In Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts, fresh fish is sold directly from local fishing boats, market stalls display a colorful range of tropical fruit and there’s always something interesting cooking on roadside barbecues. If you love to eat and drink, here are some of the local specialties to look out for in St. Kitts.
You shouldn’t leave St. Kitts without trying its national dish of salt fish and Johnny cakes. The salted, dried cod fish was easily preserved on ships that sailed the Caribbean many years ago. Salt fish is flaky cod fish stewed in a sauce of onions, tomatoes and peppers. It’s served with a Johnny cake (originally a “journey” cake since it would be eaten at breakfast or on your way to work), a deep-fried cornmeal dough ball that’s best eaten fresh.
In Port Zante, the street food stall (behind the post office) run by Ms. Moore is reputed to offer the best Johnny cakes in town. They’re served in a large size like a bread roll, with a filling of salt fish or chicken. You’ll also find vendors on Fort Street in Basseterre selling salt fish and Johnny cakes as a takeaway lunch with their traditional accompaniment of white coconut dumplings, plantains and breadfruit.
While lobster might be considered a luxury in many parts of the world, it abounds in the waters around St. Kitts and can be found in some form on practically every menu. Grilled lobster on the beach is a can’t-miss St. Kitts experience; try it at the relaxed Reggae Beach Bar & Grill or the more upscale Spice Mill, both at Cockleshell Bay, where many cruise visitors like to spend the day. In Basseterre you’ll also find lobster on the menu at Ballahoo. In addition to lobster, you’ll have a wide choice of local seafood such as mahi-mahi, coconut shrimp and grilled grouper.
Every Caribbean island has its favorite rum, and St. Kitts is no exception. You’ll be offered a deceptively strong rum punch at every opportunity, and each bar takes pride in its own special blend of rum, fruit juices, cane sugar, bitters and a sprinkling of nutmeg. You’ll find Belmont Estate and Brinley Gold Shipwreck as the locally produced rum brands; they come in mango, coffee, lime and coconut, and can be found in the duty-free stores and bars. Or try the clear CSR, a rum made from cane juice; it is often combined with the local grapefruit soda to make a Ting with a Sting.
When people think of roti they mostly think of whole-wheat bread that is similar to the naan served with Indian dishes. But in the Caribbean, roti is more of a wrap sandwich. Originally an Indian dish, a soft chapatti (roti or unleavened bread) is wrapped around a filling of chicken, shrimp or vegetables tossed in a light curry sauce. These wildly popular snacks are on many lunchtime menus in Basseterre, or try it at Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack on the Frigate Bay strip or at Reggae Beach Bar & Grill at Cockleshell Bay.
Another seafood item that you’ll find on restaurant and beach bar menus is conch, a large sea snail with a pretty pink shell. The conch has a chewy texture, so it’s chopped finely and mixed with a flour and egg batter to make delicious deep-fried conch fritters, served with a piquant dipping sauce. Another tasty dish is conch chowder, a creamy soup with garlic and finely chopped vegetables served in a bread bowl. Try conch fritters and conch chowder at Ballahoo in Basseterre.
Spicy jerk chicken and pork is served all over the Caribbean. On St. Kitts you’ll find street-food vendors cooking barbecued meat over oil drums along Bay Road, on the seafront of Basseterre. Many stalls set up on Fridays and Saturdays, when Kittitian’s love to buy their favorite cooked meats for a weekend dinner. Take time to check out a few different vendors; they sometimes have traditional dishes such as black pudding and goat water (which is actually a spicy stew of goat meat and breadfruit). Wash it all down with fresh coconut water from a green coconut sold at the roadside stalls.
If you have a sweet tooth, look out for guava cheese, a jelly sweet made of guava fruit puree, sugar and lime juice that has a mouthwatering sweet-and-sour flavor. Once set, the jelly is cut into pieces, sprinkled with sugar and sold in bags by street vendors or supermarkets. Be sure to buy a couple of bags, because the first will be empty by the time you’re back on board. Sugar cake is often made in the homes of local Kittitians. It’s a crumbly cookie made from coconut and cane sugar, spiced with ginger and sometimes studded with peanuts. You’ll find it sold by many street-food vendors around the streets of Basseterre.
Vegetarians, vegans and those looking for healthy food choices should take a short taxi ride from the port to Ital Creations, a small organic farm that sells positively delicious vegetarian dishes, juices and smoothies from a trailer just off the main road. It’s on the bypass road close to the airport (look out for the yoga sign); you might also stop here as part of an island taxi tour. At lunchtime you’ll find veggie burgers and wraps topped with hummus and avocado, or order one of the homemade banana or carob cakes washed down with a bottle of red sorrel juice or a moringa smoothie. While it’s being prepared, take a look at the trees loaded with mangos and papayas and walk between the vegetable beds.
Market stalls selling fresh fruit are dotted around the streets of Basseterre, but you can get your fruit fix in the form of a chilled fruit smoothie. Seek out the colorful Refresh Juice Bar van on Bank Street for smoothies made with frozen yogurt and fresh fruit puree; try the St. Kittitian with mango, guava and strawberry. Our banana, guava and strawberry smoothie was so cold it made our brains freeze (but in a good way!)
As you settle into the relaxed Caribbean vibe, pick up a locally brewed Carib, which is made just outside Basseterre at the Carib brewery. Smooth and thirst-quenching, this is an easy-drinking lager. The same brewery offers the slightly more robust Stag and Skol. For local soft drinks, look out for Ting, a refreshing grapefruit soda, and Peardrella, a fizzy pear soda that is often used as a mixer, or the fatigue-busting Ginseng Up, with energizing Korean ginseng. You can get these drinks at most local bars and restaurants.