Let’s admit it: As much as we focus on the scenery, the excursions, the adventures and discoveries and amenities of a vacation’s destination, the most important variable is oftentimes the least-discussed—the cuisine. It’s understandable enough in nature: beautiful beaches and rainforest-covered mountains immediately captivate the imagination; a plate of food tends to require a growling stomach to elicit the same level of interest. But—do you think you’d be as excited to lounge idyllic in paradise if you only had instant oatmeal and microwave TV dinners? Bland has a way of seeping into other facets.
Luckily enough, great food and great escapes aren’t exclusive, especially in the Caribbean. These tropical waters hold breezy beaches, storied histories and cultures, but most importantly—island empires of flavor. For a starter course of islands well worth your consideration, here some of the best Caribbean islands for a food aficionado.
The island of Saint Martin is a verifiable two-for-one for gastronomic cultures. To the north, you have the French Republic of Saint Martin—and its fine French dining at the foundation of the island’s food culture. To the south is Sint Maarten, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Hopping back and forth between the border in the middle of the island allows you to mix and match the day’s meals however you’d like: Parisian pastries or crepes for breakfast, Johnny Cakes and barbeque everywhere on the island for lunch, conch and dumplings for dinner on the Dutch side. Pair any and all of the above with the island’s national libation—Guavaberry Liqueur. It’s as refreshingly decadent as it sounds.
“The Island of Spice” earns its nickname with authority. Nutmeg, ginger, bay leaf, clove, cinnamon, thyme, lemongrass and turmeric all grow like savory weeds—meaning it’s just as likely to find them in your meals. Pair this with a rich melting pot of cultures inspiring the island’s cuisine, and you can expect every menu to boast a mind-boggling variety of succulent curries and barbeque. Oil down, the island’s national dish (aptly named after how the coconut milk simmers down), is a medley of conch, crab, chicken, pigtail, dumplings, fruits and vegetables all bathed in coconut milk and spices within one pot—making it the number one meal you must try here.