Centipede Hooch: Not the Most Offensive Thing I’ve Ever Consumed
Under the Counter in Grenada
“Let’s take shots!” one of my hosts, Oddisa, said. We were at Patrick’s Local Homestyle, a well-known temple to Grenadian home cooking on the edge of the capital of St. George’s. Under multicolored neon lights, we were moaning and full after a 16-course meal of rabbit, callaloo, green plantain salad, conch, breadfruit, Grenadian chocolate cake, stewed pork, and more.
“Tequila,” she clarified, which made me wince. I spend a lot of time in Mexico and wasn’t interested in what was likely bad tequila, though I’m never one to refuse a host. Our waiter responded that they were fresh out of tequila, and the women wailed in complaint while I breathed a sigh of relief.
Without skipping a beat, Oddisa’s boyfriend Ron chimed in. “Under the Counter?”
“Oh, yes. We have Under the Counter,” the waiter responded as the entire table erupted in laughter and looked towards me. He turned and sped off, presumably to grab the hooch.
Alarmed, I asked, “What the hell is…Under the Counter?” Ron, who turned out to be something of an Under the Counter expert, explained that it’s a type of Grenadian moonshine. “Sometimes it has centipede, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he added.
Unsatisfied, I asked what else might be in it. This particular blend, special to Patrick’s, was a noxious combination of ingredients not usually found in the same recipe and included centipede, bay leaf, four different overproof rums, roots, deer horn, scorpions, nutmeg, lemongrass and marijuana.
Our waiter appeared and plunked down a half-full jug with a visible pile of leaves fermenting at the bottom. Ron poured the shots, each teeming with biodiversity. We clinked glasses and tipped them back. It was fine: strong, herbal, fiery, and faintly sweet. It wasn’t the most offensive thing I’ve ever consumed, though it was too spiced for my taste.
“You’re a real Grenadian now! Next time you come, I’m cooking you up some wild meat. Iguana or manicou,” he beamed. A quick Google search revealed that manicou was opossum and also a local delicacy. Google also informed me that Under the Counter routinely made people sick from contamination, due to an obvious lack of regulation in its production. I made a note to do research in advance next time around.
Besides Under the Counter, Grenada is an island full of other surprises. It’s not on the typical Caribbean tourist route, though it has a very successful medical college that takes American students, trains them on a fast track, and spits them out back into American hospitals. Too often, it gets written off as a Marxist paradise with a revolutionary bent, a hangover from being invaded by the United States in 1983. Finally, Grenada is often mistaken for a city in Spain.
The result of these misconceptions is a tourist-free paradise: the island has just 1,600 hotel rooms and its pristine beaches are relatively empty. Its government is stable and, while unemployment is high, the economy is better here than on other islands, thanks to the medical school and the chocolate and nutmeg industries. Any place with few tourists, balmy weather, 16-course meals, and specialized hooch is good in my book, so I began plotting my return as Under the Counter settled in my stomach.