The World’s Remotest Island: Tristan de Cunha
Inhabited by just over 200 people (islanders as well as expatriates), this jewel of a volcanic island lies in the choppy South Atlantic 1750 miles (translation: 4 – 6 days by ship) from Cape Town, South Africa. And, just because you reach Tristan de Cunha doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get there; the seas are so rough that landing is often denied to casual visitors. The only way to travel by air is if your ship happens to have a helicopter.
It is visited several times a year by commercial vessels, e.g. boats to pick up the island’s specialty and financial bedrock, Tristan Rock Lobsters, as well as the occasional mail boat, cruise liner or yacht.
The economy is built on these “crayfish”, sustainably fished and shipped around the world. The Tristanians have harvested this bounty of the cold ocean responsibly since time immemorial, recognizing that what was once their main food staple (with potatoes) can continue to thrive only if they do so, with limits on what is caught commercially and even for family consumption.
Speaking with Constable Conrad (“Connie”) Glass on board Le Lyrial, a French cruise liner crossing from Ushuaia (Argentina) to Cape Town, myMEGusta learned about life on the island (“We respect each others’ differences. It’s a very small village but we are very independent people.”)
Having hitched a ride on the ship, Connie and his wife were en route to the Cape Town police academy for some advanced law enforcement classes. (“Crime” in Tristan is limited to occasional petty theft and DUI arrests.) He was thrilled to be on this yacht-style cruise ship with his wife, as journeys to/from Tristan de Cunha usually involve far less elegant accommodations (not to mention food bearing no resemblance to the Alain Ducasse designed menus on Le Lyrial).
We passengers were actually the lucky ones, as we had the benefit of meeting him, and hearing his talks about life on the island.
Connie shared his thoughts about favorite local preparations of the “crayfish”: Thermidor (with a mayonnaise/tomato sauce), in a chowder-like soup with potatoes, and in tarts with a different mayonnaise sauce.
Tristan’s other staple food is the potato, used in myriad ways, descended from some of the first potatoes that crossed the Atlantic from South America. There wasn’t a potato to be seen in the supermarket (more like a general store), because the islanders get them directly from the potato patch farmers. Because flour is an import (which can run out), Tristanian cooks have learned to use spuds creatively, for example in pie crusts. Perhaps in the crayfish tart?
Alas, myMEGusta didn’t get to taste anything.
Here are two links which readers may enjoy. Link from them amd you’ll find out more about the island and its really interesting history):
A very accurate description of Le Lyrial’s visit:
More information about the lobsters and their processing:
Great article! Great trip! You are a true Renaissance woman.
Great story, I envy you. As chef I look at crustaceans with a critical and bemused eye and marvel how confusing culinary terminology is. The term crayfish is normally referred to small critters living in fresh water resembling tiny lobsters having claws. The cousins without claws are often called rock lobster when harvested in cold waters or langouste in French much loved by chefs because the tail is huge and can be sliced into nice medallions. I will not dispute the right of the islanders to call their catch whatever they like. I am sure the catch is delicious.