You can groove to reggae and calypso music and toast the sunset with cocktails made from island-distilled rum, but nothing gives you the true flavor of the Caribbean like dishes made from local ingredients. You’ll find the most authentic versions in food markets and street stalls (ask local residents for recommendations), but chefs at many hotels and resorts also have incorporated locally-inspired dishes on their restaurant menus, making it easy for you to sample them. From conch fritters to flying fish, these are the island foods that have us daydreaming about our next trip to the islands.
By Donna Heiderstadt
Ackee with Johnny cakes and bammy
Here’s what’s on the menu in Jamaica: a breakfast dish that looks and tastes like scrambled eggs, but is actually a lychee-like tree fruit, ackee. The fruit is boiled and served with Johnny cakes (fried dumplings), saltfish, and bammy, a crispy fried cassava flatbread historically tied to the native Arawak population.
Our Favorite: Ackee, Johnny cakes, and saltfish will probably be on your resort’s breakfast menu. A great spot for bammy (and a scenic view) is Pushcart Restaurant and Rum Bar at Rockhouse Hotel in Negril.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Jamaica Guide
Stoba, funchi, and repa di pampuna
Stoba is a “stew” that can be made with a variety of bases—everything from karni (beef) and pork to yuana (iguana), goat, or conch. Vegetarians will enjoy two other yummy, filling dishes on Curacao: funchi (corn polenta) and repa di pampuna (pumpkin pancakes).
Our Favorite: Convenient and atmospheric, the Old Market (Marche Bieuw) in Willemstad is lined with cooks whipping up these traditional tasty treats and many others.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Curacao Guide
No matter which of the 700 islands of the Bahamas you visit, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to sample conch. This rubbery sea snail is extremely tasty when chopped and mixed with onions, peppers, celery, flour, and eggs and then rolled into balls and deep-fried.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Bahamas Guide
Flying fish and cou-cou
While in Barbados there’s a good chance that one of the island's flying fish when will land on your plate. Flying fish and cou-cou is the island’s national dish, with the fish steamed and served with cornmeal cooked with okra and water. For more of this flying delicacy, try fish cutters (the fish is fried and served on a fluffy bun), which make a great midday snack.
Our Favorite: Lunch on fried flying fish, plantains, and macaroni pie, washed down with an icy Banks beer at Fisherman’s Pub & Grub in Speightstown.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Barbados Guide
WHERE: St. Lucia
While it originated on Trinidad and Tobago, roti has become popular throughout the Caribbean and is quite popular on the Creole-influenced island of St. Lucia. Chewy like tortillas but light like naan, roti is a grilled flatbread filled with curried chicken, shrimp, lamb, or potato. It tastes best when washed down with a Piton beer and a beach view.
Our Favorite: You’ll find roti stands all over, but the best bets are Island Grill and Roti in Gros Islet, RADA in Grande Riviere, and Restaurant d’ Romantique in Castries.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's St. Lucia Guide
Oil down and callaloo soup
Oil down, the national dish of Grenada, is a mélange of salted meat, chicken, dumplings, breadfruit, callaloo, and other vegetables stewed in coconut milk mixed with spices like turmeric. Callaloo is s spinach-like veggie that’s cooked with okra, coconut milk, garlic, and onions and pureed into a delicious dark green soup.
Our Favorite: Sample both dishes and more with a 20-course, family style dinner at Patrick’s Local Homestyle Cooking in St. George’s.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Grenada Guide
WHERE: Puerto Rico
Garlicky, salty, and delicious, this addictive dish of mashed fried green plantains with pork cracklings or bits of bacon is a favorite on Puerto Rico. It is served with shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork and a savory sauce.
Our Favorite: Get your mofongo fix at La Fonda del Jibarito, an authentic, family-run restaurant in Old San Juan.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Puerto Rico Guide
Boca Chica fried fish and tostones
WHERE: Dominican Republic
Prepare to lick your fingers after indulging in one of the most flavorful dishes in the Dominican Republic. “Boca Chica”-style fried fish (usually red snapper) marinated in a mix of garlic, onions, paprika, bell peppers, and onions. Served with a helping of tostones (fried green plantains) this dish offers a variety of flavors.
Our Favorite: Juanillo Beach Food & Drinks, a lively bar and restaurant located on the beach in Cap Cana.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Dominican Republic Guide
Fish and fungi
WHERE: British Virgin Islands
As with cou-cou on Barbados, cornmeal and okra are the main ingredients in fungi, a favorite local dish in the British Virgin Islands. Fungi is mostly served with chunks of firm, white, local fish sautéed with butter, lime juice, tomatoes, and onions.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's British Virgin Islands Guide
WHERE: US Virgin Islands
This ruby-hued custard is favored during the holiday season by residents of the US Virgin Islands and inspired by the Danish dessert rodgrod. On St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John chefs boil down guava with sugar and add cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla for flavor and tapioca to thicken it. It’s then molded, chilled, and topped with heavy cream.
Our Favorite: Although not typically served in restaurants, if you’re visiting over the holidays, ask if it’s available. Or visit during the St. Croix Agricultural fair in February.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's US Virgin Islands Guide
Pigeon peas and rice
The national dish on Anguilla is pretty simple: pigeon peas (similar to black-eyed peas), rice, salt, butter, thyme, black pepper, lime juice, and a dash of hot pepper sauce (some versions have salted beef, too). When paired with the island’s serene beauty, friendly people, and laid-back beach bars, the dish becomes part of a pretty spectacular package.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Anguilla Guide
The gooey, cheesy dish known as keshi yena, is a popular treat on the Dutch island of Aruba. It involves the scooped-out shell of a four-pound round of Gouda or Edam cheese (wax removed) that has been stuffed with a chicken, vegetable, egg, and spice mixture then baked.
Our Favorite: Head for Gasparito Restaurant & Art Gallery, a top spot for both Aruban food and ambience.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Aruba Guide
WHERE: St. Kitts & Nevis
It may seem like an unlikely combo of ingredients but this heaping plateful of Caribbean flavor—local saltfish along with peppers, scallions, ginger and coconut—is a popular dish of the island duo St. Kitts & Nevis. Paired with spicy plantains, seasoned breadfruit, and coconut dumplings this dish packs a punch.
Our Favorite: Head straight for Rodney’s Cuisine in Charlestown on Nevis, where it's one of owner Rodney Elliott’s specialties.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's St. Kitts & Nevis Guide
Breadfruit and codfish
WHERE: St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Breadfruit, which was originally brought to the Caribbean centuries ago to feed slaves, has its own festival in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in August in conjunction with Emancipation Month. The dish is also part of the islands’ everyday cuisine when simply roasted and served as Buljol alongside a salted codfish salad made with onion, hot peppers, tomatoes, and olive oil.
Our Favorite: At Young Island Resort, where the chef will often prepare this dish upon special request.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's St. Vincent & the Grenadines Guide