So you want to take a vacation in the tropical paradise of The Bahamas. You’ve found your flights, picked your accommodation and planned your activities. But what will you eat while you’re there? Although many hotels and restaurants do offer typical contemporary Western food, no travel experience is complete without tasting the local cuisine. What can you expect to be served up in The Bahamas?
The Bahamas is an archipelago consisting of over 700 islands. Due to the abundance of water, traditional Bahamian cuisine relies heavily on foods which can be gathered from the ocean. Seafood is a staple in The Bahamas. The national dish is conch (pronounced as ‘konk’), a large, tropical variety of sea snail. The mollusc’s flesh is firm and very pale in colour. There are plenty of ways to prepare and serve conch, including steaming, stewing or deep fried. Fresh, uncooked conch, scored open and sprinkled with spices and lime juice, is also a delectable treat.
Bahamian cuisine includes shellfish such as crabs and rock lobster. Rock lobsters are also known as spiny lobsters or crayfish and are usually served broiled, minced or in a salad. Crab species such as the Florida stone crab are eaten in many cultures, though crab dishes in The Bahamas are commonly served baked.
The other common seafood found in The Bahamas is, of course, fish. There is a huge range of ways to prepare fish, but a favourite traditional Bahamian dish is boiled fish served with grits. Large fish like grouper and bonefish can also be fried, sautéed, baked or grilled.
Despite the plentiful seafood, chicken, pork and goat are also popular meat dishes. Some tourist destinations offer chicken as an alternative to seafood to cater for guests with seafood allergies. Roasted iguana meat was once a popular meal; however, due to the species’ endangered status, iguanas are safely off the menu.
Soups are a mainstay of Caribbean cuisine, and The Bahamas are no exception. Many cultures have a fondness for soup, spawning endless combinations of ingredients. The most popular soups in The Bahamas include conch soup, split pea and ham soup, fish chowder, pepper pot stew and pea soup with dumplings and salt beef. For a uniquely Caribbean soup, the bold flavours of souse, a soup made from meat, water, onions, celery, lime juice and peppers, are a classic.
Tropical fruits are a key element of Bahamian cuisine, whether eaten on their own or as a delicious ingredient in a range of dishes. Pineapples, mangoes, guavas, passion fruit, sapodillas and papayas are all grown in The Bahamas. Papaya is one of the most versatile fruits, used in dessert, chutneys and tropical drinks. Papayas contain papain, an enzyme which breaks down tough meat fibres and is thus used as meat tenderiser. It is also a key ingredient in ‘Goombay’ marmalade, a Bahamian condiment made from papaya, pineapple and green ginger.
Dessert in The Bahamas is a very fruity affair, with nearly all traditional desserts containing tropical fruit. Fresh fruit is delightfully sweet on its own, but can also be baked into tarts, crumbles or any other baked goods. Duff is a traditional Bahamian dessert created by folding fruit, particularly guava, into dough and then boiling it.
As you’d expect of any tropical island, The Bahamas also offer an impressive range of beverages. Switcha is one of the most famous drinks and is made from native limes or lemon with added sugar and water. Coconut water is often served as light refreshment and can be blended with sweet milk and gin to make sky juice. Bahamian cuisine offers a range of other cocktails, including the Bahama Mama rum punch, the Goombay Smash, the Yellow Bird and the Planter’s Punch. Beer is also a popular beverage, served chilled to wash away the heat.
Each local eatery will have their own spin on Bahamian cuisine. The dishes are seasonal and change throughout the year as well. That’s part of the enjoyment – every meal is a new adventure in The Bahamas!