Keshi yena, an iconic cheese dish of the Caribbean
David Rosengarten made a trip to the Caribbean island of Curaçao, where he found an interesting local stuffed cheese dish called keshi yena. The dish has evolved over the years, but was originally conceived by household slaves:
The kitchen workers noticed other foods coming back from the dining room -- such as pieces of chicken and other meats, left over from stews. It was a logical leap from there: Season the meats, add something a little sweet (like raisins), add some favorite island ingredients (today, olives are common), stuff the cheese shells with the meat mixture, and steam the stuffed cheeses gently in a bain-marie for a few hours. The result is a perfect marriage of cultures: the stolid creaminess of the North meets the lively spiciness of the South.
Hundreds of years later, the keshi yena has gone through some changes. But any visiting gastronome on the hunt for real local tastes that fuse cultures should seek it out. Though the dish had fallen out of favor some years ago -- as many of the most popular Curaçao restaurants moved towards "international food" -- keshi yena is having a resurgence now, as is pride in all things truly Curaçaoan.