by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, June 12, 2018
The cuisine of the Caribbean can be as mouthwatering as its beach scenes. In the West Indies, chargrilled fish and meat, rice ’n’ peas and plump ripe fruits are staples, while in Mexico and Cuba it is fiery salsa that dominates many dishes. If lunch is not included on your day out, look out for rotis – flatbreads filled with curried chicken, vegetables or even goat – along with conch fritters and cutters (flying fish sandwiches). Callaloo is a healthy stew made from local crops okra and dasheen.
There are also some unexpected treats for those who seek them out. Island eateries range from simple beach bars to super-smart restaurants and prices vary just as widely.
Don’t forget the liquid that flows through the region – rum. The classic rum punch is available everywhere.
Cruise lines often offer gastro-themed shore excursions but also try independent tour operators for extra variety.
Here are six food and drink ideas – and how you might try them on a Caribbean cruise.
Best islands: Grenada, Dominica, St Lucia
All sorts of exotic natural food flavourings thrive in the Caribbean’s fertile, shower-washed soils. Take a tour of the market in St George’s in the ‘Spice Island’ of Grenada to find pimento, cinnamon, vanilla and cloves, or visit the nutmeg plantation at Gouyave. In Dominica, spend a few hours with a local family to learn how spices are used in rustic cookery, then dine on the results. Castries market in St Lucia is heavily scented with spices – you can combine a visit here with a cooking workshop.
Cruise lines: Seabourn Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, P&O Cruises
Independently: Shop then flop – Grenada’s second spice market is close to wonderful Grand Anse beach, three miles from the port.
Best islands: Jamaica, Cozumel, St Kitts
Apples and oranges? Not in the Caribbean – think guavas, passion fruits and coconuts, bursting with flavour. In St Kitts, you can pick your own produce in the grounds of an eco-farm, then use them in dishes in the kitchen. A chef will take you to the market in Cozumel, Mexico, to find the likes of chayote squash and dragon fruit before giving a cooking class. In Jamaica, sample fruits such as ackee and mango and other local dishes at a reggae-enlivened beach cookout.
Cruise lines: Viking Cruises, MSC Cruises, NCL, Silversea
Independently: Stalls laden with tropical fruits are sprinkled around St Kitts’ port of Basseterre (walking distance).
Best islands: Jamaica, Barbados, St Kitts
Jerk – a blend of hot pepper, allspice, ginger and local twists – is the authentic taste of the Caribbean. It is most usually applied to barbecued chicken or pork, but sometimes fish. Let a Jamaican guide introduce you to roadside food stands where the aroma of grilling meat (including goat) will alert your taste buds. Wash down your jerk specialities with rum punch after an introductory island tour of Barbados. Attend a traditional West Indian cookery demonstration at St Kitts’ historic Fairview Great House.
Cruise lines: Crystal Cruises, Saga Cruises, Marella Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International
Independently: No-frills eateries in all the key Jamaican port towns serve up crispy jerk treats with Red Stripe beer.
Best islands: Barbados, Antigua, St Martin
Lobster, lambie (conch meat), marlin, mahi-mahi, red snapper – Caribbean waters are rich in fish and shellfish. You could meet a cricket legend for a chat in an Antigua rum shack before enjoying a lobster lunch. Sample fishcakes with plantain chips at a lunch at the 300-year-old Sunbury Plantation House in Barbados. Munch on French, Dutch and Creole delicacies on a tour of five different restaurants on the “foodie” isle of St Martin – maybe mahi-mahi in coconut sauce will be on the menu.
Cruise lines: Cunard, P&O Cruises, Windstar, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line
Independently: Take a taxi or bus to Oistins on Barbados’ south coast where the shacks serve fried fish with okra and hot sauce.
Best islands: Dominica, St Kitts, Cozumel
Forget Belgium or Switzerland – go where the cocoa beans are actually grown. Visit Dominica’s oldest estate to witness the picking and processing of the pods and then make your own confectionary in various flavours. Find out about the Aztec and Mayan origins of chocolate in Cozumel before being taught how to turn beans into sweets at a hands-on workshop. Sample red and green chocs then take home your own organic creations after a masterclass at St Kitts’ chocolate boutique.
Cruise lines: Royal Caribbean International, Silversea, Carnival Cruise Line, NCL
Independently: There are several chocolate shops/workshops in downtown Cozumel – take your ship’s shuttle bus.
Best islands: Antigua, Puerto Rico, Cuba
Many Caribbean destinations have been producing their own rum since the plantation days and it still oils the wheels of island societies. Provide your feedback on three rums after learning their history at the famed Backyard Bar in Antigua. Investigate Cuba’s cocktail culture with local bartenders in Havana and make your own minty mojito. Attend a mixology seminar at the ‘Cathedral of Rum’ where Bacardi is distilled in Puerto Rico. Prefer tequila? Head for Cozumel, where Jose Cuervo tastings are offered.
Cruise lines: Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Holland America Line, Viking Cruises
Independently: On many Caribbean islands, the clapboard rum shop is the equivalent of the local pub – you won’t need to go far to find one.