Bahamas – A Foodie’s Checklist
Inspired by both American South and Caribbean flavours, the cuisine of The Bahamas is packed with seafood, fresh fruit and a generous amount of spice. With the diverse fusion of cultures found across the islands, one thing is guaranteed when it comes to Bahamian food – it is never bland. Discover the many highlights that this tropical location has to offer using this guide to the best culinary delights.
Abundant throughout the region’s waters, conch is a large sea snail with a spiral shell and is the national dish of The Bahamas. Its firm white meat is extremely versatile and can be prepared in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s served with a side of rice, deep fried in a fritter or even in a burger, this mollusc is a staple of the Bahamian diet and has been a favourite of locals for generations. A traditional dish is cracked conch, in which the meat is pounded, covered in a light batter and deep fried. Stewed conch can also be used to make a tomato-based chowder, or the meat can simply be served ceviche-style in a fresh salad with peppers, onions and tomatoes. Whatever form this unique shellfish takes, it is guaranteed to appear in some way on the menu of every authentic restaurant in The Bahamas.
One of the most common fruits grown in the Bahamas, guava is widely used to create preserves and jellies due to its abundance of the gelling agent pectin. With green skin and pink flesh, the vibrant fruit is sweet and juicy and can be enjoyed in various forms. The most famous is guava duff, a traditional Bahamian dessert with a cake-like texture. Sweet dough is smothered with fresh guava jam and rolled into a spiral shape before being boiled to release its aromatic flavours. The dessert is then drizzled with a butter rum sauce, making it an unmissable treat for anyone with a sweet tooth. For something more savoury, meat such as salmon or pork can be marinated in guava preserves before it is barbecued to add a rich, sticky flavour. Throughout the Bahamas it is common to find plenty of locals selling homemade guava jams which can even simply be enjoyed on toast.
The Bahamian island of Eleuthera was long hailed as a pineapple capital, once believed to be one of the largest producers of the fruit in the world. Grown on every island of The Bahamas, the pineapple is a common ingredient in many local dishes, and is often simply enjoyed on its own. Not only can it be used to make sweet desserts such as pineapple tart, it often features in the fruity cocktails synonymous with the tropical island region. Freshly squeezed, the juice of pineapples is combined with rum, coffee liqueur and lemon juice to create a Bahama Mama – the perfect refreshing cocktail to sip on a lush Bahamian beach. The Goombay Smash and Yellow Bird are also local favourites. The much revered pineapple is so loved by Bahamians that a festival celebrating the fruit has taken place annually since 1988, involving an array of activities such as a pineapple eating contest.
Macaroni and Cheese
Reflecting the American influence on Bahamian cuisine, this is mac and cheese as you’ve never seen it before. A popular comfort food which is served at almost every celebration, it is more solid than the rich, saucy American dish. The pasta is still smothered in generous helpings of cheese, but is combined with onions, bell peppers and of course plenty of spices – sometimes jalapeños are added for an extra kick. Thickened with eggs and evaporated milk, the mixture is then poured into a pan and baked in the oven. Once cooked, it is cut into squares and despite its more solid texture still has a gooey, cheesy centre. Locals often eat this spicy twist on mac and cheese as a side dish to accompany either lunch or dinner, and it is a common component of parties, holidays and large family gatherings.
Somewhere between a stew and a soup, souse is a rich dish that embodies the robust flavours of Bahamian cuisine. The large chunks of meat that form the basis of souse are most commonly chicken, but can also be an array of unusual alternatives such as pig’s feet or sheep’s tongue. A hearty mixture of onions, peppers, carrots, celery and potatoes are seasoned with bay leaves, allspice and lime juice to create this aromatic local favourite. Traditionally, the stew is served with a slice of lime and some chilli on the side which you can add to your own taste. It may also be served alongside another Bahamian delicacy – the Johnny Cake – an authentic baked cornbread. Many traditional Bahamian restaurants serve homemade souse, and it can even be found being served by the side of the road.
Peas n’ Rice
The classic combination of pigeon peas and rice is a staple side dish to many Bahamian meals. Originally cooked by farmers as a nutritious one-pot meal during the early 20th century, it now often accompanies fish or meat and can be eaten at any time of the day. The peas – more so resembling kidney beans in appearance – are cooked in spice-infused water and combined with rice, tomatoes, onions and more spices. To transform this tasty side dish into a main meal, salt pork is often added. This dish is popular throughout the whole of the Caribbean and is served in many modern restaurants, but its ingredients can vary according to region. Many would say that a trip to the Bahamas, or even a Bahamian meal alone, is not complete without ordering peas n’ rice – good thing it’s hard to find a restaurant in The Bahamas that doesn’t serve it.
Bahamian Hot Patty
Reminiscent of a Cornish pasty or empanada, Bahamian patties are a popular snack not only in The Bahamas but also across the Caribbean. Made out of shortcrust pastry cut into circles and folded over the filling to form a classic semi-circular patty shape, the filling can vary between different meats and vegetables. There is no set recipe for the filling, but some popular fillings include minced beef, vegetables, salt fish and chicken – unique variations of the recipe are usually passed down through generations of a family. As with almost all Bahamian dishes, there is of course an element of spice in most versions. These tasty bites of authentic Caribbean flavour are perfect for an on the go snack and are generally sold at small shops and supermarkets across the Bahamas.
Rum has been synonymous with the tropical beaches of the Caribbean ever since pirates arrived at the island’s shores carrying the liquor hundreds of years ago. In the 1920s, The Bahamas became a rum smuggling hotspot, transporting the spirit illegally to the USA when it was banned for 14 years. Given the region’s deep and colourful history with rum, what better way to celebrate it than by combining it with cake? Rum cake is a traditional holiday season dessert in much of the Caribbean, but in The Bahamas it can be enjoyed all year round. It is traditionally baked in a round Bundt pan and features lashings of rum both in the cake mixture and as part of the sauce drizzled on top. Unlike traditional Caribbean rum cakes which are made from fruit that has been soaked in rum for months, the Bahamian version is usually a simple rum-infused sponge, but fruit can sometimes be added.
Although not technically a food, no visit to The Bahamas would be complete without a drink of refreshing switcha. The traditional version of Bahamian lemonade has been a part of the region’s heritage for hundreds of years and is made from a simple but effective combination of local lemons, limes, water and cane sugar. Its fresh, zingy taste makes it the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer’s day as you soak in the Bahamian sunshine with the sand between your toes. Switcha is commonly made fresh at local cafés and restaurants in The Bahamas, but it has also become the brand name of a bottled version of the drink which is available in supermarkets across the islands. Locals enjoy it as an accompaniment to their favourite foods – perfect to wash down conch fritters, Bahamian mac and cheese and of course peas n’ rice.
Also known as spiny lobsters, rock lobsters are another tasty offering from deep in the tropical waters of The Bahamas. Unlike the lobsters that inhabit colder seas, they have no claws and live in crevices between rocks and coral reefs. Spiny lobsters are The Bahamas’ most important export, estimated to bring in more than $70 million per year to the country’s economy. There is no end to the ways in which the tender white meat of the lobster can be prepared. It can simply be boiled or streamed and eaten out of the shell or added to a salad for a refreshing lunch. Patties can be made from its versatile meat, it can be fried, grilled or even used in hearty Creole-style sauces. With the numerous varieties of dishes that they can be transformed into, it is clear to see why spiny lobsters are so sought after.
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