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Tasting the Bahamas

There are lots of ways to experience the Bahamas, but none is more delicious than digging into the islands’ regional cuisine. You’ll find influences from all over Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and North America in Bahamian food — think fiery local peppers, heady aromatics and sweet spices. However, most dishes have their roots in the southern U.S., England and West Africa. “Our history is reflected in our cuisine,” says Nassau native Anna Bancroft, marketing and  sales manager with the food tour and cooking class company, Tru Bahamian Food Tours. “The colonists came from England in the 17th century; American loyalists arrived about 100 years later. Both groups brought slaves and liberated Africans with them. Flavors from those three groups have evolved into our go-to dishes.”

What to Eat

The Bahamas’ national food is conch, and it’s eaten in a variety of ways: breaded and deep fried (called “cracked”); stewed or in a chowder; diced into conch fritters or as conch salad, a concoction of raw chopped conch, tomatoes, onion, green pepper and hot pepper, all dressed with citrus juice and salt. Bahamians are also adept at creating soups and stews with goat, fish or chicken, all made with a punchy seasoning blend of tomatoes, onions, goat peppers (similar to the fiery Scotch bonnet) and green pepper. A variation is souse, a clear-broth chicken or sheep-tongue soup fragrant with bay leaves and allspice and zesty with lime juice.

You’ll also find all matter of seafood, too, that’s been grilled, baked, steamed, broiled and fried. Snapper, wahoo, hogfish and mahi mahi are available year round; the season for Nassau grouper runs March through November and crawfish — the Bahamian name for local spiny lobster — is from August through April. Dull-sounding “boiled fish,” is actually a fragrantly comforting blend of fresh white fish, celery, onions, potatoes, cloves, lime juice and hot peppers, simmered until the liquid reduces into sauce. It’s served for breakfast, lunch and dinner with grits.

In the Bahamas, sides can make the meal; look for pigeon peas and rice cooked in that spicy tomato mixture; cole slaw; banana-like plantains, which are sliced on the diagonal and sautéed in butter until caramelized and dense macaroni and cheese that’s served in wedges. Compact and sweet, johnnycake is a cross between a bread and a cake that comes with breakfast.

The best-loved dessert in the Bahamas is a steamed cake called a duff. Closely related to English figgy pudding, Bahamian duff is usually filled with sweet guava paste and liberally doused with creamy rum sauce.

Where to Find It

Home to Nassau, New Providence Island is the country’s most populated, and it offers the widest variety of Bahamian cuisine.  

Restaurants

Three generations of women own and run Bahamian Cookin’, which has been serving up local specialties from a casual and friendly downtown Nassau location since 1986. At the other end of the spectrum is Graycliff, an 18th-century mansion that’s been transformed into a boutique hotel and the island’s most elegant restaurant. It’s a chance to taste what happens to Bahamian flavors in the hands of a classically-trained chef.

Fish Fries

Arawak Cay and Potters Cay are the locations of Nassau’s two best-known “fish fries”, the ubiquitous groupings of seafood stalls and shacks that, at night, often transform into impromptu street festivals complete with music and dancing. Here, it’s all about grazing: You might pop into one for a cold Kalik, the local beer, another for a plate brimming with too-hot-to-touch conch fritters and a third for a bowl of boiled fish. In Arawak Cay, which is situated about 15 minutes west of downtown, don’t miss Goldie’s Conch House, Twin Brothers and Oh Andros; McKenzie’s and Rev’s are some of the go-tos under the bridge from Paradise Island to Nassau in Potters Cay.

Beach Shacks + Food Trucks

Nassau is sprinkled with popup eateries that specialize in local staples; many, like Conchie Joe’s just east of downtown on Montagu Beach and Dino’s Gourmet Conch Salad (originator of the fruit-studded “tropical” conch salad trend), are well-known island traditions. Crabs & Ting is located on Junkanoo Beach in downtown Nassau.

Bakeries

If your restaurant of choice doesn’t offer guava duff for dessert, head to the Swiss Pastry Shop, where you’ll also find a selection of patties, savory meat-filled turnovers that originated in Jamaica but are popular in the Bahamas.

Tru Bahamian Food Tours offers the “Bites of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour” Monday through Saturday that stops at several local restaurants.

Other Islands

Nassau isn’t the only island in the Bahamas populated by top-notch local cooks and chefs.

There’s usually a line at Queen Conch, the Harbour Island conch salad stand that’s as famous for its quick-handed staff members as it is for super-fresh conch salad. On Friday nights, Eleuthera’s Anchor Bay is the site of a traditional fish fry; for sit-down dining, try the Buccaneer Club. On Grand Bahama Island, Freeport’s Da Conch Man turns out everything from fresh conch salad to conch fritters and fried crawfish from a bright yellow shack near the Port Lucaya Marketplace. Cleveland’s Beach Club serves Bahamian food — think fried whole fish, conch fritters and crawfish on a shady deck overlooking the ocean near Mather Town. The Abacos comprise dozens of islands; on Elbow Cay, On Da Beach is a quick bike ride from Hope Town; try fresh mahi (the off-menu fish melt is a winner) with peas and rice and mac and cheese. Across the sound, in Marsh Harbour, Ju’Novia’s serves traditional Bahamian breakfast staples like souse, fish stew and johnnycake alongside American-style pancakes and eggs. Grand Exuma is studded with local restaurants including Shirley’s, the top choice at the island’s Friday fish fry, and the colorful Shoreline Beach Club.

What to Drink

Beyond local beers and tropical daiquiris, yellow birds and Bahama mamas, consider trying Sky Juice. Called a Gully Wash in Freeport, it’s a sweet blend of fresh coconut water, gin and sweetened condensed milk, shaken and served over ice topped with a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon.  

Hungry for a Bahamas food getaway? Let your AAA Travel Agent help you plan your escape. Stop by your local AAA office today.