Nyam Cayman

Nyam Cayman
Words by Jennifer Marshall

nyam: / ‘njam/ West Indian = to eat

Cayman is part of a global trend towards ‘home grown’ food, with people sourcing produce locally in the quest for a healthier lifestyle and optimal quality, flavour and nutritional value. Restaurateurs are working with Cayman’s small farms to incorporate local goods into their menus and meet the growing demand for authentic Caribbean cuisine. Likewise, Cayman residents are slowly moving away from complete reliance on imported groceries in favour of a more health-conscious, affordable and environmentally responsible approach with many families supplementing their weekly trip to the supermarket with visits to Cayman’s Farmers’ Markets for fresh, sustainably grown staples.

A visit to one of Cayman’s thriving Farmers Markets such as the Weekly Farmers’ Market at Camana Bay or the Market at the Agricultural Grounds in Lower Valley, can be a truly eye-opening experience for residents. Accustomed to shiny, round tomatoes, mammoth red peppers and untarnished bananas, it comes as quite a surprise to see the somewhat smaller and visually less-than-perfect fruit and vegetables on offer. Once the food is on the table, however, it is a different story. Fruits and vegetables picked once ripe and grown for flavour, rather than for size, shipping and storage, perform as clear winners in taste. Freshly picked, locally-grown gems like candy tomatoes, callalloo, plantains, bananas and mangoes simply outshine comparable goods. Local farmer Pat Panton and the Hamlins Farm have regular stalls at the Markets, as well as the ‘Organic Bread Lady’, Anna Elverson, and the North Side’s Whistling Duck Farm. A variety of fresh vegetables including salad leaves, peppers and herbs, and poultry, eggs and homemade treats feature weekly and are as affordable, if not cheaper, than comparable imports. Supermarkets are also following suit, stocking more locally-sourced fruit, vegetables, poultry and meat on their shelves.

For many residents of Cayman accustomed to relying on dietary staples flown in from around the globe, it seems incredible that many of our residents rely almost exclusively on food grown on-Island. Government subsidies provided for Cayman farmers make local produce more affordable for many and the variety available on-Island has steadily increased. As well as supporting Cayman’s economy, local agriculture has influenced Cayman’s restaurants, with many taking the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint and enhance their menus with Caribbean inspired cuisine and ingredients.

The Brasserie restaurant, in Boundary Square, has its own organic garden, from which it sources ingredients and two fishing boats that provide fresh seafood for the restaurant. Established in January 2010, the garden is an integral part of the business. “During peak season, November to April, we yield about 50% of our vegetables, herbs and fruit from the garden”, says owner Lisa Flowers. In creating the menu, daily highlights are often chosen on the basis of what can picked on the day. “We try to highlight the vegetables from the garden as simply and as naturally as possible ... when we have tomatoes in the garden we pick them, slice them, put Cayman sea salt on them and serve”.

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One of the pioneers of the ‘Farm-To-Table’ concept in their Miami outpost, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Camana Bay sources local ingredients, adding a Caribbean twist to its contemporary American cuisine. “We began to see the great number of farmers in the Cayman Islands and decided that we needed to lead a movement to bring locally grown products to the forefront of the market”, says Head Chef Thomas Tennant. Just one of many dishes at Michael’s that incorporates predominantly local produce, whilst helping to eradicate the predatory and non-indigenous lionfish from Cayman’s waters, is the West Indian Style Lionfish Chowder. The dish incorporates lionfish, callaloo, scallion, peppers, pumpkin, thyme, coconut water, okra, kale, mustard greens, coconut oil, scotch bonnet and sweet potatoes. “Our menu changes daily according to what is available. So if it is not available, it gets changed on the menu. This is the secret to keeping it fresh and exciting.”

By buying our groceries locally, we can reduce our carbon footprint and support Cayman’s small-scale and ethically-minded farmers. Although many are not organically certified, small producers are generally proponents of ‘naturally grown’ produce, avoiding the costs of organic certification whilst still incorporating good practice guidelines such as free range production, hormone and antibiotic-free environments and the minimal use of pesticides.

Check out one of the Farmers’ Markets and see what they can offer you in terms of freshness, value and variety or pay a visit to the fishermen in George Town Harbour for a freshly caught snapper teamed with a jar of homemade hot peppers for a quick mid-week dinner. Whether you ‘grow your own’ or prefer to enjoy a chef’s take on Caribbean cuisine, ‘Nyam’ Cayman for good health and peace of mind.