You may have visited St. Lucia’s iconic twin Piton mountains or bathed in the Sulphur Springs at Soufrière’s drive-in volcano on your last cruise, but you haven’t really experienced the island-nation until your lips have tasted some of its most unique eats.
When Onboard.com’s Caribbean guru Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon cruises to St. Lucia, here are the top four items on her must-try list.
1. Banana Ketchup
That’s not a typo! At first mention, St Lucia’s most popular condiment likely sounds like a culinary experiment gone awry; but believe me, you need to taste it before you judge it. Somehow, the golden blend of locally grown bananas, sugar, vinegar and spices – spiked with just a smidge of tomato paste – comes together to make a spicy-sweet ambrosia. The concoction accompanies traditional ketchup-catchers like burgers, fries and hot dogs, and also works as a sandwich dressing, dip and marinade for meat and fish.
Banana ketchup originated in the Philippines during a World War II tomato shortage, and St. Lucia is the only Caribbean country where the ketchup is bottled. Baron is the oldest brand–and my favorite–and can be found along with other labels in local supermarkets. At less than $10 a bottle, it’s an authentic and … ahem … a-peel-ing taste of the island.
2. Piton beer
What’s the only thing better than seeing the Pitons up close and personal on your next cruise? Seeing them with an ice-cold bottle of Piton beer in your hand!
While you might not have heard of it until now, the twin peak’s namesake beer has been around since 1992, racking up a raft of international beer awards for its self-described “hoppy, floral flavor,” “easy drinkability” and “ester aroma.” Truthfully, I wouldn’t recognize an ester aroma if it was an inch from my nose, but I can vouch for the clean, crisp taste that makes a Piton the perfect refresher on a steamy afternoon.
3. Cassava Cakes
Heading out on an island tour to Soufrière? On the way there from the cruise port is a tasty gem called Plas Kassav, in the village of Canaries on the west coast. From early in the morning this tiny bakery, precipitously perched on the mountainside main road, provides delicious sustenance for travelers who flock here for its tasty breads.
Prepared from scratch in the back of the humble store, the bread is made with organic flour from the starchy root vegetable cassava (also known as manioc) and oven-baked, never fried. Hearty, pancake-size rounds come in 10 sweet and savory flavors, including: cinnamon; cherry and raisin; coconut; and saltfish. And since they’re just three bucks apiece, why not try them all? Though the cassava cakes are best when they’re piping hot from the oven, you can also pick them up at markets and grocery stores all over the island.
If you could eat a cloud I bet it’d taste a lot like bakes, one of St. Lucians’ favorite snacks. Despite the name, these slightly sweet golden spheres of dough aren’t baked in an oven but are deep-fried into puffs of deliciousness, split in two, and eaten with savory fillings such as fried fish or cheese. And while they’re traditionally enjoyed at breakfast (with salted and stewed cod fish), they’ve become an anytime island snack, sometimes sprinkled with sugar or daubed with jam for a sweet treat.
Similar to Jamaica’s Johnny cakes, and a bit like a Caribbean version of the American biscuit, bakes are basically a combo of flour, butter, sugar and salt, leavened with baking soda and yeast to make them float to the top of the skillets of bubbling oil they’re fried in (which is why they’re also know as “floats”).
You may be able to find them in restaurants but the best bakes are sold on the street by roadside vendors for breakfast or lunch. Carb-laden and unapologetically deep-fried, bakes aren’t exactly diet food; but trust me, these delicious discs of dough are worth every calorie.