BEACH BARS, FOOD TRUCKS and roadside stands are full of grab-and-go goodies perfect for a socially distanced picnic by the sea. These regional delicacies are made at down-to-earth eateries where you get a taste of the true Caribbean.
Choosing what to order may be daunting, because some of the most delicious specialties don’t give a clue to their ingredients or what they may taste like by their names. So, trust a long-time local who has sampled them all and encourages you to give these Caribbean beach and street foods a try.
Beach shack restaurants, including places along the Prince Rupert Bay anchorage off Portsmouth, serve Dominica’s national dish called “callaloo.” This green soupy stew, often topped with fungi, is a favorite take-out for breakfast and lunch.
On this lush island, the dish’s main ingredients — dasheen leaves, green bananas, pumpkins and yams — grow abundantly. Coconut milk adds a creamy richness. Salt pork and land crabs are traditional proteins. However, shrimp, lobster and smoked turkey wings are often added, as are rib-sticking rectangular flour dumplings.
Take the road between St. Lucia’s two major marinas, Rodney Bay in Gros Islet and Marigot Bay near Soufriere, and stop for a hearty snack of freshly baked cassava bread. The buying is as delicious as the eating, especially when you look around at the beautiful scenery. Out back and below the ramshackle wooden-built bakery, the men in this family-run operation tend to the cultivation of the cassava.
Upstairs and inside, the women turn this root vegetable into a meal. Flavorings are added: sweet raisins, chocolate coconut and savory salt fish. No flour is used, so cassava bread is gluten-free. Hamburger bun-size disks of dough are placed on banana leaves and cooked until brown in a coal-fired copper. Eat hot or cold.
Fish and Fungi
One of the best places to purchase the U.S. Virgin Islands’ national dish is from one of the food trucks parked near the sea at Coki Beach. The fish, typically red snapper, is simmered in an onion butter sauce and served whole with head and tail attached.
Locals will tell you the sweetest meat is in the head, and the eyes are a delicacy. On the side comes fungi, a creamy mound of cornmeal akin to polenta that is flecked with fresh okra. The dish dates back more than 200 years to when slaves received weekly rations of cornmeal and salt herring. Coki Beach is three miles west of the Red Hook marinas.
Order this spicy pork sausage from one of the open-air eateries at Luquillo Beach, located six miles west of the Puerto Rican town of Fajardo and its marinas. This cross between Spanish chorizo and Portuguese linguica is soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and unmistakably red in hue due to the addition of annatto seeds.
The most common trio of sides is alcapurrias (meat-stuffed root vegetable fritters), empanadillas (small meat-filled fried turnovers) and rellenos de papa (beef-stuffed potato croquettes). Eat on the lovely palm-lined beach, where you’ll usually find live Latin music on weekends.
Strictly speaking, roti is an East Indian- style flatbread made just with wheat flour or with cooked, pulverized split peas incorporated into the flour dough. The dough is rolled tortilla thin and then griddle baked.
However, what arrives when you order a roti doesn’t stop there. Whether it’s served in Trinidad where East Indian immigrants brought the dish in the 1800s, or elsewhere like in the British Virgin Islands and Jamaica, roti refers to the roti bread wrapped around a curried filling sandwich-style. Beef, goat, chicken and conch along with potatoes, carrots and green peas are popular fillings. Vegetarian- type roti is often available, as are condiments such as mango chutney and Scotch bonnet pepper sauce. In Trinidad, a lip-smacking roti is in easy reach of the boatyards and marinas in Chaguaramas and near the Trinidad & Tobago Yacht Club in Port of Spain.
Stuffed Crab Back
Just like it sounds, crabmeat is cooked with seasonings such as onion, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of hot pepper. Then, this mixture is stuffed back into the crab’s shell where it’s sprinkled with breadcrumbs and broiled until hot. What makes this different is that on St. Martin, at the Lolo’s (locally owned, locally operated) or open-air food stands in Grand Case, the star of the show is the local blue land crab.
The recipe really starts days in advance when these crustaceans are hunted by flashlight at night when they skitter from their burrows across mangrove swamps and salt ponds. Once caught, the crabs are caged and fed plenty of freshwater and cornmeal for several days to purge them of potential toxins and make them safe to eat. At this point, the crabs are cooked and crab back-making begins. The Lolo’s are three miles east of the marina in Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin.