Tru Bahamian Must Eat: Fire Engine
Among our favourite Bahamian soul foods is a dish called Fire Engine. Perhaps more widely recognized as Steamed Corned Beef, this traditional breakfast is an absolute staple in the diets and culture of The Bahamian people. Canned corned beef sauteed with a medley of diced veggies and served alongside generous portions of buttery grits or rice is a dish designed to keep you satisfied from your first delicious bite to your next meal. Join us in [eating and] discovering why Fire Engine is so popular among locals…
What Is Fire Engine?
This salty, spicy, savoury comfort food (or local hangover cure) is typically served at breakfast but like any good staple can also be enjoyed for any meal of the day. Keeping costs low and energy high, the bread-basket, shelf-stable items that make up the core ingredients of the dish include: corned beef, tomato paste, corn kernels, seasonings, and grits or rice. Other ingredients of Fire Engine can be locally harvested or are easily accessible in the food markets, ie: onion, sweet pepper, celery, and tomatoes. Notably, a Fire Engine meal costs little to produce and keeps your belly warm and satisfied for a good while or at least until you’re ready to devour a second helping.
Origins Of The Dish
Most interestingly, the name ‘Fire Engine’ has ambiguous origins. Like any good mystery, the more people you ask the more mislead you feel. We’ve narrowed our findings down to two of the most popular explanations you’ll encounter on the island:
- A commonly cited theory is that Bahamian cooks add so much local, goat pepper to the dish that it feels like your mouth is on fire. And (ever so dramatically) you’d require the emergency assistance of a fire brigade to squelch the flames.
- Another explanation you might hear signals the rich red tomatoey sauce of the steamed corned beef once prepared which contrasts the white grits or rice that the cook chooses as the starchy foundation of their version. Along with the optional bright yellow corn kernels thrown in for sweetness, the final result of this recipe resembles the aesthetics of a fire truck.
If seeing is believing, then we believe, tasting is understanding. We hope you’ll give this one a try on your next trip and decipher for yourself which explanation for its name you subscribe to.
Where To Find Fire Engine
Credit: The Bitchin’ Kitchin’
Your best bet for a truly Bahamian, authentic culinary experience would be to set out early and investigate roadside food carts or stalls. You’d be hard-pressed to find an offer for a $0.99 breakfast these days, as traditional breakfasts typically range from $1.50-$2.00 per order- but look out for those 99c Breakfast signs to guide you nonetheless. Another local tip is to keep your eyes peeled and your nose downwind from your nearest construction site as these mobile food trucks tend to follow the workers, offering some of the most flavourful and reasonably priced sustenance around. If this hunting and gathering method seems a little too adventurous for you, you’ll still find that most local joints will have Fire Engine on their breakfast menu as a fortifying morning staple.
Where to find some of the best Fire Engine breakfasts in Nassau:
- Imperial Take Away– across from The Hilton in downtown Nassau
- The Cricket Club– across from Arawak Cay on West Bay Street
- Bahamian Cookin’– Trinity Place off of Market Street downtown Nassau
How To Prepare Fire Engine At Home
This recipe, derived from Little House By The Ferry (the blog of a Bahamian resident, Amanda, from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco), yields roughly six servings.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 cans (12 ounces each) corned beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- salt to taste
- On medium-high heat, sweat the onion, green bell pepper, and celery in a large frying pan with canola oil until translucent
- Add all remaining ingredients into the frying pan, stirring regularly until the corned beef is heated through and becomes a smooth consistency
- Reduce the stovetop to low heat, cover the frying pan with a fitted lid, and allow the ingredients to steam and flavours to develop for 15 minutes
The above recipe yields a milder-flavoured dish. If you prefer more heat, add diced hot pepper (local, Bahamian goat pepper preferred) or hot sauce to taste while cooking. And if you’re trying to limit your salt intake, it’s worth checking labels, since sodium levels vary among corned beef brands.
Bahamian Steamed Corned Beef is transformed into Fire Engine when it is paired with your choice of white/yellow grits or white/brown rice, and in some cases a serving of whole kernel canned corn for added texture and sweetness. Enjoy!