While sight and sound are primary senses when on vacation, local restaurants provide you with the opportunity to experience the island through taste. Enjoying our local cuisine is not just about having a fulfilling meal, but also about learning the history of Sint Maarten through what’s on your plate. What would a perfect local dish consist of, you may ask? First of all, to enjoy good local food, it is ideal to be in good company. Second, in the background should be the sweet sounds of soca or calypso, played at a volume not too loud as to drown out conversation. And third, there should not be plans scheduled afterward to which you would have to rush off.
Don’t Forget the Sides
Now that we’ve set the scene, what’s on the plate? Starting with the sides (everyone’s favorite, right?), you can choose from Johnny cakes, rice and peas, coleslaw, and fried plantain. These dishes provide the perfect sideshow to the main act, be it barbecue chicken, grilled Red Snapper, stew conch, or creole shrimp. Any space for dessert? In St. Maarten, we love a good tart. Common debates are about which flavor reigns supreme—especially around Christmas time when the debates may also include whose grandmother or aunt makes the best tarts in town. It often comes down to guava, guavaberry, or coconut. We’ll let you decide which one should be the winner.
The combination of different cultures throughout St. Maarten’s history has resulted in a variety of local spots popping up on the island. With a high flux of regional migration to the island, restaurants reflect St. Maarten’s diverse population makeup. With the majority originating from other islands within the region, the best thing they’ve brought with them is their genuine love for food. Our local traditions are similar to those of our sister Caribbean nations, but also different in the most delicious of ways. The influence of Jamaica’s Rastafarian movement promotes an ital diet, a plant-based diet in which its chefs will surely give you a lesson on nutrition. All of these influences, Caribbean cultures, and identities, come together and are celebrated by St. Maarten within our local cuisine.
You can find these local restaurant spots all over the island, but keep in mind most are traditionally open for lunchtime. And when it comes to testing out the local cuisine, it’s not just about what time of the day it is, but also what time of the year. During our carnival festivities in April and May of every year, local chefs take up shop in the Festival Village. With over 70 booths to choose from in one convenient location, carnival time brings out the most traditional and experimental of local cuisine. Not around for the festival? No problem! Visit the Simpson Bay Food Court in the main parking lot of Simpson Bay. This outdoor food market tries to recreate the atmosphere of Festival Village year-round.
Just one more tip… bring an appetite.