By Melanie Reffes
Everyone goes to the Caribbean for the beaches, right? Well, that and the warm weather and never-ending sunshine. But you have to eat when you’re there and the Caribbean has some of the best food-inspired destinations in the world. Our annual round-up of Canadians’ favourite Caribbean destinations take a culinary turn in 2013. Enjoy!
Crazy For Conch
With the only conch (pronounced conk) farm in the world, it’s no wonder the Turks and Caicos Islands host the annual Conch Festival that salutes the seafood delicacy in every way imaginable. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year on November 30, conch-etition at the islands’ premier event invites creative chefs to vie for the ‘best in show’ prize awarded by a panel of hungry judges. In the rustic Blue Hills neighbourhood of Providenciales, a mouth-watering array of conch concoctions from fritters, salads and chowders to ceviche and crepes aim to please while conch-philes are entertained with the conch blowing demonstrations, conch knocking competitions, fritter eating contests and the sounds of lively bands. “For Canadian foodies,” says Ralph Higgs, director tourism and self-proclaimed conch connoisseur, “the Conch Festival is a must because it is a celebration of ournational symbol, staple in our diet and one of our primary economic exports.“ www.conchfestival.com
“For Canadian foodies,” says Ralph Higgs, “the Conch Festival is a must.“
Beside the aphrodisiac effects of the gastropod’s private parts, devotees of the iconic hut on the beach also clamour for the conch salad drizzled with lime juice, golden brown fritters that pair wonderfully well with an icy Turk’s Head beer and the awesome views of the passing pelicans. www.conchshack.tc, www.turksandcaicostourism.com/
To Dine For
In a nutshell, Grenadians love to eat. From the national dish called oil-down, a scrumptious stew made with breadfruit, spinach, coconut milk and salted meat, to seafood perfectly prepared on open fires, there is no shortage of edible goodies on the Spice Island. In the picturesque fishing town of Gouyave, 45 minutes north of the capital city St. George’s and the proud hometown of the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kirani James, Friday Fish Festival is deliciously inviting with chefs lining the streets with their grills, fryers and steamers and peckish tourists feasting on shrimp kebabs, jerk marlin, barbecued snapper, lobster poached in pungent garlic and conch that is known locally as ‘lambie‘ by the fishermen who caught it just hours before.
A tip for visitors: arrive early, buy a few small portions from a variety of stands in order to sample every dish that catches your fancy and enjoy at one of the picnic tables placed on the street while the rhythms of Grenada fill the fragrant night air.
November 22 and 23 Grenada once more plays host to the much loved and highly competitive Caribbean Rum & Beer Festival. During the two days, rum and beer companies set up an array of stalls offering samples of some of the finest rum and beer products produced in the world. www.grenadagrenadines.com/
Take the road to Island Harbour, turn east until you see the sign that says ‘Scilly Cay’ and then wave to the boat captain who will whisk you to the other side. For a small island, Anguilla rivals the best in the world with boundless strands of sandy beaches and yes, lobsters that are sublimely spiced, split in two and grilled to perfection. Tantalizing taste buds from around the world, dining on Scilly Cay is also a rite of passage for every voracious tourist worth his (or her) sea salt.
Lorded over by Sandra and Eudoxie Wallace, Scilly Cay has no electricity, which means the food is fresh and pina coladas are not on the menu because blenders are not on the island. Sea grape leaves line the platters that are overflowing with lobster, petite lobsters known as crayfish and chicken along with tasty sides like warm garlic bread and a savoury pasta salad. “We have a very popular secret sauce that is my own recipe,” said Sandra Wallace, co-owner. “Our motto is simply the best, because that is what we offer.”
Legendary for Eudoxie’s potent rum punch, the Cay is also about funky reggae bands and sunny skies. “When I want to feel like I’m on vacation, I go to Scilly Cay,” smiles Trudy Nixon, ex-pat from the UK, lobster aficionado and marketing representative for the spectacular Ultimacy Villa. “The colourful boats and fishermen make me feel like I should relax,” she says posing at the Harbour. Also a favourite of the tourism minister, Scilly Cay is open only on Wednesday and Sunday. “There is no better way to spend your Sunday afternoon than sipping a special Scilly Cay brew and enjoying crayfish,” said Haydn Hughes, minister tourism. ”These are indigenous to Anguilla and so delicious, you’ll be tempted to eat them with your fingers.” Make a reservation (264-235-5000), pack snorkel gear and a big appetite and plan on staying all day. www.scillcayanguilla.com; ivisitanguilla.com/
Bolongo Bay Resort
If you haven’t had the pleasure of sipping from a bucket of VooDoo juice, Iggies Beach Bar at Bolongo Bay in St. Thomas is a place of fabulous first introductions. Blended with fruity Cruzan rums made locally in the United States Virgin Islands, the mighty potion has earned the seaside bar legions of loyal fans who imbibe enthusiastically every Wednesday when Carnival is the star attraction. “Served over ice in a bucket, VooDoo Juice will quickly transport you into vacation mode,” said Katarina Doumeng, director of sales and marketing. “This signature cocktail is packed with five types of Cruzan rum with a splash of fruit juice and is best enjoyed with your toes in the sand, under a palm tree, while munching on conch fritters with mango dipping sauce.” www.IggiesBeachBar.com
Bolongo Bay Resort
Family-owned for more than three decades and a big hit with VooDoo Juice fanatics (yes, they exist), the all-inclusive is also tops with the party crowd who covet not only the crafty Carnival cocktails, calypso bands and Mocko Jumbo dancers, but the splendid smorgasbord sitting pretty on the festive West-Indian buffet. “A popular dish is our callaloo soup made of leaves from a dasheen plant and spinach mixed with okra, eggplant, sweet potato, herbs and stewed oxtail, hambone, pork or beef,” adds Katarina Doumeng, “There’s also snapper served over a mound of cornmeal fungi and hot sauce.” But it’s always the rum that keeps the party going, even for the politicians.
Antigua & Barbuda Tourist Office
Antigua & Barbuda
Surrounded by azure seas, the twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda, are renowned for their 365 beaches, hidden bays, soft white sand and exotic coral reefs. Antigua is the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands.
Hot Plate: Antiguan cuisine reflects the island’s rich cultural heritage with a combination of spicy Creole dishes and traditional English fare, along with global culinary influences. Local favourites like fresh spiny lobster, conch, oysters and red snapper dishes encompass all the flavours of the Caribbean. The national dish, known as fungi and pepperpot, is a thick vegetable stew made with yam, squash, okra, eggplant, dasheen leaves (similar to spinach), plantains and pumpkin. It is served with salted meat and fried cornmeal dumplings.
Top Attractions: The 365 beaches; St. John’s Saturday Morning Market; Nelson’s Dockyard National Park; nightlife around Falmouth and English harbours.
Hot Buys: Cavalier Muscovado Rum; Wadadli, a pale lager named after the Antiguan word for beer.
Aruba, with its near-perfect weather, features natural wonders, historic sites and museums, booming culinary scene, diverse land and sea activities, and a lively nightlife.
Hot Plate: Keshi Yena is a spicy mixture of chicken and peppers, capers, olives and tomatoes traditionally baked in a Gouda cheese shell. Keri Keri is one of Aruba’s popular seafood dishes. Best made with drier types of firm, white-flesh fish, such as barracuda or shark, the fish fillet is boiled in salted water, removed and shredded, and then sauteed in butter with tomato, onion, celery, bell pepper, fresh basil, black pepper, and annato spice.
Top Attraction: Arikok National Park.
Hot Buy: Aruba Aloe.
BahamasBahamas Tourist Office
Comprising 700 islands, visitors can revel in a variety of activities in water and on land. Paradise and Grand Bahama Islands are the main hubs, but for the more adventurous traveller, hidden gems can be found in The Outer Islands. The “People-to-People Experience” program offers visitors opportunities to interact with the locals.
Hot Plate: Conch dishes – Conch salad deep-fried (called cracked conch), steamed, added to soups and stews or made into conch chowder, conch fritters and conch burgers.
Top Attractions: Swimming with the pigs at Exuma Cays; Pirates of Nassau, an interactive museum that depicts the Bahamas’ storied past as home to the world’s most infamous pirates.
Hot Buys: Straw hats and baskets; the brightly coloured Androsia print clothing.
Barbados is said to be the culinary capital of the Caribbean. This island paradise’s rich history and diverse offerings are topped by sunny weather, friendly and welcoming people, and lively night scene.
Hot Plate: Cou Cou and Flying Fish the national dish of Barbados; Bajan Fish Cakes.
Top Attractions: The well-preserved British colonial architecture of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison – a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
Hot Buys: Pepper sauce; rum.
This mid-Atlantic jewel is an enticing year-round destination that’s home to a vibrant arts scene, luxurious spa treatments and close to 400 wreck dives. The island also has more golf courses per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world.
Hot Plate: Fish Chowder, often considered Bermuda’s national dish; Cassava Pie; Codfish & Potatoes
Top Attractions: Walking tours of St. George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Southshore Beaches; the Royal Naval Dockyard; and the cosmopolitan city of Hamilton.
Hot Buys: Rum Cakes; Bermuda Honey; Outerbridge Original Sherry Pepper Sauces; Bermuda shorts; Lily Bermuda fragrances.
British Virgin Islands
Sixty islands, tranquil beaches and outstanding sailing and diving conditions have earned the British Virgin Islands a reputation as the place to go to sample natural Caribbean charm.
Hot Plate: Anegada spiny lobster; "Painkiller” cocktail, a delightful mix of dark rum, pineapple and orange juices, cream of coconut and freshly grated nutmeg.
Top Attractions: The Wreck of the Rhone, the most famous dive site in the Caribbean; the Baths, an other-worldly seascape where gigantic boulders are scattered around the beach and in the water.
Hot Buys: Local pottery, painting, prints, photographs and baskets.
Cayman Islands Dept Tourism
A trio of islands – Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – the Cayman Islands is world renowned for its beaches and diving spots. The Cayman Islands are also touted as a “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” with more than 250 restaurants and the “Cayman Cookout”, a popular food and wine festival held yearly in January.
Hot Plate: Conch fritters and fresh fish served Cayman-style – prepared in a spicy tomato sauce with sweet peppers and onions.
Top Attractions: A sunken naval ship, the USS Kittiwake, is the most recent dive and snorkel site and joins Stingray City as one of the best attractions in the Cayman Islands.
Hot Buys: Cayman Sea Salt and Sticky Toffee Cake from the Town Centre at Camana Bay.
Cuba is the largest and most populous Caribbean island with an extremely vibrant culture. Historic sites, cultural and arts traditions span pre-Columbian, Spanish colonial and modern eras. The main cultural hub is in Havana with its museums, galleries, stage shows, festivals and nightclubs. Another cultural venue is Santiago de Cuba. The country also boasts several beach destinations including Varadero, Holguin and Cayo Coco that offer resorts that range from all-inclusive to luxury.
Hot Plate: Ropa vieja, is local main course consisting beef with plenty of vegetables served with rice and fried plantains.
Top Attraction: Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hot Buys: Rum; cigars; crafts of wood and other materials.
Info: www.gocuba.ca Curacao Tourist Board
Curaçao boasts 38 exquisite beaches and more than 60 world-class diving sites. Situated on the outer fringes of the hurricane belt, it is the perfect year-round destination. The historic downtown area of Willemstad has more than 750 monuments and sites, including Mikvé Israël-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.
Hot Plate: Keshi Yena, possibly Curaçao’s most famous dish; Yuana (stewed iguana), which tastes a lot like chicken; Sopi Yuana (iguana soup).
Top Attractions: Carnival; Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival; the colourful Handelskade in downtown Willemstad; diving; LGBT community offerings.
Hot Buy: Blue Curacao Liqueur.
Home to beautiful beaches and resorts on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean paradise with 16 national parks, lush forests, beautiful valleys. Activities on offer include world-class whitewater rafting on the Rio Yaque, kite-boarding and wind-surfing at Cabarete, and golfing on more than 25 courses.
Hot Plate: Sancocho – the national dish of the Dominican Republic; Pidgeon Peas.
Top Attractions: Whale watching trips off the coast of Samana (January to March); hiking the Damajagua Cascades waterfalls near Las Terrenas; diving off of the north coast in Sosua.
Hot Buy: Dominican Amber.
JamaicaJamaica Tourist Board
Reggae, rum, jerk and coffee are some of the things that make Jamaica so enticing. It is also the Caribbean’s third largest island with six tourist regions, each with its own unique character – Montego Bay, Negril, the South Coast, Kingston, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios. The island offers amazing beaches, lush forests, rushing waterfalls, diverse culture, diving, hiking, first-class golf courses and plenty of resorts.
Hot Plate: Jamaican Jerk is in a class of its own; Ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish.
Top Attractions: Dunn’s River Falls; river rafting the Martha Brae River; Seven Mile Beach; Negril Cliffs; Appleton Estate; Rose Hall Great House.
Hot Buy: Jamaican rum from Appleton Estate.
Info: www.visitjamaica.com Puerto Rico Tourism Company
In Puerto Rico, there is something for everyone, ranging from the history and culture of Old San Juan to the wonders of the El Yunque Rainforest. For golf diehards, Puerto Rico offers 25 courses – more than any other island in the Caribbean.
Hot Plate: Asopao, Puerto Rico’s official dish.
Top Attractions: Old San Juan, the only walled city in the Caribbean.
Hot Buys: Rum; coffee.
Spotted by Columbus in 1493, the island’s heritage is traced to the arrival of the British in 1624 and the sugar trade. St. Kitts’ attractions include lava formations, tropical forests, lagoons and an historic sugar train, the only scenic passenger train in the Caribbean.
Hot Plate: Stewed salt fish; spicy plantains; coconut dumplings; seasoned breadfruit.
Top Attractions: Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hot Buy: Handmade batik products.
St. Lucia has some pretty lush and dramatic scenery, like the famous Pitons – twin volcanic peaks and the region’s only drive-in volcano. Its vast rainforest interior is complemented by spectacular waterfalls, breathtaking views and friendly locals. Besides being renowned as a place for a romantic escape, St. Lucia is also a family-friendly destination.
Hot Plate: Green Fig with Salt Fish, said to be the official dish; St. Lucia Crab Back.
Top Attractions: Pigeon Island National Park; Fort Rodney.
Hot Buys: Chocolates; spices; hot sauces; Chairman’s Reserve Rum.
St. Maarten is an island with dual personalities – French to the north and Dutch to the south. Along with plenty of historic sites, St. Maarten boasts 36 beaches, great water and wind sports, 12 casinos and more than 300 restaurants that offer a range of global cuisines.
Hot Plate: Johnny Cakes.
Top Attraction: 12 Metre Challenge.
Hot Buy: Gavaberry Liqueur.
SGV Tourist Office
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a collection of 32 unspoiled islands and cays in the secluded Southern Caribbean. It offers azure waters, stunning white sand beaches and unspoiled forests.
Hot Plate: Breadfruit and Stuffed Jacks (fish), SVG’s national dish; Saltfish Buljol, a salted codfish salad.
Top Attraction: Tobago Cays.
Hot Buy: St. Vincent jellies such as brands like Erica’s and Winfresh.
Lively Trinidad boasts a bustling capital city. Port of Spain is filled with galleries, restaurants and museums, gorgeous beaches along the north shore, and lush forests in the interior. Serene Tobago has quiet beaches on its north coast while its eastern side is home to the oldest protected forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere.
Hot Plate: Doubles – a local breakfast favourite; Bake and Shark.
Top Attraction: Making mas in Trinidad and Tobago at Carnival.
Hot Buy: Chocolates. Trinidad and Tobago was once king of the cocoa industry in the 19th century.
Make This at Home – VooDoo Juice Bolongo Bay Resort
(When available Cruzan rums are the first choice, but any flavoured rum will do the trick)
1 oz each pineapple, banana, coconut and citrus rum
1/2 oz dark Rum
3 oz cranberry juice
3 oz pineapple juice
Fill a large glass with ice. Add the pineapple, banana, coconut and citrus rums. Add cranberry and pineapple juice. Top with dark rum. Raise the glass and make a toast!