Location: Calmos Cafe, Grand Case, St. Martin
Every restaurant and bar in Grand Case features a drink called "Ti Punch." I'd been told that it is the official drink of St. Martin, and who am I to disagree? (Though, come to think of it, I'd never seen anyone order one). So, last night I sidled up to the bar at Calmos Cafe and confidently announced: Je voudrais un Ti Punch, s'il vous plait.
I should have suspected when a sudden hush fell around the bar. Our new friends, Scott and Arianne, who we were meeting at the bar, looked at me in stunned disbelief - which I thought suspicious, since Arianne was the one who told me about Ti Punch. The bartender gave me an appraising look of mingled respect and amusement. Scott, who once lived on the island, working as a bartender, asked me "are you sure?" He then went on to tell me "it may be your first, but let me assure you... it will also be your last."
That was when I started to get a little concerned. I had assumed that "Ti Punch" literally meant petite punch, as in a cute little punch. What I didn't realize was that it is more appropriately translated as a little smack to the head.
What arrived in front of me was, in fact, a little punch. It was a plastic cup only slightly larger than a shot glass, and it had two lime slices floating in clear(ish) liquid. The bartender then asked if I'd like a cup of ice to go with it. I said yes, but still didn't quite understand why I would need it, or what I had gotten myself into. (Note: this image is from the internet, and while searching for an image, I noticed that the vast majority of images and recipes call for the ice to be in the drink itself... a glaring omission in retrospect).
The first whiff was what I suspect it's like to sniff glue (not that I've ever done that - just what I suspect from watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and not the elmers kind, more of the industrial strength type. We're not far from the Grand Case local airport, and I was beginning to suspect somewhere there was an airplane taking off without its full complement of fuel.
The first sip was like french-kissing Boris Yeltsin: extremely alcoholic, and full of hot air. When I exhaled, I was relieved to see no one near me was smoking, because I would have lost at least an eyebrow. I could actually see the fumes dissipate, like on a hot day at the racetrack.
Apparently Ti Punch is comprised of a splash of simple syrup, a couple of limes, and a whallop of what is called "Rhum Agricole." As far as I can tell, this is some kind of raw rum straight out of the still, but more likely, it's termed agricole because it is used to clean farm equipment.
Let's be clear - this isn't like scotch, something you're going to develop a taste for if you keep at it. Not unless you are in a Leaving Las Vegas kind of place, in which case this would be the fastest way to hasten the end.
I plowed my way through a few more sips, fighting to keep my reputation with the bartender intact, but in the end, I decided to give up to avoid being passed out before we even ate dinner. I maneuvered the offending cup to hide it behind a bottle of juice, and flagged down the bartender, as though to indicate I was "done." I switched to drinking Mojitos, which is really what I thought a Ti Punch would be like, and at that point they went down like water...
As I attempted to sneak away from the bar toward our table on the beach, the bartender finally noticed my abandoned cup, and called after me, with a typically French straight face and wry tone: "would you like it to go?"
For those keeping score at home, in my two experiments so far with local culture - the local hot sauce and the local punch - I am 0 for 2.