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Caribbean, St. Croix

Taste of the Caribbean: A Primer for Eating Dolphin

Taste of the Caribbean: A Primer for Eating Dolphin
Would you eat this face? Dolphin photo by spettacolopuro
Would you eat this face? Dolphin photo by spettacolopuro

They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, No-one you see, is smarter than he, And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder, Flying there-under, under the sea!

Just look at the adorable little smile on that dolphin playing with his ball!

Can you imagine West Indians throughout the region slaughtering him and his cute little brothers, frying or grilling up the steaks, and then serving them up everywhere from rum shacks to fine dining establishments? Maybe with a side of peas and rice?

If my past experiences are anything to go by the answer is “yes.”

Just this past weekend, I was having lunch at Villa Morales in “West” on St. Croix when this familiar scene played out:

Girl from Connecticut to me: “So, what should I get? I’d like to try something local and fresh.”

She flashes an enthusiastic smile and prepares herself for me to wax poetically about the finer points of Caribbean cuisine.

Me: “That’s easy. Try the fried snapper. It should come with its head on and the eyes are the best part! Or get the dolphin. It’s also delicious!”

The color drains from her face.

Girl from Connecticut looking aghast: “Oh. My. God. Eat the eyes!? Are you crazy!? And wait, you don’t really eat Flipper do you!?”

So, yeah… It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to most folks that West Indians regularly dine on one of the most intelligent and beloved mammals on the planet. (Maybe it’s because we eat the eyes from fried snapper… Hmm…)

Believe me when I say that this is not an isolated incident. This happens almost every time I introduce newcomers to the joys of local Caribbean cuisine.

So, it’s at this point that I then have to talk this person back into their chairs, assure them no Flipper doubles were willfully harmed in the preparation of their lunch and that dolphin on menus from Trinidad to the Bahamas refers to dolphinfish and not their childhood animal hero.

The easiest way to clear up any confusion is to simply say:

“Know mahi-mahi? Same thing.”

But what is mahi-mahi?

Mahi-mahi, aka dolphinfish, aka dorado is a whopping, surface-dwelling, greenish fish with long dorsal fins that run nearly the length of their bodies and a distinctive  blunt-nosed shape.

One Big Dolphinfish by Flawka via Flickr
One Big Dolphinfish by Flawka via Flickr

“Mahi-mahi” translates to “very strong” in Hawaiian probably due to the fact that they can reach lengths of three to even six feet, while “dorado” means golden in Spanish referring to their bright coloring when first caught.

Why English speakers decided on the confusing “dolphin” I’m not really sure (though I have touched on mis-naming of dishes in the Caribbean before), but that’s all just academic.

What you really need to know is this:

Dolphin grilled up with a side of rice and peas plus a side salad is one of the best lunches a traveler could ask for in the Caribbean.

Oh, and that Villa Morales on St. Croix is a great place to get some. Now, if only I could convince newcomers to eat fried snapper eyes…

Oh well, enjoy!

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