In Curacao, Cactus for Lunch

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By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor

I’ve eaten goat, tripe and ostrich in my travels but this is a first.

As the Curaçao sun beats mercilessly down on our jeep pulled over on the arid north coast, tour guide Michel is bounding out of the vehicle to a stand of cacti, machete poised. He takes a few swipes at a stalk about three feet high; lops off a six-inch section, and brings it over to us, impaled on the end of his blade.

Michel tells us that they use cactus here to make soup, and that his mother-in-law cooks a delicious version. She’s also shown him how to peel and de-prickle the stalks, so you can eat the cactus raw. Grabbing a fork, he demonstrates his newly acquired skills, first removing the spikes, peeling off the tough outer skin, and cutting the remaining light green flesh into small chunks. Now who wants to try it?

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When my hand shoots up, frankly I’m as surprised as he is. Vegetables have never been my friend, and I’ve only just acquired the taste for avocado. But when in Curaçao …

As seven pairs of eyes watch for my reaction, I gingerly pull the half-inch cube from the tines of the fork and tentatively bring it to my lips.

I chew. I swallow. I survive.

Turns out that raw cactus doesn’t really have much of a taste. The watery and slightly crunchy texture is much like cucumber, but the flavor is even more delicate. And there’s an okra-like slime that I can’t say I particularly care for.

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Still, I’ve tried it and now I can have an opinion about the spiny succulent. “We use it to thicken and give body to the soup,” Michel tells me, “but in Bonaire, they use cactus to make a really good liqueur called Cadushy.”

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Bingo! My first visit to the neighboring island is already on my schedule for next month. And now, when I touch down, I know what my first priority will be. After all, when in Bonaire …