For those of you who don’t know, the island of St. Martin is divided into two nations, St. Maarten (Dutch) and St. Martin (French). I was in St. Maarten in April to enjoy their annual Carnival festivities. Funny enough I didn’t know there was an annual Carnival in St. Maarten, but for 43 years they’ve been celebrating Carnival with a roster of nightly concerts, events and parades.
The official language of St. Maarten is Dutch, however, I found that pretty much all the St. Maarteners I met spoke English with a familiar West Indian accent that made me feel at home. There is a lot about my experience in St. Maarten that reminded me of Jamaica, beyond the fact that there are many Jamaicans who live and work on the island. For instance, my first night at Festival Village, where there are nightly concerts during Carnival, I felt like I was at a big Caribbean family reunion.
Festival Village is an outdoor stadium-size space with a large concert stage at one end and food stalls along the sides. The first night I walked in I could see and smell smoke bellowing out of large makeshift steel barbecues, their grills covered with chicken, ribs and shrimp skewers.
I love jerk pork and chicken, and though the grilled meat in St. Maarten is nicely seasoned, I found it tame in comparison. The Bakes however, were a different story. Called Fried Bakes in Trinidad and Guyana, Bakes are St. Maarten’s version of Fried Dumplings. Also fried, they’re flat but airy and a bit sweet. They flew off the plate so fast I barely had time to take a picture before they were all gone!
The food and smoky grills at Festival Village are a perfect backdrop to the live music being performed on stage. You can dance and then head to a food stall for some local fare. In between peformances, friends gather at tables to enjoy a bite or some drinks.
The popular band in the video below performed to an appreciative crowd who sang along to most of their songs. I believe the band is from St. Martin (the French speaking side of the island), but I’m not sure. If anyone knows the name of this band, please let me know. In the meantime, enjoy the video and a little Carnival rhythms!