Who doesn’t like to enjoy a good meal? We all do. In fact, the foodie experience is even more pleasurable when your taste buds are awakened with unexpected combinations of seasonings and spices, and when your senses of sight, sound and smell are dazzled by new surroundings. That’s why I always try local foods when I travel. You should too.
Epicureans, gastromes, gourmands and foodies of the world you can unite and thank me now because I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Caribbean meals for your sampling pleasure. They are listed in no particular order.
Name of Dish: Goat water soup
Country: Nevis, the sister island to St. Kitts
My consumption spot: Bananas Bistro, Upper Hamilton Estate
Description: Their version of goat water is a thick, full-bodied soup filled with carrots, small dumplings and root vegetables. Naturally, the main protein is goat meat. In other places, the soup has a more broth-like consistency and it is consumed as an appetizer; not the main course.
Name of dish: Conch salad
Country: The Bahamas
My consumption spot: A gorgeous picnic laid out on an elusive sandbar known as Tahiti Beach in Andros, a part of the Bahamas Out Islands.
Description: Conch is a popular menu item in many islands and you can have it prepared in several ways. In this salad, the conch was caught right near our boat, taken from its shell, cleaned and cut into small pieces. Our boat captain turned impromptu chef added diced peppers, onions and tomatoes then poured lemon juice over the mixture to cure the uncooked meat, like in a ceviche.
Name of Dish: Ackee and Corned Pork
My consumption spot: M-10 Bar and Grill in Vineyard Town, Kingston
Description: Ackee is a fruit that is one half of the national dish of my home country, Jamaica. Usually it is served with sautéed salt fish (cod) but on occasion it is paired with other proteins like sausages and corned pork. When cooked, at a glance it looks like scrambled eggs but it has a much creamier texture. Incidentally, ackee with its favored partner, salt fish, recently earned the number two spot on National Geographic’s list of top national dishes around the world.
Name of dish: Oxtail with peas and rice
Country: Cayman Islands
My consumption spot: Welly’s Cool Spot, Georgetown
Description: Yes, you read that right. The main ingredient in this dish is the tail of a cow! The meat is first tenderized in a pressure cooker and then slow-cooked to gelatinous perfection with fresh thyme, onions and other spices. Most places add butter beans to the mixture and serve it with kidney beans and rice, cooked with coconut milk for additional flavor.
Name of dish: Bake and Shark
Country: Trinidad and Tobago
My consumption spot: Richard’s Bake and Shark, Maracas Bay
Description: Quite arguably the most famous beach food in Trinidad, this fish sandwich starts out as a simple combination of fried pieces of shark meat served within a bun. It ramps up to noteworthy finger-licking proportions once you add the choose-as-you-go accompaniments. Food patrons have a choice of toppings and sauces that range from the mundane mustard and ketchup regulars to the more exotic tongue pleasers like mango chutney, tamarind and Shado Beni (similar to cilantro).
The 120-mile long chain of islands and cays scattered in the northern part of the Bahamas could be the reason the Abacos is a boater’s paradise. But just as easily,the blatant lack of hustle and bustle and the sheer luxury of non-existent deadlines could hold the larger appeal.
Whatever the reason, it cannot be denied that where men go beer, rum and other adult beverages often follow. Simply translated that means the area is brimming with great bars; there is one almost at every ferry or dinghy stop.
If you ever have reason to visit the Out Islands of the Bahamas, I recommend that you visit at least one of these four beach bars:
You pull up to the dock and walk directly into an indoor/outdoor space that vibrates with positive energy. Perhaps the only thing more expansive than the panoramic views and the bar itself is the owner’s engaging personality. Patrick and his wife, Linda, and their staff make you feel at home from the get-go. The bar has an extensive rum list, a specially crafted hot sauce, and a casual menu chock-full of seafood options. You simply must try the cheesy fish dip! Even my hips will tell you it’s sinfully good. And ask about their legendary Full Moon Parties. I heard they are not to be missed.
This spot is a great place to unwind, meet up with friends and enjoy some libations and food while you bask in the view or wait for the ferry to Great Guana Cay. It is a casually chic hangout that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and they have a wide selection of fine wines, premium liquors and beers. Try their conch fritters or grouper burger, and look around for the fast-moving curly tail lizards for which the bar got its name.
Nipper’s is the place to be on a Sunday afternoon.
It is a colorful and vibrant bar in Guana Cay that sits atop a sand cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Locals and visitors converge there for the weekly pig roast and to sip some of the best frozen drinks you’ll find anywhere. If you go on Sunday, expect a crowd and be prepared to have fun. It gets loud, and sometimes a little crazy so no party poopers are allowed.
It has a relaxing atmosphere and friendly staff, and it’s right on the water. I watched the sunset from there on the second night of my trip and it was simply breathtaking. They offer daily Happy Hour specials from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays.
Note: A version of this post originally appeared on TravelDudes.org as I am one of the many contributors to the site. Check it out.
Did you see the 1991 suspense thriller, The Silence of the Lambs? If so, do you remember when Clarice Starling answered the phone during her FBI Academy graduation party? Be honest, were you as spooked as I was to find out that it was Dr. Hannibal Lecter on the line?
“Hello Clarice”, he said. [Insert heart-racing pause here. Now go gravelly soft with the cultured, yet diabolical, voice impersonation]
“Have the lambs stopped screaming?”
OMG! Even now, I am getting goose bumps simply thinking about it. I remember almost jumping out of my seat in the cinema.
That iconic scene was filmed in Bimini, one of the more than 700 islands, cays and islets that make up The Bahamas. The island is seven miles (11 km) long and 700 feet (210 m) at its widest point.
I spent some time there recently; about five hours to be exact.
Because of its proximity to Florida, Bimini is an easy day trip from Fort Lauderdale or Miami. If you own a boat, or occasionally charter one to go big-game fishing, you can make the 53 mile (85km) trip on your own. I took the commercial route – the Bimini SuperFast. The ship left Port Everglades at 9 a.m., and we disembarked to the sounds of sweet and rhythmic island music by noon.
The day trip package included free tram service to the Resorts World Paradise Beach or Casino where individuals and families could redeem vouchers for scuba diving adventures, snorkeling, or kayak tours. Persons also had the option of getting discounts on several water sports activities. If you love water skis, water bikes, jet skis, banana boats, glass bottom boats or parasailing are your thing; you’ll be in haven. I prefer land-based activities, so I chose to explore historic Alice Town. Round-trip transportation was included for that option as well.
Our first stop was at Stuart’s Conch Salad Stand, where my fellow passengers got to sample a dish I’d been introduced to during my university years in Nassau. In this Bahamian specialty, the conch is taken fresh from its shell, cleaned and cut into small pieces. Diced hot peppers, onions, and juicy tomatoes are added, and then lemon juice is poured over the mixture to cure the uncooked meat, like in a ceviche. After that, salt is added to taste. It’s a spicy dish that can take some time to get used to. However, I was pleasantly surprised that all the conch salad first-timers loved it!
I enjoyed a few of my favorite dishes over lunch at the popular local eatery, Big John’s Bar & Grill. It is an open air restaurant with a cool, laid back vibe. I hadn’t had authentic Bahamian food in years so the first bite into my conch fritters triggered savory memories of long-forgotten Friday jaunts with college friends. Back then, a small group of us regularly passed the day leisurely in the many shops and restaurants along Bay Street.
But that was only the beginning. When the rich flavor of the conch chowder hit my palate, I found myself reminiscing even more. And the pièce de résistance of any Bahamian meal? In my book, that honor goes to a delectable dessert known as guava duff. My serving didn’t just invoke recollections; it summoned pleasure-infusing genies from the nethermost regions of my mind.
After lunch, I gawked at the island’s only petrol station, which was essentially two pumps on the side of the road. I also checked out one stretch of beach; and dodged happy-go-lucky golf cart drivers that careened noisily through the narrow street.
I skipped a full walk through of the craft market as a cursory glance didn’t reveal any unique items on display. But I braved the overgrown grass and rickety steps to enter the second floor museum across the street. It housed interesting tidbits and artifacts that provided colorful context for the island.
Inside those dusty and dilapidating walls, I learnt of Ernest Hemingway’s Bimini fishing expeditions. I also saw the immigration card that Martin Luther King Jnr. had signed when he visited the island in November 1964. The captions said that he composed his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech while staying there.
Snippets of life surrounding Adam Clayton Powell Jnr, the outspoken, flamboyant and charismatic US Congressman who generally was considered to be the grandfather of the civil rights movement, were also on display. He spent most of his 1967 term in Bimini – not New York – amidst much controversy surrounding his alleged misuse of payroll and travel expenses. Powell’s second wife, was jazz and classical pianist and singer, Hazel Scott. Interestingly, she was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and moved to the United States at the age of four.
If local folklore is to be believed, Bimini’s most significant historic tie to today’s generation possibly lies in the origin of the phrase, ‘the real McCoy’. It is said that the island was a popular whiskey supply source during the Prohibition period, and while many rum-runners were forced to ‘water down’ their product, the Bimini–based William S. McCoy could be counted on to export the full-bodied brew to America. As a result, the term ‘the real McCoy’ was born. It is now used in many different contexts.
I rarely drink, and even when I do, rum and whiskey are not at the top of my list. But I checked, and there are local shops where you can sample Bahamian liquor to test its true potency. Cheers to that!
For the last hour or so, my Mom and I puttered around town. We also jumped on the tram and headed back to see the Resorts World hotel, which is still under construction. It will be gorgeous when it’s completed.
I’ll end by saying that Bimini is TINY, so outside of water sports, fishing, and the casino, there is not much to do. It is nothing like Nassau, or even Grand Bahama. But it has its unique personality and flair, so be thorough in your research to find things to do while there.
Now, I do wish we could chat longer but I have to go. I am meeting a good friend for dinner…
The Bahamas is special to me. I suppose it is because I spent two of the most carefree years of my life in Nassau, and made many lifelong friends. In addition to Nassua and Bimini, I’ve also been to Freeport (Grand Bahama), Andros, Eleuthera and Blue Lagoon. The currency exchange to the US dollar is 1:1, so bear in mind that your spending clout won’t extend as far as it might in other Caribbean Islands.
While there, be sure to try their signature drink, the Bahama Mama. It’s a blend of pineapple and coconut juice, and a touch of coffee with two types of rum. Be mindful of where and who you ask for it though because the phrase ‘Bahama Mama’ is also local lingo for a curvaceous and well-endowed woman.
One last comment. I visited Bimini in October 2014 and the condition of the museum and the pubic library below it, saddened me. Alice Town is being touted as a historic place but not enough care is going into the maintenance and upkeep of its buildings and artifacts. I hope that either the Bahamas Tourist Board, the new hotel, or private residents will take that museum on as a project. History needs to be preserved!