The Caribbean encompasses more than 7,000 islands, so it’s no surprise that the cuisine found across this archipelago is diverse, unique, and – for many of us – exotic. Think soup spiked with cow heels and stews simmered with pig innards.
So next time you find yourself on a Caribbean beach, stray from the piña coladas and jerk chicken every once in while. Be brave, eat local and try some of these local delicacies – no matter how bizarre they might seem.
Puerto Rico: Gandinga
Not for the faint of appetite, vegetarians or anyone else who isn’t a big fan of pork, gandinga is a hefty stew of pig parts slowly simmered in a big cauldron. The Spanish comfort food is made with liver, kidneys and hearts in a garlicky tomato sauce, and it shares a plate with boiled green bananas and white rice. If you need motivation to convince yourself to chow down on organ meats, this no-waste sustainable stew is rich in protein..
Turks and Caicos: Pistols
Colorless and odorless, pistols are the wiggly private parts of a queen conch – and yes, you eat them raw. Those with picky palates might prefer fritters or chowder over pistols, which taste a bit like rubbery clams, although local Casanovas recommend couples in the mood suck down the nutrient-laden translucent appendages as a natural fertility enhancer. Just ask Zab-Zab, father of eight and conch expert who harvests 50 pistols a day from his perch on Blue Hills Beach.
Jamaica: Solomon Gundy
Solomon Gundy is the nosh of choice with a Red Stripe or afternoon tea; it’s so coveted by locals that it’s known as “Caribbean caviar.” On the island where spicy food reigns supreme, the punched-up pâté is a fiery mishmash of Scotch Bonnet peppers, smoked red herring (mackerel or shad are reasonable stand-ins) and spices that vary according to the chef’s whim. It’s perfectly acceptable to add a schmear or two of cream cheese or sweet roasted breadfruit to take the heat down a notch. For a souvenir more fun than another Bob Marley t-shirt, pick up a jar on your way back to the airport.
Cucacao: Keshi Yena
View this post on Instagram
BONUS! I was so fascinated by #KeshiYena that I wanted to take a pic of it cut open. It reminds me a little bit of a dumpling. 🤷🏼♀️ Inside, you can see the chicken and prunes, and in the sauce there is a bit of celery. Great dish btw, highly recommend if you’re ever in #Aruba! 🇦🇼🍽 . . . #arubanfood #islandlife #onehappyisland #westdeck #delicious #yum #foodstagram #international #eat #foodie #chicken #cheese #veggies #tomatosauce #oranjestad #cuisine #crosssection #conchfritters #pickledonions #hotsauce #coconutshrimp #cashews #prunes #celery #caribbean #caribbeanfood #tropical #retiredvegetarian
Catnip for cheese lovers, Keshi Yena is a national treasure in Aruba and Curacao. Meaning “stuffed cheese” in Papiamento, the local language, this hearty mélange of sautéed chicken, raisins, piquant peppers and salty olives is baked in a hollowed out waxy Gouda or Edam shell and served either in the shell or plated with plantains. The gooey, cheesy casserole was born during the slave trade and today has outgrown those humble beginnings as a menu mainstay in ritzy restaurants and at upscale hotels. Not an eat-and-run kind of meal, it’s best enjoyed when you’re really hungry or have already decided to skip dessert.
Tobago: Cow Heel Soup
Like clockwork every Saturday, people in Tobago are slurping piping hot bowls of cow heel soup pumped up with dumplings, yams, split peas, sweet potatoes and a salty pigtail. As Tobagonian as Swag beer on a sunny afternoon, this starchy soup is cringe-worthy for those who don’t fancy eating cow feet, but the heel is surprisingly tender after eight hours in a slow cooker or two hours in a pot. The Saturday staple is so popular that restaurants like After Hours in Crown Point take advance orders on Tuesday.
Dominican Republic: Mamajuana
Not your typical thirst-quencher, mamajuana or “el para pol” – which in English means to “lift the stick” – predates rum as one of the first spirits distilled in the Americas. Blended with rum, red wine and honey that soaks for weeks in a bottle with tree bark and herbs, the potent potion is a rumored aphrodisiac that locals swear is better than the little blue pill. Downed as a shot, the heady spirit is sold in painted bottles in Santo Domingo and in gift shops at the all-inclusives in Punta Cana. For maximum results, those looking to increase their mojo add octopus bits, and although it may not be the prettiest drink at the party, connoisseurs claim it’s worth a try.