St. Lucia offers a variety of food options to suit just about any palate, from the gourmet to the gourmand or the mac-and-cheese-addicted child. Freshly-caught fish and seafood abound, combined with locally-grown seasonings, vegetables and traditional Caribbean preparations, making for healthy, delicious, and unique culinary experiences. Some popular dishes are found in different forms on other Caribbean islands, but St. Lucia puts its own twist on food. Even if you think you know what Callaloo or Shark & Bake tastes like, you haven't tried it until you've tasted it here.
Green Figs & Salt Fish
The national dish of St. Lucia is the dynamic duo known as "green figs and salt fish". The "figs" are actually unripe bananas, peeled and sauteed with garlic, onions, celery, and peppers. If the combo of bananas and garlic don't sound appealing, never fear. Unripened bananas are not sweet and taste more like potatoes than the yellow bananas we're used to putting in cereal and eating as an on-the-go snack. Unripe, the bananas are much starchier and harder, with less banana flavor. Green Figs & Salt Fish also features salt fish, rinsed thoroughly to drain out most of the salt, then flaked and sauteed with the bananas and vegetables. It is a hearty, filling meal for lunch or dinner, but I even ate it for breakfast while I was there. Bananas, green and ripened, are abundant on St. Lucia and are the island's primary crop for export.
Floats & Bakes
"Bakes" are a popular form of bread in St. Lucia, made with a round of plain flour dough that is bake or fried. When baked, it has a taste similar to English muffins, not sweet, but dense, chewy and hearty. You can eat them on their own, or with a variety of fillings to form a handy sandwich-like snack. Add a little powdered sugar or jam, and you have a breakfast treat. Much of the street food sold at markets and stands in St. Lucia has a bake filled with a meat or fish filling.
Shark & Bake
The same dough recipe can be deep-fried to create a "float", a popular base for St. Lucian street food like Shark and Bake. Shark and Bake, as the name connotes, is a mixture of fish and stewed vegetables eaten as a sandwich. I'm not sure if the fish meat was actually shark or something else, but it tasted good. Other islands may have originated and popularize this version of the fish sandwich, but St. Lucians have adapted a version all their own.
Callaloo is a dark green leafy vegetable that comes from the leaves of the taro plant. St. Lucians use it in place of spinach or kale, and when cooked up, it produces a smoky-flavored addition to fish or seafood dishes. Combined with mashed dasheen (taro root), the leaves form a thick, green, flavorful soup base for crab or other seafood. It reminded me of the Seaweed Soup my mom makes, both in taste and texture. My travel companion, Julia, tried the Callaloo crab soup, which was a little hard to eat since the crab meat had to be extracted from the tiny crab legs. She said it was worth the effort, even though some of it ended up on her lovely white dress. I had Callaloo and Snapper at one meal, which was a mixture of snapper sauteed with callaloo leaves. The leaves were similar in taste to cooked chard or kale, with none of the bitterness.
Places to Dine
Throughout St. Lucia, there are open-air stands selling a variety of ready-to-eat local delicacies, like shark and bake, roast pork, and bakes. Grab a foil-wrapped Shark & Bake for an inexpensive, hearty meal on the go. On Friday nights, Trios Restaurant at Bay Gardens Beach Resort offers up their parking lot to a food and music festival called "Calaloo Fridays" with food stands featuring typical street food, the ubiquitous Pitons Beer, music and Carnival bands showing off their elaborate costumes and dance moves. This is a fun and inexpensive way to try out a variety of St. Lucian delicacies.
For a fine-dining experience with a pan-Caribbean flair, check out Trios Restaurant at the Bay Gardens Beach Resort in Rodney Bay. Featuring locally grown fresh vegetables and fresh fish dishes from the sea, Trios offers excellent seafood, jerk-style chicken, and hearty vegetarian dishes in a romantic, tropical setting frequented by locals and visitors alike. I enjoyed the Crab Chowder served in a coconut shell bowl, with large chunks of crab and vegetable in a coconut-based broth. The Trios Snapper was served with three sauces that all complemented the fish and mashed sweet potatoes well. For dessert, try the Fruitcake, which is more the color and consistency of gingerbread than the Christmas doorstop that we think of as fruitcake.
Pumpkin seem to be a favorite ingredient among St. Lucian chefs, who use it for a spicy soup, a base for vegetarian dishes, and for dessert treats like pumpkin pie.
St. Lucians share a long history of trade with India, and nearly 40% of St. Lucians have some Indian ancestry. It's only fitting that one of the top new restaurants in St. Lucia is the acclaimed Spice of India. Spice of India offers tradional Indian food served with a dramatic flair. We had what seemed like a suptuous 90 course meal at Spice of India, and no one at the table could stop eating. From the luscious, creamy butter chicken to flavorful deconstructed samosas to perfectly-grilled tandoori chicken to the deep-fried chocolate cake at the end, every bite was a new twist on some familar Indian dishes. This is not your mother's chicken tikka masala, and you might not ever want to go back to it after dining at Spice of India. This restaurant was voted #1 by TripAdvisor, and for good reason: the food is simply out of this world.
If you just can't take all this exotic goodness, and have a hankering for some good old American fast food, there is a KFC, a Domino's and even a Subway in Rodney Bay. McDonald's, however, has not made it into St. Lucia yet, so you'll have to wait to get to the airport in Miami or New York to get your Big Mac on.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life - and travel - leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks - on your body or on your heart - are beautiful.”
Disclosure: Food and accommodations for my trip to St. Lucia were paid for by Bay Gardens Resorts. I did not receive any additional financial incentive or compensation for writing this post. All opinions expressed are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Bay Gardens Resorts.
Photos: Copyright Glennia Campbell/The Silent I. All Rights Reserved.