Bettah wit Peppah
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
“Be bettah wit peppah”
Along with lime. That was Randy’s comment about his rice & fish head stew.
He’d put our unexpected plates on the table a couple of minutes before. We’d been surprised, normally we cook the whole time we are at the house and share meals with Randy. This time he’d cooked before we’d gotten started, surprising us with what Joey currently says is the best food he’s had on the island. The plate was a beautiful sight, a light yellow broth topped with a cup of rice and a mound of fish bones and veggies. We’d immediately bowed over it, taking in the delicate aroma like we would a dish served to us at any of the best restaurants in Charlotte. I’d stack this stew up against any of them. The fish had just shown up on our dock an hour or so before and was prepped and cooked out back on a camp stove.
But this is about “peppah”, not that meal - that story comes later…
We were raving about the stew, Randy was giving mild critiques. Or, rather, musings about what he didn’t have that he believed would have made it even better, made it right.
We procured limes from the kitchen, quickly curing that issue while enhancing each bite with just a dash of acid.
But peppah was the real issue. “Peppers? Like green peppers? We have some in the fridge” Joey said.
"Pepper? Black pepper, or peppercorns?" I asked.
“Nah, peppah”, Randy said with a shake of his head and a light smile.
“Hot sauce?” We asked.
“Yahhhh, yahhh man, hot sauce is good”, he replied.
I grabbed a little bottle of hot sauce from the pantry. He applied it liberally to the fish, we followed suit.
“But bettah wit peppah”.
“Randy! What do you mean by peppah?!” I think we both said it at the same time. He doesn't really beat around the bush, more just doesn't realize we don't know what he's talking about.
“Peppah. Wit weenigah.”
By this point in the week I knew what weenigah was. He’d asked to borrow some a couple of times when he was at the grill cooking something for himself or prepping something for later. Vinegar. All of his “V’s” at the beginning of a word are pronounced like a W. You don’t have virtue, you have wertoo. Some foods don’t give him vigor, they give him weeger. And vinegar is weenigah.
“Vinegar? Ohhhhhh…peppers in vinegar?” Joey asked.
“YAAAAAAAAS! YA, ya man! Wit weenigah! And yo onyeeon an gahlic. We make some!”
He told us we’d make some, we just needed to pick up what we needed next time we went to town. He wanted us to take some home. We told him we couldn’t take it on the plane and out of the country. Change of plans, he let us know it got better with age, so we’d still make some and it would be perfect when we came back to the island in a couple of months! And, I’m sure, he was delighted he’d have a bottle to use in the meantime as well.
Oh, and actually a “bot-uhl” - not bottle, almost two words. At lot of the words here have the syllables stretched almost to the point of separation. All reference now seemed to be about our soon-to-come bot-uhl.
“Ya put ya peppahs, ya onyeeon, ya gahlic, ya weenigah an a bit a solt in ya bot-uhl.”
Before we go much further, I’d rather note than just leave it, that in no way is this making fun of any accent. We aren't like that, we LOVE culture.
Randy is an “Islander”, one of the distinct cultures you can find on Roatán. Islanders, Garifuna, mainlanders with Mayan or Hispanic heritage, Ex-pats from the US, Canada and Europe.
This blend is part of what we were seeking overall and something we loved about this island.
Much of Roatán’s history and heritage of the last 400 or so years is British. One of the islands that the English tried to colonize, and over the centuries those of British and African decent that ended up on the island together identified as English or subjects of the Crown. Though part of Honduras officially by treaty in the late 1800’s, the bay islands were largely ignored by the mainland until the past few decades. They were left almost to themselves and this culture, English speaking culture, evolved into what can be found on Roatán today. And they refer to themselves as Islanders and identify as British or British decent.
Randy's accent sounds much like accents I’ve heard on other islands that were held or colonized by the British - to most outsiders, including us, it easily sounds like Jamaican and probably is really similar, though I’m sure to Islanders from either island they’d say their dialects are quite distinct. I’m sure they are.
Oh, and when reading this it works best to say his words out loud, phonetically as spelled, the words make sense if you do. I only know this, and figured the technique out, from reading Facebook posts from various Islanders I’m now friends with or have been in contact with for various “things” like boatwork and the like. They write phonetically very often, as I’ve been writing here, and I came to realize that some words made no sense when reading but complete sense when uttered out loud. So give it a go.
Islanders can slow down to speak with you and it's quite understandable, though different and distinct, but when two Islanders speak to each other? It isn’t recognizable as English really. Not to myself or Joey. It’s fast, and ebbs and flows. I can’t really pick out any words when they really get going in a conversation. We love hearing it, both the English version we can understand and the version we can’t.
At any rate, it does make certain things a bit harder to follow from time to time, on both sides. It takes a little more time and effort to explain a pepper sauce, a vinegar sauce, between both parties. This, though, is part of the delight - passing on little recipes and new ways of doing things, even simple ones - because there are little “discoveries” and nuance victories for both parties when that understanding finally hits everyone.
It’s the next day, I think, maybe a couple later - we were on island time so it’s easy for days to slow down and also run together, but soon after we were at a little side road store in town and saw the little green & yellow peppers he had told us about. We bought them. We had everything else at the house we needed. We proudly displayed them overhead when we got home and hopped off the boat. “Pepppaaahhhhhs” I said as I held them in victory! My accent sounding silly, positive of it, but it was how it had to be said.
Randy’s eyes lit up and he yelled back…”YAAAAAAAAHHHHHH, ya man!”
We took everything upstairs, grabbed knives and cutting boards. I washed the peppers and he began peeling onions and garlic bulbs. He walked me through it, making sure to point out that layering was important…
Gahlic...till she’s full! Den da weenegah an bit o solt.
“OK now ya shake huh den let huh go. Put’er on da shelf and let huh go till she’s ready. Mmm, hmmm, let huh go. She’ll be gut in a day a two, but bet-ah and bet-ah if you let huh go. She’ll be GREAT when ya come back! Yah.”
We made our bot-uhl, tossed and turned her and put her on the shelf. She’s sitting there waiting for us though I’m sure a good bit of her will be gone by the time we get there, and that’s just fine. He said you shake out the liquid, but you also use some of the onions, the garlic, the peppers in “ya pot” depending on what you are making and what you need.
FYI “ya pot”, I figured out, doesn’t just mean a pot, or a pan, rather whatever you are cooking is “ya pot”.
We told him we’d be making a bot-uhl when we got home, and we just did. We want to taste it much sooner than we’ll be able to if we wait, and we want to share it at home, with friends and with regulars at the store that come to free lunch on Sundays. Though the peppers we have here aren’t exactly the same, they are really similar. The ones there were little mean looking guys, yellow and green, but they smelled and looked much like habañero, which we do have here.
But really we just want a taste of Fort Linwell, of Roatán, when we aren’t there and this is one little way to have it. We’ve dubbed it "Randy’s Holy Cow & Calf Peppah Sauce"
and we’re really looking forward to taking a taste in a couple days, and then on and on from there!