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Raise a glass to the persistent punch man

Monday, September 1, 2014

The “Punch Man” used to be a traditional fixture at street corners in towns and villages, from Port-of-Spain to Parlatuvier. 

“Punch” was as much a part of male socialisation as the rum shop. To set up operations, all the punch man needed was a big blender and a table—a length of board over some bricks would do. If he wanted to show off, he might invest in a white tablecloth. 

Men, young and old, would line up for their special blends in styrotex cups, to put some lead in their pencils and improve brain function. The concoctions had intriguing names, such as “Lazarus Punch’’ and “Put Back,’’ which are a lot less explicit than the Jamaican counterparts called “John Get Up and Stand Stiff” which is made with sarsaparilla, and “Wheel Up And Come Again,” which Caribbean food writer Rosemary Parkinson tells me contains herbs called nerve wisp, strong back, duppy gun root and raw moon. 

Sea moss and peanut butter are consistent ingredients in our local punches, but nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cornmeal, oats, channa, linseed, coconut oil and cayenne pepper are on the list as well. Self-delusion and the ability to ignore experience while hoping for miracles may also have been important additives, supplied by the client himself. 

Bodybuilders and athletes liked their Guinness stout and eggs added to the mixture, for extra potency. Punch men had their secrets and would never divulge the exact combination of ingredients but would smile crookedly when asked what the heck was in those thick, frothy mixes. No customer was sure he really wanted to know. 

Now, everything is changing. 

You can still find a punch man—try St James on the weekends, for example. But he is competing with the more fashionable and trendy “smoothie” crowd and juicing enthusiasts. While the punch man promised aphrodisiac and restorative powers for the male clientele, the chic health lobby, populated by young, pretty people who do yoga and Pilates, is non-gender specific and concerned about overall well-being. 

They tell us that fresh juiced blends of cucumber, carrot, beet, caraille, carambola, and other vegetables can trick cancer cells into turning themselves off, give us radiant skin, shiny hair and lots of energy. Such ingredients are packed with antioxidants, alkalize the body, help with digestion, and as part of a healthy lifestyle, can help us in losing extra weight. 

Yeah, whatever. 

So at food courts in malls, such as Grand Bazaar, you can get the demon fried chicken with extra fries as easily as cucumber, watermelon and carrot juices, with or without cane juice, and no artificial sweetener or sugar. Cute little holes-in-the-walls now offer fresh vegetable and fruit juices, and soya pies and green salads. You can get your hair, nails and eyebrows done and then pop next door for an antioxidant boost. 

Now, I hear that two clever women, called Fitzwilliam and Thavenot, are bringing fresh vegetable and juice blends right to clients’ doors, for just a $5 delivery fee. They call themselves The Sweet Beet, and you can find them on Facebook. 

Being healthy was never so easy and fashionable. 

Still, I raise a styrotex cup to the traditional punch man who played such a vital role in the enhancement, if only psychological, of the male population.


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