Being surrounded by the ocean in the characteristic island fashion, with
numerous bays, cays and coral reefs, as well as the more protected waters of
the Sir Francis Drake Channel, the BVI has an astonishing variety and
abundance of fresh local seafood.
Anegada's North Drop, off the undersea plateau underlying the islands,
is world famous for game fishing in addition to supplying BVI tables.
Actually a large crayfish
without claws but with a large, succulent tail, lobster is a favorite (above
photo of Pusser's Marina Cay
Our B.V.I. Adventure). Often
from Anegada's ten-mile-long Horseshoe
Reef, lobster is served on Anegada (barbecued for dinner at the
Anegada Reef Hotel and boiled for lunch at the
Big Bamboo) and throughout the islands as main entree (Rum
Runner Lobster Tail at your own villa by
private chef, Catalana Style at
Giorgio's Table or Lobster Bahamian at the
Bitter End Clubhouse), or chowder (house specialty at
Jost Van Dyke's Little Harbour, there is almost a competition to serve
the best lobster between Sydney's Peace and Love,
Abe's By The Sea, and Harris' Place. On St. Croix in the USVI,
Caribbean Lobster Spring Rolls with Crisp Leeks and Red Curry-Honey Dipping
Conch. Don't miss the perfect snack
or companion to cocktails--conch fritters! Conch (pronounced "conk") must be
tenderized and, similar to the clam, is found as chowder (Myett's),
stewed (Jolly Roger and
Quito's Gazebo), stuffed in ravioli with banana-lemon chutney (Tradewinds
Restaurant), stuffed in mushrooms (Callaloo
restaurant), in salads (Sebastian's
on the Beach) and with pasta in parsley sauce (Sugar
Mill) (Consair's conch
Trip Advisor review).
The conch shell, used by sailors as a fog or signal horn, is widely
treasured for its beauty and, like oysters, for the use of its contents as
an aphrodisiac (don't get any ideas). See
Queen Conch for more information about this fine creature in nature.
Whelk. The local name for the
West Indian Top snail, whelk is the marine equivalent to escargot, and
is prepared the same classic way--steamed (in sea water) and served with
garlic butter. Or
Grilled in a Garlic Butter Sauce. Or in
(Le Grande Cafe).
Land Crabs. A
land dweller, the land crab is fed bread and spices before becoming a
delicacy with its very delicate flavor, prepared and stuffed back in its
shell in crabes farcies in the French Antilles.
Blue water fish, caught
locally at Anegada's
North Drop for BVI tables, include swordfish (grilled at
C&F), tuna, spearfish (related to marlin--broiled down into a butter
sauce at Nepture's
Treasure), wahoo (grilled at
Brandywine Bay) and mahimahi.
Steakfish are traditionally grilled, often after being marinated
beforehand or covered with a sauce, or other topping afterward, or baked,
very traditionally in banana leaves (see
recipe) or parchment paper (stewed Red Snapper Papillote at
Chez Bamboo) and even foil, or broiled.
commonly served include grouper, triggerfish,
(fried at Da Wedding,
chef's recipe) and king mackerel. Fish, of course, is served in an
infinite variety of ways from from haute cuisine to West Indian style, which
often involves an Creole sauce on top (Quito's
Flying Fish. Sleek,
silver-blue fish with fins that resemble dragonfly wings, flying fish, to
the delight of sailors, propel themselves in the air at speeds up to 30 mph
to escape predators. A specialty of Barbados and part of its national
emblem, flying fish is lightly breaded, pan-fried and served as "Flying Fish
Bajan (Barbadian) Style" throughout the region. Or
Seared with Smoked Beef Glaze at Biras Creek.
Salt Fish. Salting was
originally a method of preserving food, especially for long ocean voyages.
Salt fish, occasionally mackerel but usually cod, is popular throughout the
Caribbean. Salt fish is found as a special at the
Virgin Queen or as the Salt Fish Spring Rolls appetiser by Chef
Richard Buttafuso of the Sugar Mill).
Stamp and Go. Jamaica's
saltfish (or codfish) fritters, called Stamp and Go (recipe),
an island form of "fast food," is made from a batter of soaked, cooked,
skinned and flaked saltfish, with scallions, chiles, and tomato, fried in
coconut oil until golden brown (Islands
at Sugar Mill). Acras
is a French Caribbean variation using corn oil and different seasonings.
Balalaitos is a Puerto Rican variation.
Fish Fry. The closest thing in
the BVI to the Jamaican "hut" scene is Apple Bay's Friday and Saturday night
"Fish Fry." At Little Apple
Bay where Zion Hill Road meets Tortola's North Beach Coast, delicious
fish is to be had from roadside stands. Also, local fisherman Poui has a
fish fry at Da Wedding in Cane Garden
Blaff. In the French Antilles,
"poached" fish called Blaff earns its name from the sound made when
dropped in the boiling water with spices added (see
Rum. Distinctive of the Caribbean in
general, rum is said to have been brought by Columbus from the Canary
Islands. Once called Kill Devil, rum was an integral part of the sugar
with water to form
grog, rum fueled the British Navy.
Pusser's Rum, made on
Tortola, continues the original rum of the British Navy, with flavor
similarities to scotch whiskey (order
Now each island has its favorites and many produce their own varieties.
Amber Barbados rum has a fine brandy-like aroma good as a mixer. Family run
distilleries like Guadeloupe's rhum agricole produce rums that,
when aged resemble fine Cognacs. Light Puerta Rico rums like Bicardi
popularized the pina colada created there and can be substituted for many
Rum is still distilled from sugarcane in the BVI (Callwood
Rum Distillery). Widely used as a flavoring agent in cooking, such as
rum cheesecake (The Garden)
and French toasted muffins (Crewed
Charter Scubada), rum is most famous in drinks, such as rum punches and
the pina colada ( Mad Dog Bar at Virgin
Rum Punch. Aptly named, the
traditional Caribbean rum "punch" has 1 "sour" ounce of lime juice, 2
"sweet" teaspoons of honey, 3 "strong" ounces of dark rum, and 4 "weak"
ounces of crushed ice, plus a grating of nutmeg. Versions of the rum punch
abound from island to bartender.
Painkiller. A famous BVI drink,
the Painkiller originated at the Soggy Dollar Bar at
White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. This frozen delight is made (strongly) from
dark rum (often Pusser's), pineapple juice (4 parts), orange juice ( 1
part), and Coco Lopez (1 part sweetened cream of coconut) with
fresh nutmeg ground on top.
Bushwhacker. From the old
Pirate's Pub of Bert Kilbride's, now "The
is this recipe: equal parts Vodka, Dark Rum, Frangellico, Amaretto (a little
less of this), Creme de Cacao, Kahlua and Bailey's Irish Creme, then blend
with ice until the consistency of a milk shake (from
Smoothies. Smoothies are another
popular drink. Here's a recipe from the
self-service beach bar at the Anegada Reef Hotel for Anegada smoothies:
- 12 oz. dark rum
- 24 oz. (2 12 oz. cans) guava nectar
- 3 oz pineapple juice (1/2 a small can)
- ½ oz. grenadine syrup
- 3 oz cream of coconut
- Lightly sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg
Ok, this is more than one drink. So who's counting?
|ting. From Jamaica, ting
is a refreshing citrus drink with a grapefruit taste (held by Lorraine at
Elm's). Also, from Jamaica is Ginger Beer, a lively, non-alcoholic soda
based on ginger (order
Beef. Roast beef (English Carvery at
the Bitter End) is very popular in
the islands. Other beef dishes include Her Majesty's West Indian
Regimental Beef Curry (recipe)
in honor of those West Indians who served in World War II (Sugar
Pub Food. This British colony is
especially fond of pubs where plentiful selections of beer and ale, steak
and kidney pie (English Pub),
fish and chips (Virgin Queen),
meat pies (Pusser's Pub)
and even dart boards are found. Sailors have been known to kick back a brew
and tell lies.
Pork. Introduced by the Spainards,
wild hogs were hunted by the Arawaks. Pig roasts are very popular in the
Doved Pork. Another
favorite is "doved" pork (Netty's
means it's browned first and cooked in a sauce.
Goat. Goats are well adapted to the
hilly terrain and arid climate of the islands and you will see goat on many
menus, often curried, as in rotis. Goat
milk, of course, can be used to make goat cheese, which the Greeks call Feta
cheese in the classic Greek salad.
Goat Water. When goat
is stewed in the BVI, the resulitng dish is referred to as "goat water" (Da
Wedding). See recipe at West
Rice and Peas.
beans in the BVI are called rice and peas (accompaniment at
Myett's), short for pigeon peas, otherwise known as Congo peas or gungoo
peas, which originated in Africa (pictured
with ribs from Coconut Junction).
Many beans are eaten in the Caribbean, often with rice as in moros y
from Cuba, where black beans are ascendent as in most Spanish cooking. In
Jamaica, kidney beans are preferred.
Rice is very popular in the Caribbean and sold in large sacks in stores.
A nice balance to spicy dishes like curries, rice is frequently served as an
accompaniment to chicken (arrozo y pollo) and fish, often with a
West Indian sauce
Fungi. Derived from the West African
mash, fungi (or funghi) is a cornmeal-based side dish, called
coocoo elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Its upscape cousin is the Italian polenta, except coconut milk replaces the
water at the Bitter End's
A corn meal based local side dish, fungi is made from "scratch," or ad
hoc, usually with added okra, onions, sweet
peppers, etc. See recipe.
Fungi also gives its name to the indigenous
BVI musical style, a combination of
instruments likewise "cooked up" to become a "scratch," or fungi band,
especially if consisting of assorted homemade instruments, like washboards
Roti. First brought to Trinidad by
East Indians, roti is a sandwich-like "wrap" (Roti
Palace) consisting of curried meat, chicken, seafood or vegetables wrapped in a crepe-like
bread. Or roti may refer to just the curry dish itself. The West Indian roti,
unlike the original, is more like a flour tortilla, being made with white
flour leavened with baking powder. See
West Indian Curry recipes.
Pain de Kassav. A traditional
Caribbean bread, pain de kassav is made from the cassava
root tuber, famously by the roadside in Haiti in a thin and crispy
style with a slightly 'nutty' taste. Bammie is the Jamacian cassava flat
Johnny Cakes. A corn meal based flat
bread, Johnny Cakes is popular throughout the Caribbean (see
Chutneys and hot pepper
sauces are two popular condiments that may accompany Caribbean meals.
Chutney. Along with the curries
brought by East Indians comes its perfect culinary accomplice-- chutney-- to
somehow balance the hot, spicy flavor. Strangely, the sweet and sour nature
of chutney does the same when made with sweet tropical fruits, especially
everyone's favorite, mango chutney (served with rotis at
Other chutney varieties include pineapple- coconut (Pam's
Kitchen), papaya (Sunny
Caribbee) and banana- lemon (with conch ravioli at
Hot Pepper Sauces.
Traditionally used fresh, peppers (chilies), beginning with the Arawaks,
have also been made into hot pepper sauces of all kinds (hot pepper relish
at Pam's Kitchen)
throughout the Caribbean, generally based on the Scotch Bonnet and bird
peppers as in jerk seasoning.
Scotch Bonnet Pepper
in Jamaica, the Scotch Bonnet is grown and used in the Caribbean (photo:
hotsauceandsalsa). Like a lantern-shaped walnut in a rainbow of colors, and distinguished by its
namesake wrinkled crown, the fiery hot Scotch Bonnet scorches the tongue,
top of the pepper heat scale
with the related, but distinct, Mexican
used in the Americas. See
more here, especially on handling this pepper.
called seasonings, bouquets of
thyme, parsley and other herbs, together with trays of spices and other
wonders are sold in open air markets throughout the Caribbean baskets. See
more on Seasonings
and their use here.
Also, packaged seasonings can be purchased from
Sunny Caribbee's Road Town shop on Main Street.
Coriander or Cilantro. Known as
coriander in the Spanish Caribbean and as Chinese parsley in Asia, cilantro
is a widespread term for referring to its lacy green and heavily aromatic
fresh leaves (which do not dry well). However, its seeds are often called
coriander, their sweet musky fragrance conveying the herb's aroma,
especially notable in Indian mixed spices such as curry powder.
Salt. Salt is still harvested and sold at
Salt Island in the BVI. Once an important stop for the British Royal
Navy, salt-based curing (see salt fish)
and seasoning is still practiced in the British and U.S Virgin Islands and
elsewhere. Here is a recipe for
seasoned salt from
Maverick Sea Fare (see
Sauces. Along with
seasonings and condiments,
sauces impact the flavor of any food, and island sauces come in a blizzard
of styles, from Spainish salsas to tropical fruit-based glazes to West
Indian or Creole sauces.
Sauces may be differentiated based on mix or exclusion of
stock (broth), flour, cream, rum, greens, okra, tomato and
chile peppers as well as that whole separate flavoring agenda--fats
and oils such as butter, bacon and peanut oil.
West Indian Sauce. One
basic Creole or West Indian sauce may be made by "flavoring" butter or other
cooking oil by sautéing onion, garlic, chile peppers and other items in it,
then adding red and green bell peppers, tomatoes and seasonings, often
adding homemade broth (see
recipe). Sometimes everything is cooked at once, often with the main
Stock (Broth). In professional hotel
cooking, stock was made utilizing rigorous procedures in what was the basis
of classical French sauces, and thereby the underpinnings of this
Homemade Broth. Now more
informally called broth, homemade stock is created in
traditional island cooking, by boiling and simmering chicken, meat or
fish bones (or crustacean shell), down to a lively, enveloping medium for a
sauce or soup. Flavor is enhanced by adding a bouquet of
seasonings as well as vegetables like celery and
See Mrs. Scatliffe's
Salsa. In Caribbean cooking, sauce
may be called salsa, the Spainish term, and may refer to condiments
like a hot pepper sauce, often added as an ingredient, as well as an
accompanying stage in the cooking, sometimes served as a separate dish (see
Salsa can refer to various sauces or, more strictly, that brightly
decorative condiment based on colorful yellow and red bell peppers in lime
juice or vinegar with onions, tomatoes, chile peppers and seasonings.
Instead of tomatoes or lettuce, island countries favor salsas (and
salads) with tropical fruits, beans and avocados, whose "spices"
paradoxically counteract the climate's heat and humidity.
Sofrito. In Puerto Rico,
Sofrito is a condiment-like sauce used in many ways (sofrito
grilled bread recipe-- using saffron for
annatto), much like Creole sauce varied with coriander (cilantro) and
other seasonings, to which salt pork and ham is traditionally added to make
the full dish.
Fats & Oils. The cooking
oil of choice in the Caribbean is coconut oil from the
coconut palm. The less saturated peanut oil is
also very popular here and in many parts of the world, notable also for its
ability to hold up under high heat.
Annatto Oil. The coloring
agent of cheddar cheese, annatto, also called achiote,
seeds are used in the Caribbean to color cooking oils and rice as a bright
yellow-orange substitute for saffron. See
infused oils. Add chile peppers for some heat.
Folk Art Garnish. Stick
the annatto oil in a plastic squeeze bottle, and garnish dishes coulis-like
with its beautiful color and delicate flavor. Instead of decorating with
"cuisine" abstract patterns, squirt-draw some cooking folk art and drag a
line through it to indicate motion (see a
Callaloo example). This also works well with fruit purees and
condiments, especially chutneys.
Naturally, in an open-to-the-outdoor tropical climate, barbecuing is
very popular, using charcoal and fires often made from local wood, which
contributes its distinctive flavor. Instead of pimento wood, a wood from
Anegada aptly called torch is used (for Smoked
Parrotfish and Blue Marlin at the
Bitter End's Clubhouse).
The tropics are naturally bursting with an abundance of fruits.
peach-like sticky sweet sensation is seen being sucked on throughout the
islands when its leafy branches become heavy with this summer scented fruit.
Mango appears as fruit, beverage, cocktail (Mango Bellini at
Capriccio di Mare), desert (mango cheesecake, a specialty at
Spaghetti Junction), entree (Mango Chicken at
Fisher's Cove Restaurant) and chutney
Coconut. That trademark of
the tropics, the coconut palm
produces a young and green nut that can be tapped as a refreshing drink. The
familiar brown appearance represents the mature and dry stage of the coconut
when the flavor goes into the white meat on the inside of the shell and
makes it sweeter.
Coconut water is made by squeezing through a cheesecloth a mixture of
grated coconut meat and boiling water. Coconut cream results from letting
the milk stand and separate.
One of the most versatile tropical fruits, coconut is widely used to make
coconut chips, as a ingredient in baking, such as coconut bread (Cline's
Bakery), as the cooking oil of choice for the Caribbean (and for U.S.
theatre popcorn), in drinks such as pina coladas (Pusser's
Porch Grill) and as a distinctive entree item, such as Chicken & Coconut
(Mrs. Scatliffe's) or
Coconut Shrimp (Deadman's
Beach Bar & Grill).
Pineapple. We forget that the
pineapple, now so usual, was once considered so exotic that sea captains
would stick it on their front fences when back home in temperate climes as a
decorative sign of hospitality. An indigenous fruit used by the Awawaks,
delicious with avacado, papaya, and banana, pineapple is extensively used in
everything from salads to deserts (pies at
Bananas. A staple of Caribbean
cuisine, these bunch fruits of the
banana tree come in many varieties, from tiny finger bananas (figis) to
large, black-skinned plantains. Usually regarded as a vegetable, the larger
plantains are cooked green or ripe, as a starch and a traditional
accompaniment to meats as well as fried to make plaintain chips.
The more familiar banana also is cooked green as a vegetable in many
variations, and is often boiled for breakfast in Jamaica. The ripe banana is
found in everything from bread and pastry, french toast (Peter
Island), drinks (Jolly Roger),
curried soup (Sugar
Mill), chutney and jam, and deserts, most famously as flambee
with rum (a favorite of Napolean Bonapate). In addition, the banana leaf is
traditionally used to wrap food for cooking in the place of parchment paper
Limes. Brought to the Caribbean by
Columbus, limes are inevitable as a flavoring, garnish, and, as ceviche,
a method, in itself, of "cooking" or marinating seafood in lime juice, such
as Conch "Souse" Salad (Bitter
Tamarind. This tropical tree
looks like a locust treee with 3-6" long brown bulbous pods, whose date-like
pulp is used to make tamarind nectar, a fruit-drink concentrate that makes a
refreshing, tart drink and furnishes the principal ingredient of
Breadfruit. Brought to the
Caribbean by the famous Captain Bligh from Tahiti, breadfruit is a
cannonball shaped vegetable (see
drawing) with the bland taste and versatile use of a potato (Char-
Roasted Baked or Mashed recipe).
Eggplant. Available all year, the
very tender Caribbean eggplant is a small lavender or white vegetable.
Christophene. Of a delicate
flavor similar to light summer squash, Christophene, known as chayote in
California, is a slightly prickly, pale green, pear-shaped vegetable (with
Seared Red Snapper in a Creole Sauce at
These gnarled denizens of the earth have a confused nomenclature to detract
from their sex appeal, but nonetheless provide competition for the
omnipresent potato, with its pommes frites or french fries
conquering the world through the "fast food" and its notorious culinary
companion, the "hamburger." But I digress. See
ground provisions under Island Farming.
Cassava. An indigenous root used
by the Arawaks, cassava has many uses. The delicious cassava (also called
manioc and yuca) bread, with its slightly nutty taste, is the traditional bread of the
Garlic Cassava Bread
recipe), called pain de kassav (recipe)
by French-speaking Haitians and pan de casabe by the Spanish
Caribbean. Cassava is also used to make tapioca and Jamaican flatcakes, called
Tannia. Also known as malanga in
Cuba and yautia in Puerto Rico, tannia is fabulous as fried tannia chips.
Peanuts. Eaten whole, sometimes
roasted, as an appetiser, peanuts in the Caribbean often are ground to
flavor everything from soups to deserts.
As you might imagine, deserts abound in the
Caribbean with the combination of tropical fruits and exotic spices. Shops
carry sweets such as brown sugar fudges, candied tropical fruits, coconut-
based sweets, and crystallized ginger.
Fruit "cheese," such as mango or guava , is
a jellylike paste made form boiling down the fruit pulp with sugar and
From cocoa beans brought to the Old World by Columbus, a chocolate craze
swept Europe in the 17th century, when chocolate houses appeared, like
coffee houses today, after the Spanish added sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to
create an "ambrosial" drink.
Logs, rolls and bars of roasted and ground
"bittersweet" chocolate appear in Caribbean markets.
A gift of the new world, this climbing orchid produces an fleshy, oily pod,
6-9" long, called the vanilla bean. Often split lengthwise, vanilla beans
can be put in a bottle of rum as a
Vanilla Rum flavoring agent.
This extraordinary cookbook is one of the primary resources for this
article. See review of
The Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook: Casual and Elegant Recipes Inspired by
Basically, the Sugar Mill restaurant has created a tradition from many
years of fusing the best of international cooking with exotic, tropical
elements-- a process that has been going on in the Caribbean for a very long
time-- in contrast to the short period of experimentation in contemporary
Now. The difficult, undecipherable,
fattening sauces of the old, predominately French, hotel and upscale
restaurant cuisine have long since given way to the "nouvelle cuisine" with
its emphasis on healthier food and fresh, local ingredients.
And Italian restaurants (Calamaya)
stepped in to provide that cuisine with "provincial" dishes emphsizing fresh
seafood, cafe style expresso drinks and especially delicious pastas as the
modern starch of choice.
The trends have been anything but consistent. "Low carb" diets, such as
South Beach (Miami), avoid starches such as pastas. And after the emphasis on
minimally cooked vegetables, there has been a resurgence of
traditional "long simmered" stews, for instance.
Now there is an overall emphasis on international "ethnic" elements, such
as Moroccan from the middle east or that ironically American regional
variety of French exported provincial--Cajun.
Cajun's key technique, "blackened" fish is totally spice-driven, with the
fish's coating of spices applied directly to a bare hot skillet to give the
fish a "char" similar to certain barbecue styles.
Other regional foods such as from the southern and southwestern U.S. are
now seen as "ethnic" and interesting on the world cooking stage.
International influences from the Far East especially, where that other
major culinary tradition, the classic Chinese cuisine, similarly to the
French, has been supplemented by first Indian and then Thai, Vietnamese and
other national or ethnic foods.
So we see on Great Chefs of the World, from Tortola's Sugar Mill
Restaurant, the appetiser Saltfish Spring Rolls--the vibrant Vietnamese
replacement for the dowdy Chinese egg roll with a tropical twist.
Cuisine has gone international in the search for taste sensations and,
literally, everything under the sun is tried, including long forgotten
"greens" and wild plants.
In the islands, tropical fruits, roots, and a bewildering range of
ingredients and techniques from around the world can help provide the basis
for a new "classical" cuisine, that delights the taste buds in light, healthy
combinations, such as pasta with conch sauce or curried banana soup, that
only an international cultural crossroads like the Caribbean may engender
with its long traditions in integrating the international and the exotic.