One night in the French Caribbean
By Alexander Britell
MARIGOT —Just the hum of a generator and the distant chirp of a coqui frog.
This was low season in Marigot, that forgotten Caribbean capital often overshadowed by its cruise hub neighbor, Philipsburg, and its culinary hub neighbor, Grand Case.
It was in this city in St Martin that I ended up in the evening in an empty parking lot eyeing a bokit truck.
I HAD arrived in Marigot just before sunset, when the water in the harbour is silver and the shops begin to close.
I had no plan, just the desire to walk around a French Caribbean town and see where the ti’ punch took me.
The first stop was Sarafina’s, a popular bakery and cafe across from the sea, where I stopped for a Lavazza and soon found myself paying for a Lavazza and a coffee eclair.
Even in the high season, Marigot is quiet at twilight, but in mid-September the volume slides from town to village.
This is a peculiar feeling for a traveler, to feel that one has an entire place to himself. And it is to be relished.
I wandered up the main road near the port, the place that is used more often as a gateway to Anguilla and St Barth, shinier, beachier places than this. It is one of the reasons why the small Creole lolos and the places like L’Arawak are sometimes ignored.
But I was going to neither place, so I stopped in at L’Arawak, with some encouragement from the proprietor, for some accras and a ti’ punch.
The accras were perfect — golden-brown and crunchy but soft on the inside, and married perfectly with ti’ punch.
There is no better way to begin a meal in the French Caribbean than with these two things.
I was about to leave when the proprietor offered a second ti’ punch on the house — a side benefit of the off season. Who was I to refuse?
From there, the ti’ punches took me to Marigot’s epicentre, the Marina Royale, where charter boats and cruisers mingle, surrounded by haute-cuisine eateries.
There was no one on the boardwalk, just a few residents and long-term vacationers eating in Le Galion and Le France.
I walked up and down, then up again, into a small alley that took me to a cafe with an iPad showing highlights of the France-Spain Eurobasket game.
There was no one there save for a man reading the newspaper and a documentary on the television about Georges and Claude Pompidou.
I paid $1.50 for an espresso, watching footage of a driving Tony Parker and of the Pompidous’ weekend house in Orvilliers, La Maison Blanche.
Now it was time for a real meal, the kind for which the Marina Royale is famous. And if it is not in fact famous for it, it should be.
Because Grand Case rightly receives much of the praise, the restaurants that line this boardwalk are themselves some of the Caribbean’s best, from La Tropicana to the aforementioned Le Galion to Le Spinnaker.
But stepping on the boardwalk I spotted one I had not seen before, pushed away at the end of the marina.
It was called La Petite Auberge Des Iles, with a simple menu specializing mostly in Creole dishes.
I sat down in a restaurant that was empty save for a pair of ladies a few tables down.
I ordered a rhum vieux, in this case La Mauny from Martinique.
Without asking for them, I was soon served a few accras, not quite as perfect as L’arawak, but welcome.
And then there was the fish — a snapper filet in creole sauce, which would prove, at the time, the reason for this whole unplanned expedition to Marigot.
It was buttery, rich, refined but then layered with tang from the classic Creole sauce. But there was an even greater flavor: surprise, of the sort you only taste when you happen upon fish like this in an untrodden corner of a marina.
It had gotten dark in Marigot. I headed back down the boardwalk, through the streets of town, up to the port, and thought about getting a taxi.
Then I heard music coming from a restaurant called L’oizeau Rare, an album I knew; It was Dimanche a Bamako, the blind husband and wife singers from Mali whose music is produced by Manu Chao. I thought it a sign that the night should continue.
I walked up the stairs and thought of one last rhum vieux for the night, this time Longueteau from Sainte-Marie in Guadeloupe, joined by a glass of Didier water.
There was just a single couple in the restaurant, another symptom of September in Marigot.
I finished the rhum and headed to the taxi stand in the center of the port.
But this was another symptom of September. All the taxi cabs had gone home. The only remaining driver had already left on another fare, I was told by the two men playing dominos in the taxi hut.
That was when I saw it: a food truck. It served juices and crepes and — then — there it was — Bokit!
A few years ago on a trip to Guadeloupe, I tasted something that, for me, changed the Caribbean forever: the bokit, a street sandwich of fried dough, sauce and some kind of protein inclusion, usually chicken or morue (salted codfish). And, perhaps because Les Guadeloupéens wish to keep this treasure for themselves, bokit are exceedingly rare outside of Gwada. But some bokit-makers have escaped to other corners of the French Antilles.
I eyed the truck, watching as the pair of cooks made them, and debated whether I would search for a cab or take a few steps closer to the truck. I wasn’t hungry at all, but this was a bokit truck, after all.
So there I was, standing in the middle of a parking lot in an empty town in the French Caribbean, listening to the generator and the coqui frogs.
But aren’t these kind of moments why we travel? These unplanned minutes in strange places? These times when we ask, “how did this night take me here?”
So I walked toward Eunice Unique Bokit.
Because that’s the thing about bokit.
They don’t care if you’re not hungry. And soon, neither did I.