An Epicurean Journey: The Bahamas
Mysterious tales of Arawak Indians, Christopher Columbus, the Lucayans, and pirates floor various history books. It wasn’t until Christopher Columbus made landfall in 1498 that a magical new world, the Bahamas, was discovered. Over 700 breathtaking subtropical islands and 2400 cays are scattered throughout this vast archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean. The locals are friendly and love nothing more than to chat, dance, and eat.
As an island nation, the inhabitants are keen fishermen, farmers, and rum makers (amongst other things). They rely on the sea to give them the freshest seafood. Some of the most popular dishes are based around the conch. You’ll recognize the conch by its beautiful white spiral-shaped shell with a shiny pink and orange interior. Inside lives the edible Queen conch, a soft, slightly chewy sea snail that tastes like a cross between salmon, crab, and scallops. Most seafood enthusiasts enjoy the unique flavor and enjoy conch raw in salads or cooked in fritters.
Sailing around the Exumas Islands is a joy. There are seemingly endless unique islands and cays waiting to be discovered. Explore local markets for vibrantly colored tree-ripe tropical fruits such as avocado, banana, grapefruit, Persian lime, mango, pineapple, and coconut. You can also choose your vegetables from roadside sellers; there is an abundance of delicious tomatoes, squash, peanuts, and plantain to be had. You’ll find hot Bahamian sauces wherever you go. The islanders love to play with flavors and enjoy cooking with various herbs and spices. Don’t forget to try a johnnycake fresh off the grill; it’s a delicious cornmeal flatbread and the Bahamian equivalent of tortillas.
You will never be short of breathtaking views as you enjoy boat living in the Bahamas. Choose from diddy islands to mile-long sandbars, swimming pigs, and pastel-hued wooden cottages. No day is ever the same. You’ll come across local fishermen bringing home their line-caught wares. Your captain can negotiate a price for the freshest big-game tuna, mahi-mahi, blue or white marlin, wahoo, or colorful reef fish like grouper or snapper.
Farmer’s markets are a great way to buy fresh and organic produce. There is a melting-pot of farming and cottage industries across the Exumas islands. There is even a bee-keeping initiative supported by the Ministry of Agriculture that encourages apiarists to produce local honey. There are two suppliers on Exumas – Organic Honey Sanctuary and BeesNtrees.
Bahama Barrels is housed in an old church built by the Sisters of Charity in the early 1900s. Although the Bahamas isn’t a wine-producing country, Bahama Barrels perfectly blend wines from around the world. An experienced Californian winemaker runs interesting blending classes and happily explains the nuances of making great wine, including details about tannins, acidity, balance, and finish.
Sour oranges are an essential staple used in many dishes, one of the most well-known is the conch salad. The sour orange is just that. It’s bitter-sweet. When your chef prepares your conch salad, he’ll add tomato, cucumber, raw onion and soak it in freshly squeezed sour orange before serving it to you.
A meal is not complete without a serving of peas, beans, and rice. This traditional dish is served with fish, meat, and chicken throughout the Bahamas. Freshly prepared, the beans and peas provide a delicious kaleidoscope of colors. Pigeon peas are cooked with white long-grain rice seasoned with tomatoes, onions, fresh thyme, tomato paste, and salted pork or bacon. Peas n’ rice is mandatory. It’s quite different from other pea and rice dishes in the Caribbean.
Peas n’ Rice
1 small onion
1 small sweet pepper
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 strips cooked bacon
2 tbsp tomato paste
Three or four sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt & red pepper to taste
1 tsp browning sauce (optional)
1 chopped fresh tomato (optional)
1 large can of regular pigeon peas or pigeon peas in coconut milk
2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
3 cups water
Dice onion and sweet pepper
In a hard-bottom pot, heat up oil and fry onion, sweet pepper, and bacon along with the thyme.
Stir in tomato paste, add salt and pepper to taste (and optional browning and chopped tomato)
Add the pigeon peas and stir well, add water and bring to a boil. Season to taste.
Add the rice until it is about an inch and a half below the waterline
Stir well, lower the stove to medium with the pot uncovered
While the pot is simmering, stir at regular intervals
When the rice has absorbed most of the water, turn the stove to low heat and cover the pot
Leave to steam until fully cooked
Enjoy with meat or fish
Just like many Caribbean nations, fresh seafood is prevalent in the homes and restaurants of the Bahamas. The Bahamian food embraces an exciting mix of culture and history. The main dishes are seafood-based and combine various heady spices from West Africa and beyond. If you fancy a change of scene and just so happen to be anchored close to any of the following recommendations, pop in and savor their daily specials.
The Graycliff Restaurant
The first five-star restaurant in the Caribbean, The Graycliff Restaurant, is steeped in three millennia of history. The dining experience is a culinary journey in itself. Graycliff was once a private home with the staterooms expected in such grandeur. Dining in Graycliff begins in the lavish parlor with delicious signature cocktails. The restaurant has four dining rooms, a garden for balmy alfresco evenings under the stars, private dining in the wine cellar, and an interactive chef’s table. Choose from the library or the gallery and enjoy a variety of award-winning sumptuous Bahamian and European dishes. The dinner menu takes you through five leisurely courses of locally sourced food like conch and lobster. After dinner, take a cognac or a cigar from the collection from the in-house cigar makers.
Eponymously named and slightly eccentric, Café Matisse takes inspiration from Henri Matisse and his bold yet whimsical art. The colorful menu is a seamless combination of Italian and Bahamian cuisine. The spicy shrimp and mango salad and the local lobster salad with avocado, fennel, orange, and passion fruit sauce are great dishes to start dinner. Try the grilled mahi-mahi with sweet peppers, eggplant, and spicy tapenade sauce for mains and dessert; their grandma’s lemon tart with pine nuts is a must.
Freshly caught seafood and locally grown produce are served at this Bahamian waterfront restaurant, 1648. It overlooks Cupid’s Cay and Governor’s Harbor and enjoys spectacular sunsets most evenings. The Catch menu has deliciously local dishes such as grouper, mahi-mahi, or ahi tuna served with hearty portions of Bahamian peas n’ rice, sweet corn, fried plantains, coleslaw, and house remoulade.
Flying Fish Gastro Bar
Ask about Flying Fish, and you’ll get nothing but rave reviews. The gastro bar has a feeling of an upmarket English bar on the water’s edge. The chef and sommelier owners are passionate about the environment; they bottle their own still and sparkling water in recyclable glass bottles, which saves up to 10 bags of single-use plastic waste each week. They only serve fresh in-season sustainable seafood on their menu. They are aware that mismanagement of the ocean will destroy the Bahamian way of life and its economy. Their menu contains favorites from around the world. Sweet chili and lime conch bites, a fish burger made with cornmeal beer-battered mahi-mahi, coleslaw, avocado tartar sauce, served with fries and for dessert, save space for the local pineapple and coconut cheesecake.
The Fish Fry
For rustic appeal, try the Fishy Fry. Chefs in modern-day fish fry shacks and pop-up stands prepare traditional Bahamian food, everything from conch salad to guava duff and fried chicken to fish stew. Arawak Cay is home to a diverse array of restaurants to suit every taste. Some of the most popular eateries are Goldie’s, Oh Andros, and the Twin Brothers. The tradition of grilling local catches over fire pits dates back when European settlers introduced iron cauldrons to the thriving fish trade. The European appetite for salt cod was insatiable, meaning ships were sailing back and forth, and bustling ports emerged on the islands. The Fish Fry has grown from being an alfresco fish market to a recognized and authentic dining experience. Feast on conch, grouper, and snapper preparations, alongside traditional plantain and rice and pea sides.
Wherever you are in the Exumas Islands, be sure to explore beachside pastel-colored wooden villages, savor homemade artisanal food, sip iced rum or rub shoulders with the celebrities that come and go. Enjoy sailing around the islands and walking on footprint-free beaches.
Remember, “It’s Better in The Bahamas”