Where can you find local food with European, American, Latin, and African influences? The Caribbean, of course! Caribbean food is one of the most international cuisines in the world, and nobody knows how to make it better than the locals.
Take a short stroll away from the bustling tourism districts of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, and you will quickly find an open-air restaurant serving the flavorful local cuisine of the tropics. Most plates consist of fried chicken or fish, a small salad with perhaps a slice of avocado, peas n’ rice, and a sticky-sweet lump of friend plantain for dessert. There is nothing quite so relaxing as tasting a home-style Caribbean meal while watching the Trade Winds tousle the palms and listening to the smooth local accent softly spoken in a corner.
Local food can also be discovered in less stationary settings. Meet Frances, a resident of the island of Sint Maarten. Born and raised on St. Kitts, Frances moved to Sint Maarten 30 years ago with her husband, who relocated for work. She can work wonders in the kitchen. I met Frances at a local art show, where she was selling delicious meat patties, pies, puddings, and cakes for her home business, Secnarf’s Place. She told me that she stayed up all night to make fresh-baked goodies for her booth. She doesn’t mind the work, though, because she loves what she does. “I like to use my hands,” she says, “It’s like a work of art.” My taste buds agree as I bite into a chicken patty and taste the island goodness of fried dough and spiced meat.
On a small island with limited space, recycling is a necessity. For this reason, you will discover many island food vendors selling their culinary creations from retired vans, shipping containers, and even planes. Take a drive through downtown Philipsburg, and take your pick of creative restaurants. Here is a building constructed around a small Dutch aircraft, there is a truck selling johnny cakes and ribs. Further down the road is a trailer decorated like a charming retro kitchen. From these confined cooking spaces come lamb kabobs, fried conch, and a plethora of other local snacks.
The marketplace is a great place to find local produce and the daily catch. At the Marigot market, fishermen hawk their wares at open-air booths. Women push carts full of the fruit of backyard trees. Market vendors sell Caribbean spice blends in hand-painted jars. The coconut man hacks off the tops of his freshly-picked fruit for passersby, who sip the sweet milk through straws.
Fine Caribbean dining, too, is available in the tourism districts. While many of these restaurants may cater to the tastes of American and European travelers rather than that of local diners, they still retain the essence of the tropics. These restaurants are the perfect place to eat a freshly caught deep-sea fish, and some even give you the chance to catch your own dinner on a boating excursion.