The Virgin Islands boast a whirlwind of picturesque beach landscapes and fun and exciting things to do. Meanwhile, if you find yourself famished after your activities, be sure to step out and try some dishes that infuse local culture and regional influences in the most delicious of ways. The following guide introduces you to traditional dishes of the USVI that are sure to whet your appetite. Bon Appétit!
Fish & Fungi
Fish & Fungi is the national dish and a main staple of the islands. It is the epitome of Virgin Islands fare, and its creation dates back to Danish rule when salt herring and cornmeal were commonly used as a foundation for other dishes. Fungi (pronounced foon-gee) is a tender, polenta-like dumpling prepared from salted cornmeal mixed with shortening and water. Scoops of Fungi are usually served with generous portions of fish fillets or meat.
Delicious and simple, Johnny cakes are as popular in the Caribbean as French fries are in the United States. Originating in West Indian culture, these versatile treats can be enjoyed as a snack or included with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ubiquitous in the homes and
restaurants of the Virgin Islands, these well-loved flour based and deep fried treats often accompany traditional cuisines such as buljol, souse, BBQ chicken, pot fish, curried dishes, and a number of other island favorites.
Cow Heel Soup
Cow Heel Soup, sometimes called cow foot soup, is a hearty soup that uses – you guessed it – the heel from a cow. African-influenced and considered a comfort food, it usually features yummy, filling vegetables such as okra, potatoes and carrots. Cow heel soup is also flavored with herbs, spices, flour dumplings, and the main event – tender and gelatinous cow heel marbled with pieces of beef. It’s the chicken soup variation of the Caribbean!
Callaloo is a renowned Caribbean soup or stew that that has West African roots. It has a base derived from chicken broth deliciously littered with leaves from the dasheen plant or some other healthy green such as spinach. Cooks often stir in meat, okra, hot and black peppers and thyme to make Callalo flavorful. Upon slurping it, you will find that its taste is slightly reminiscent of New Orleans gumbo. Callaloo is often served over a ball of fungi, and it is sometimes paired with boiled plantains or salt fish.
Although Fish & Fungi is considered the national dish of the Virgin Islands, one flavorful sea snail is widely embraced, too. That would be the conch, and it appears on the menu of nearly every restaurant that serves local cuisine. Fishermen harvest fresh conch (pronounced conk), and people consider conch fritters, which are battered and fried conch balls, an island favorite. This finger food is usually served up and enjoyed with a spicy and creamy, ketchup-based sauce or creole remoulade.
Another popular food that is snacked on besides conch is pates. Similar to Spanish empanadas, pates (pronounced pah tays) are light fare and one of the most common foods consumed in the USVI. Visitors and locals alike enjoy these deep-fried pastries with their crispy, crunchy, doughy goodness. Pates come stuffed with ingredients such as different types of meats, conch or whelk, salt fish, scotch bonnet peppers and vegetables and spices.
Rotis are burrito-like, flaky flatbread wraps that are somewhat similar to pates. Rotis originated in India and has held on to that part of the world’s flair for spicy, fragrant curry sauces. Curried meats, seafood, or chickpeas and veggies plump up a roti’s flaky dough, while chili-laden chutney spices things up a bit. However, local wisdom is that if you visit a roti shop that doesn’t offer “doubles,” you should head to the door. You can find delicious Rotis with varying levels of heat in restaurants scattered across the blue water islands.
The USVI offers an array of one-of-a-kind experiences for your taste buds. Still, no food group is as traditional in the islands as seafood. One popular dish of the sea that is a must-have is tasty Pot Fish. Much like how lobsters are caught in traps, pot fish are reef fish that are caught in pots. Popular reef dwellers that find their way to plates include red snapper, yellowtail, doctorfish tang, butterfish, triggerfish, blue runners and more. They are served in a variety of ways, which often includes leaving the fish head on the body. Pot Fish are often used when preparing Fish & Fungi, also.
No meals are complete without a dessert, and the Virgin Islands never disappoints when it comes to sweets. Insulin-revving sweets are typically made with homegrown tropical fruits and rum made at Cruzan distilleries. One stand out dessert is Red Grout, a signature treat that is traditionally served on Transfer Day, a holiday that commemorates the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the U.S. Don’t let the odd name fool you, though, because Red Grout is a decadent confection that blends guava, tapioca and the sweetest of other ingredients.
Other traditional USVI desserts include dum bread, coconut tarts, banana fritters, rum cake and fresh Danish ice cream made by using fresh fruit and cream that is churned into a sugary masterpiece.
We hope our list of traditional dishes helps you think about eating your way through the tasty and satisfying culinary delights of the sunny islands. Are you mulling over a visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands? If you are, head over to thehillsstjohn.com for a multitude of information about the unique and pristine experiences that start in Cruz Bay in St. John, USVI.