Cayman Islands Feature
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Eat Like a Local
Caymanian cuisine evolved from whatever could be coaxed from the sea and eked out from the poor, porous soil. Farmers cultivated carb-rich crops that could remain fresh without refrigeration and furnish energy for the heavy labor typical of islanders' hardscrabble existence. Hence pumpkins, coconuts, plantains, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yams, and other "provisions" (root vegetables) became staple ingredients. Turtle (now farm-raised), the traditional specialty, can be served in soup or stew and as a steak. Conch, the meat of a large pink mollusk, is prepared in stews, chowders, fritters, and panfried (cracked). Fish—including snapper, tuna, wahoo, grouper, and marlin—is served baked, broiled, steamed, or "Cayman-style," as an escoveitch (panfried with peppers, onions, and tomatoes).
Rundown is another classic: fish (marinated with fresh lime juice, scallions, and fiery Scotch bonnet peppers) is steamed in coconut milk with breadfruit, pumpkin dumplings, and/or cassava. Fish tea boils and bubbles similar ingredients for hours—even days—until it thickens into gravy. The traditional dessert, heavy cake, earned its name because excluding scarce flour and eggs made it incredibly dense: coconut, sugar, spices, and butter are boiled, mixed with seasonal binders (cassava, yam, pumpkin), and baked.
Jamaican influence is seen in oxtail, goat stew, jerk chicken and pork, salt cod, and ackee (a red tree fruit resembling scrambled eggs in flavor and texture when cooked), and manish water—a lusty goat-head stew with garlic, thyme, scallion, green banana (i.e., plaintain), yam, potato, and other tubers.
Aspiring Anthony Bourdains should seek out roadside vans, huts, kiosks, and stalls dishing out unfamiliar grub that might unnerve wannabe Survivor contestants. They offer authentic fare at very fair prices, with main dish and heaping helpings of sides costing less than CI$10. If you thought Mickey D's special sauce or Coke were secret formulas, try prying prized recipes handed down for generations from these islanders.
Bodden Town's jerk emporia are generally considered the best.
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