From lolos to johnnycakes, meet St. Martin’s fascinating Franco-Caribbean food scene.
Yes, my Francophiles, there is a place more laid-back than Paris where you can still enjoy flaky croissants and parlez francais. Hugging the Anguilla Channel on the French side of St. Martin, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea, are not only stunning, rarely crowded beaches, but also the culinary richness you’d expect in any destination governed by the French. With Creole, French, and African culinary influences, St. Martin is full of surprising foodie experiences. From food trucks to lobster BBQ on the beach, these are the most authentic culinary experiences on this French Caribbean island.
A rice and chicken dish native to St. Martin, locri is similar to risotto. It’s often served at a celebration of some sort, but since you’re not likely to get invited to someone’s wedding, or be on the island during a street fest, look for it on restaurant menus. Ingredients in this dish include chicken, lime juice, vegetables, tomato paste, and a dash of Tabasco.
Sure, lingering over pain au chocolat at a café along Paris’ Champs-Élysées is fun, but where else in the world can you indulge in French pastries while gazing out at the water—and in a swimsuit? Le Moulin in Grand Case is a must if you’ve got a sweet tooth and you’re in St. Martin; to-go options on any given day might include fruit tarts, pain au chocolat, baguettes, almond croissants, and eclairs.
Technically, St. Martin is not the only spot in the Caribbean where you can slurp callaloo soup—it’s also popular in Trinidad and Tobago, plus Jamaica, not to mention served in West Africa—but not experiencing this here would be unwise, as callaloo is considered the national dish. This chicken stock-based soup is prepared with callaloo leaves (similar to spinach), cubed pork, kale, okra, hot peppers, and thyme.
Food stands aren’t difficult to find around the world, sure, but if you’re only in St. Martin for a few days and want to sample street food, you need to visit a lolo (local slang for open-air restaurant). BBQ ribs at Rib Shack or Creole cuisine (such as chicken, garlic shrimp, coleslaw, potato salad and ribs) at Sky’s the Limit are two musts. Both are in Grand Case. You’ll also find plenty more lolos along the roadside or at the beach.
Definitely book your St. Martin vacation over a Saturday if you’re a lobster fan. At Le Temps des Cerises, inside LTC Beach Hotel, 58 euros gets you a four-course meal hosted right on the sand that includes lobster and dessert. But the main attraction is a flaming volcano made of sand—also right on the beach. The party kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and winds down at 11 p.m.
Another Caribbean staple, with a signature twist on each island, this cornmeal flatbread is deep-fried. In St. Martin they’re sometimes called journey cakes and are considered a breakfast or brunch food. Served hot or cold, these tasty cakes are topped with butter, jam, or syrup. Yvette’s Restaurant, in Quartier D’Orleans, often—pardon the pun—takes the cake for St. Martin’s most delicious johnny cakes.
Have you ever tasted a guavaberry (myrciaria floribunda)? On the Dutch side (St. Maarten), these tiny berries are used to make jams and also, when combined with rum, a liqueur from St. Maarten Guavaberry Co. (in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side)that’s wildly popular on both sides of the island. It’s often poured around Christmastime.
If someone asks if you’d like some jacks, no, they are not referring to the six-pointed stars that you threw onto the sidewalk as a kid. In St. Martin, jacks means fried fish… fried until it’s dry and crispy. To act like a local, eat it for breakfast. Common sides served with jacks include fried plantains and johnny cakes.
Looking like fish fingers or chicken nuggets, fish fritters are typically made from codfish or saltfish. There’s no one time to indulge in fish fritters, which is a mixture of pan-fried fish and vegetables (green peppers, tomatoes, celery, and onions), plus Tabasco, then fried in hot oil. You can enjoy fish fritters at breakfast, lunch, on top of a salad, or as a side with a dinner entrée.