The Ultimate Obsessive Foodie's Guide to the Caribbean
The amazingly varied (and amazingly delicious) cuisine of the Caribbean is, both literally and figuratively, a “melting pot” of cultural influences, blending African, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and indigenous Taíno ingredients and methods for centuries. Here, an island-by-island guide to the delicacies that have our mouths watering this cruise season.
While dishes like conch fritters and coconut shrimp have come to represent the region on the world stage, these old stand-bys barely scratch the surface of the unique (and underrated) eats available here. In fact, there are nearly as many hyperlocal takes on Caribbean cooking as there are islands—and delicious fish—in the sea. Here, an island-by-island guide to the delicacies that have our mouths watering this cruise season.
Don’t expect light beach fare from this tropical destination. The Dominican take on Creole cooking, with influences from as far and wide as Africa, Spain, and the Middle East, is a remarkably hearty affair. For proof, look no further than the typical breakfast los tres golpes (or “the three strikes”), which includes fried cheese, fried salami, and fried eggs, plus a heaping scoop of mangú (mashed, boiled green plantains). And if you somehow have room for lunch, the iconic la bandera (“the flag”) is comprised of stewed meats, red beans, white rice, and fried green plantains. Just try going back to work without taking a nap first.
BE SURE TO ORDER: Sancocho de siete carnes, a stick-to-your-ribs stew of seven meats, including sausage, chicken, beef, pork, and goat, plus an assortment of vegetables, such as corn on the cob, green plantains, yam, pumpkin, taro, and cassava. The finished product, which is thought to be an excellent hangover cure, is served with white rice and sliced avocados.
WHERE TO TRY IT: Travesías, housed in a quaint baby-blue cottage with a sprawling bright-white porch (Avenida Abraham Lincoln 617, sancocho artesanal siete carnes $9).
The Bahamas is comprised of more than 700 islands and coral reef cays, so it’s only natural that the cuisine here would have a particularly strong link to the sea. Most staple dishes offer well-spiced but simple preparations of locally caught seafood like grouper, conch, and spiny lobster. And at just 50 miles from the coast of Florida, the country also shares a culinary heritage with the American South. Take, for example, the popular johnnycake, an all-purpose bread that calls to mind the cornbread you’ll find beside most soul food meals.
BE SURE TO ORDER: Cracked conch (pronounced “konk,” if you please) with peas ‘n’ rice. The mild white flesh of the iconic sea snail is pounded and then deep-fried into a cutlet and served with an extremely popular side dish of white rice cooked with pigeon peas, salt pork, thyme, and tomato paste. It’s just one of the many ways you’ll find conch on menus, including in chowders, fritters, simply grilled, or cured in a ceviche-like salad.
WHERE TO TRY IT: Goldie’s Conch House, which has been an area institution for more than 25 years (Arawak Cay, cracked conch with rice $15).
Dutch culture looms large in the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which together with St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius, comprise the Kingdom of the Netherlands. You’ll see this link in the colorful gabled roofs in Oranjestad, Aruba, and Willemstad, Curaçao, and the annual celebration of Queen’s Day (expect lots of orange to celebrate the House of Orange-Nassau). But the Dutch connection is perhaps strongest on the islands’ menus, where you’ll find snacks like bitterballen (fried meaty croquettes) and frikandel (deep-fried sausage)—plus more exotic dishes from former Dutch colonies, such as Indonesian fried rice, or nasi goreng.
BE SURE TO ORDER: Keshi yena, which is made by stuffing leftover gouda or edam rinds with meat (chicken, beef, shrimp, or fish), flavored with raisins, grated cheese, olives, and capers. The dish dates back to the Dutch colonial era, when slaves would gather scraps—such as the seemingly unusable cheese rinds—and come up with clever ways to prepare them as a means of survival.
WHERE TO TRY IT: The Old Cunucu House, which occupies a traditional farmhouse that dates back more than 150 years (Palm Beach 150, keshi yena $11).
Turks and Caicos
Unlike lush, verdant neighbors like Jamaica and Cuba, the Turks and Caicos is made up of 40 islands and cays that are arid, sandy, and tiny—perfect for a beach getaway, sure, but not ideal for agriculture. Aside from a few exceptions, such as drought-resistant corn, sea grapes, tamarind, and sugar apples, the cuisine in these parts skews heavily toward the spoils of the surrounding seas, with menus featuring wahoo, grouper, snapper, tuna, and dolphin (the fish, not the mammal!). And it’s no coincidence that the flag of the Turks and Caicos prominently features both a conch and a spiny lobster: They’re two of the island’s tastiest and most prized delicacies (and exports).