Pre-2006 ‘de Breakfuss Shed’ was a place few women frequented. The dockside canteen’a long, hot, crowded, noisy, wooden shed’had been providing cheap and cheerful Creole lunches for dockworkers for decades. All the cooks were women, mind you, but the majority of the customers who would cram themselves, elbow to elbow, along the benches were men.
Word had spread about the mountainous plate of Creole food for half the price it was sold anywhere else. And it was truly finger-licking food, the vegetables fresh from the morning market, the meat sinfully salty and oily, provision doused in gravy. Real heart- attack food like callaloo, coo coo and fry fish, stew chicken and lentil peas, pigtail oil down with breadfruit, fried or roast bake and smoke herring, steamed fish with yam, green fig, eddoes and cassava were on the menu for lunch every day.
They served breakfast too.
You sat down on the bench in front of the stall you wanted to buy from and you could watch Mavis and Sheila cooking and ladling out the food right in front of you.
Then came the second oil boom, big plans for the waterfront, and the Breakfast Shed was re-branded Femmes Du Chalet. Had it not been for all the press and controversy over the franchise, which had been passed down for generations from mothers to their daughters, nobody would have known that they were one and the same.
The grub and grime that gave the place ‘street cred’ was replaced by a clean, spacious open-air food court. That changed the ambience a lot, to put it nicely. Now all the vendors have neatly partitioned cubicles with Formica counters and freezers. You can barely see them behind the steamed-up glass cases where the food is kept warm. The place is still crammed at lunch time, but now you have guests from the Hyatt, bankers, office workers from the government ministries in the International Financial Centre tower, construction workers, tourists, housewives and secretaries, even children, sitting at the wooden benches.
But you can still grab a fried bake and shark in the morning and a lunch of stew lamb and pigeon peas with white rice, or macaroni pie and baked chicken. The range of food though has expanded to include healthier options. There’s even a salad and fruit stall. The femmes have even allowed a man in too’a Jamaican chef who serves up the most divine curry goat, escovitch fish, jerk chicken and rice and peas.
It’s not as cheap as it used to be, though. Put aside about $40 for lunch. Well, what can you expect after diplomats and visitors from two world summits have passed through’ Plus, you have to pay for the view’dozens of ships and boats anchored along the waterfront, the shimmering glass towers of Hyatt, the IFC, the sunset’. And the terminal of the water taxi to San Fernando is also right in front, so you can watch latecomers run to catch the ferry as it pulls off.