspice and the boiled ackee. Like a good plate of hash it satisfies the palate’s craving for savory and sweet, while the starchy ackee functions like potato, soaking up the residual cooking flavors whileÂ pleasantly tricking the eye.
A rainy day brings it’s own simple joys, like a trip to the local market.Â Aside from the dizzying display of bacalhao (dried salt cod) and hams prepared and preserved in every imaginable way, there was a bountiful selection of exotic fruit imported from the former Portuguese colony of Brazil. The carambola and kumquats were easy to recognize.Â As for the mangosteen, well, the “mangustan” sign proved helpful.Â But a scaly thing that looked liked an armadillo in hiding?Â A spiky dinosaur egg the size of a beach ball?Â There was nothing in my culinary phrasebook to help. Collectively, the display emitted a smell so fragrant it was borderline narcotic and I couldn’t resist the adventure of buying a softball-sized mystery fruit for later.Â Once I got back to my hotel, however, my fruit’s distinctive odor – separated from the pack – became apparent.Â I had chosen one of my favorites: passion fruit.
Lots of bananas in CuraÃ§ao, just none ripe enough to eat.Â Anyone who’s indulged in the creamy sweetness of a freshly picked banana understands how torturous this is.Â We don’t get ripe bananas in the US; we get green bananas left to slowly rot until they’re soft enough to eat.Â There’s nothing to compare with a local banana.Â Except maybe a mango.Â Or papaya.
When I find really good fruit it’s pretty much all I want to eat.Â In Costa Rica I’ve been eating buckets of it like it’s going out of style:Â pineapple, mango, papaya and best of all, passion fruit.Â Don’t worry, that’s not ketchup drizzled on top; it’s tabasco.Â My waiter clued me in to a little local secret:Â a few drops of hot sauce on a ripe piece of tropical fruit makes for a savory/sweet explosion on your taste buds.
Since I’m talking about fruit, let’s just take a moment to wax rhapsodic about the local passion fruit.Â Here is a perfect specimen:Â roughly the size and weight of a wiffleball, it’s the oyster of the fruit world.Â Well, to me anyway.Â Heady with perfume, combining the crunch of small seeds with the slick flesh that surrounds them, in the tropics you understand how it got its name:Â cracking the delicate shell and slurping the flesh into your mouth and across your tongue is a sensual experience you just don’t get from an orange!Â We don’t get these in the Northeast – not this size anyway; and certainly not fresh-off-the-tree ripe.Â So add the passion fruit to the growing list of ephemeral delights that make travel worth the trip.