If you’re planning to spend a holiday on Guadeloupe, be prepared to pair your meals with dancing, colorful costumes, and music.
Guadeloupe’s French Creole cuisine is a blend of Amerindian, African, Indian, and French culinary traditions. A bounty of fresh fruits des mer and locally-grown spices form the basis of most dishes, and many families and restaurants pride themselves on having the best “secret” recipe. The archipelago comes alive during festivals, and food is often its own sideshow. Try kakado (river crayfish) or boudin (sausage) over the Christmas season, dishes made from giant land crabs over Easter, or fresh-caught grilled fish for any holiday. Follow it all with a boule or two of coconut or passionfruit sorbet, and be prepared to be wowed by the creative flavors of this Caribbean island.
Coffee was introduced to Guadeloupe in the 1700s. In the 1900s, diseases and hurricanes ravaged coffee crops, and today only a dozen or so tons of coffee per year are produced on the island. Grown in volcanic soil, Guadeloupe’s Bonifieur coffee has low acidity and is internationally recognized for both its scarcity and its excellence. The Musée du Café, located in Vieux-Habitants, Guadeloupe is a great place to learn about the history of Bonifieur coffee, but is an even better place to taste it.
Carnival Parades and Bokit Sandwiches
In the weeks preceding the Carnival festival to Easter, the rich sounding of conch shells blends with the crowing of roosters first thing in the morning, and the islands are abuzz with the beating of drums long after sundown. Food carts serving bokit, a fried Guadeloupean sandwich stuffed with meats, cheese, or even lamb, are found lining the streets, fortifying revelers well into the night.
“Farewell to Meat”
Carnival, which in Latin means “farewell to meat,” is a wild festival that takes place on the days immediately before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. The festivities often signify a temporary seceding of normal behavior, with many people turning a blind eye to the associated debauchery, alcoholic beverages, and meaty meals. Hemingway is a restaurant in the village of Deshaies, Guadeloupe that will prepare simple, yet delicious vegetarian meals upon request that visitors can enjoy pre- and post-Lent.
Rhum (rum) is one of the most popular drinks throughout the Caribbean, including on Guadeloupe. The first distillation of this alcohol was on sugarcane plantations during the 17th century, and it quickly became popular in many port cities around the world. Combined with fruit juices and syrups, today’s rhum punches are served by le doigt (the fingerful) in the afternoons as an aperitif, with special spiced punches reserved for the holidays. The most popular of these drinks, an elixir mixed with fruit juice called a Planteur, can be ordered in nearly every restaurant and bar, and tourists can even pick up a bottle or two at outdoor markets across Guadeloupe, including the most popular market in Pointe-à-Pitre.
Grilled Fish and Court Bouillon
In Guadeloupe, an abundance of fresh seafood means that even without terrestrial meat, no one goes hungry. Throughout Lent, grilled fish and a spicy fish stew called Court Bouillon are common, and many restaurants and families closely guard their recipes. Some of the best grilled fish is found close to the rugged coast of Saint-François, Guadeloupe at Rhumerie du Pirates.
Late Night Crab Hunting and the Annual Crab Festival
Land crabs are a delicacy in Guadeloupe. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Christian colonists imposed their church traditions on slaves. It was forbidden to eat meat during Lent (the weeks preceding Easter), so slaves clandestinely captured giant land crabs as they left their underground lairs at night and then cooked them into huge vats of crab meat mixed with local vegetables and herbs. Today, there is a hunting season for crabs that precedes Easter, as well as a crab festival held annually in the town of Morne-à-l’Eau, Guadeloupe.
Surf and Turf
During Easter, a surf and turf meal—of ocean fish and land crabs—is traditional fare. The crabs are often made into a calalou, a spicy herbed stew made with spinach-like leaves, and to signify that Lent is over, thick slabs of bacon are added. Most families serve this meal for the holiday, but lucky for tourists, restaurants such as Naturel Bambou in Capesterre-Belle-Eau, Guadeloupe also offer it on their menus.
Nwèl Kakado & Chanté Nwèl
During the 18th century, a set of French laws called the Black Code required slaves to be baptized and educated as Christians. Over time, a unique Creole Christmas music developed to reflect both Catholic and African traditions. This music, called Chanté Nwèl, is heard throughout the entire Advent season as people celebrate the approach of Christmas. Holiday feasts, called Nwèl Kakado, accompany local Chanté Nwèl events. These feasts were named after one of the specialties served during the feasts, the kakado, which is a river crayfish found in rivers and at the base of some of Guadeloupe’s most beautiful waterfalls. Many locals spend the day visiting waterfalls at the famed Cascade aux Ecrevisses (Waterfall of the Crayfish) in Vieux-Habitants, a nearby town that hosts the biggest Nwèl Kakado festivities on the islands.
Boudin Rouge and Boudin Blanc
Boudin, which is a type of soft meat pudding brought to the French Caribbean from France, is eaten in Guadeloupe during the Christmas holidays. Boudin rouge, or blood sausage, is made from spices, pigs’ blood, and bread. People wanting a less visceral experience can try boudin blanc, which is a sausage made from pork, fish, or chicken, but without the blood. Both varieties are sold in restaurants and markets across the island. Make sure to try the boudin rouge at le Zawag Restaurant, with views looking over the aquamarine Caribbean Sea.
Spiced Fruit and Sorbet
Cinnamon, nutmeg and a little rhum: these are just a few of the ingredients poured over fruit, making a lovely dessert after any meal in Guadeloupe. Add a few boules of passionfruit or coco sorbet to be truly decadent. Sorbet is sold by vendors at nearly every beach, year-round, meaning that in Guadeloupe, every day feels like a holiday. The long stretch of Beach in Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe seems to have a sorbet vendor every hundred feet or so, and a lovely way to end a day is with a boule or two while staring out at the Caribbean Sea.