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Expect swordfish and soul at Bayou Bacchanal

Bayou Bacchanal takes place Saturday in Armstrong Park.

Bayou Bacchanal takes place Saturday in Armstrong Park.

It's hard to imagine that swordfish was ever considered a “poor man's meal.” But St. Lucia native Marilyn LaForce remembers a time before Caribbean tourists developed a taste for the fish's hearty white steaks. And now, it can be found sizzling on backyard grills across the United States.

Some things change, but thank goodness that some things stay the same. Although island influences can be found in high-end restaurants throughout the country, the New Orleans Caribbean festival is still a small, grassroots event. As the president of Bayou Bacchanal, LaForce has been organizing the party since 2002.

“This year, I'm really excited to see the growth since I started it,” she said. And she promises that swordfish will be on the menu for the free festival, which takes place this Saturday, Nov. 2, at Armstrong Park.

Dancers at a previous Bayou Bachannal

Dancers at a previous Bayou Bachannal

You can expect DJs to blast soca (a combination of American soul and calypso, often with Indian elements thrown in) all day in the park. In addition to swordfish, the culinary offerings will include authentic dishes, such as curry goat and saltfish with roti (fried fish wrapped with an unleavened Indian-style bread).

But LaForce is most looking forward to the visiting groups from Houston's large Caribbean community. They'll be doing the island version of a second line.

“These masqueraders will be showcasing their costumes around 4 pm,” said LaForce. “That's going to be the highlight.”

In the meantime, here are a couple of Marilyn's recommendations for local Caribbean places to whet your appetite:

Boswell's Jamaican Grill
This Tulane Avenue joint does a great job with LaForce's favorite dish -- oxtail. The fat is trimmed, its meat seasoned and stewed, and its delicious marrow presented by slicing the bone into slivers. Vegetarians will like the Ital plate, which combines calalloo (greens), rice and peas, and plantains.

Fried beef, fried plantains, and a Caribbean salad from Taste of the Caribbean

Fried beef, fried plantains, and a Caribbean salad from Taste of the Caribbean

Taste of the Caribbean
Culinary styles differ greatly from one island to the next, but LaForce celebrates the variation. She recommends trying the plantains at this Haitian cafe in Gretna, even though they don't taste like the ones she grew up eating in St. Lucia. Here, they are precooked, smashed, and then fried to crispy perfection.