Eight Things To Know About Rhum in Martinique:

 rhum-boxes-at-ed1.    It’s rhum, not rum.

2.    It’s actually rhum agricole–a different product from the usual Caribbean rums we imbibe. The difference? Instead of being distilled from a fermented brew of molasses (a by-product of sugar production) it is distilled directly from fermented cane juice. Unless it’s aged (old = vieux), it’s a white rhum. Aged rums pick up golden hues from the barrels.

3.    It’s available in boxes, just like cheap wine! Only it’s all the best rhum. Although cheap rum does come in a box as a supermarket generic.

4.    What’s the best? Some local brands of renown include Clement, Trois Rivières,   La Mauny, and Depaz.

5.    The traditional local drink is “ti punch,” a formidable blend of rhum, a little local coarse sugar, and a miniscule whisper of lime juice. Order it at a bar or restaurant and you’ll typically receive a glass, a sugar bowl, a wedge of lime the size of your thumbnail, and a large bottle of rhum agricole. DIY! And please, don’t expect any ice.


6.    Yes, it’s wicked strong at first, but you’ll be surprised at the smooth underbelly it displays after a few sips.

7.    Variations on ti punch? Supermarkets offer various flavored syrups to substitute for the sugar: vanilla, ginger and sirop batterie, which is much like molasses.

8.    The “ti” of ti punch comes from the French word petit, meaning small.

Martinique: A Tropical Taste of France in the Caribbean

IMG_2657IMG_2685IMG_2759I’m spending nine weeks on Martinique—and this is my third long visit. Am I lucky, or what? (The top picture is the view from our porch.)

Yes I am, unequivocally. Although that sense did waver a bit yesterday when I was stung by a jellyfish at one of the legendary white-sand-and-palm-tree beaches. The effects passed within an hour or two, though, and I’m ready for another swim.

A smallish island, not more than 60 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide, Martinique’s intricately winding coastline and hairpin roads seem to cover much more ground than its actual area of about 1100 square kilometers. Ranging from dense and somewhat arid chaparral with spiny acacia and cactus to impassable rain forest, it’s known in French as “l’île aux fleurs” – isle of flowers. It lives up to the moniker. Its volcanic origins are expressed in the dramatic landscape, heaving with steep hills and deep valleys.

Martinique is a department of France, analogous to Hawaii’s status as a state and resulting in a vibrant blend of colorful Caribbean culture and French civility.

Boulangeries supply baguettes and pastries (filled with guava or salt cod, as well as dark chocolate—no, not in the same pastry!), and any corner store will offer brie and red wine, as well as locally produced juices like corossol and maracudja (soursop and passion fruit).

The radio stations play lively local zouk interspersed with French pop. All the social services available in métropole (as locals refer to mainland France) are available here, so health care, education and infrastructure all meet the European standard. 

It has its rustic aspects as well. Brightly painted snack shops built of scrap wood dot the roads, and there’s an old house just down the road from ours with walls made traditionally of woven sticks, alternating with corrugated sheet metal. Free-roaming flocks of sheep and goats roam the countryside where late-model BMW’s whip along curving roads. Men still go out in small boats to catch tuna and swordfish, which they slice up and sell along the highway, and villagers cast out fishing nets from shore as they’ve done for generations.