You don’t have to get hit on the head by a falling coconut to realize that tropical fruit is one of the best things to eat when visiting Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean. But, as much as we love a plate dripping with pineapple and papaya, it would be a shame to fly home without tasting the local specialities. Here are 10 must-tries—and where to find them.
A popular appetizer at island family gatherings, poke (poh-keh) is made by cubing raw fish and marinating it in various combinations of sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, limu seaweed and spices. Any supermarket fish counter carries ready-made varieties, from ahi tuna and octopus to tofu.
Try it at: Eskimo Candy Seafood Market & Café in Maui, or Da Poke Shack on the Big Island.
Indian indentured labourers brought roti to the island, and this flatbread is now widely beloved in many forms. Dhalpuri roti features a layer of ground, cumin-spiced split peas rolled into the dough, while “Buss-up-shut,” or Paratha roti, takes its name from its roughed-up texture, like that of an old shirt.
Try it at: Dopson’s Roti Shop or Patraj Roti Shop, both in Port of Spain.
Flying Fish, Barbados
Named for their awesome ability to skim the ocean, flying fish are a symbol of Barbados. This fish is served fried, stewed or steamed with Coo-coo (seasoned cornmeal-and-okra mush).
Try it at: The Friday night fish fry in the seaside town of Oistins. This fry is legendary, with a festive atmosphere and many food and drink stalls.
Jerk Chicken, Jamaica
Secret recipes for jerk chicken abound, varying the marinade proportions of Scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, fresh thyme, scallions, ginger, onions, garlic and soy sauce. “Pan chicken” uses a makeshift steel drum as a cooking vessel, while authentic jerk is grilled directly on rows of pimento or sweetwood logs, under a sheet of corrugated metal.
Try it at: Scotchies in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, or Sweetwood Jerk Joint in Kingston.
Keshi Yena, Curaçao
Say yes to keshi yena, or stuffed cheese. Originally made by plantation workers from the rinds of Edam or Gouda cheese wheels, it shows Curaçao’s Dutch influence. Now restaurants line ramekins with cheese slices, fill them with meat or fish mixed with olives, capers and raisins and then invert them after they’re steamed or baked.
Try it at: Restaurant & Café Gouverneur de Rouville or Avila Hotel, both in Willemstad.
Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica
A popular breakfast dish, gallo pinto is Spanish for “spotted rooster,” named for its mottled colour. The dish combines rice and black beans, fried onions and cilantro. It makes a fortifying meal with eggs, cheese and the ubiquitous Lizano sauce, similar to Worcestershire sauce.
Try it at: Any soda (a local, family-run diner) in Liberia.
Rum Cake, Grand Cayman
Launched in 1987 from a family recipe, Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake is now the No. 1 export of the Cayman islands. Besides the original version, coconut, pineapple and other rum cakes are available at Tortuga shops as souvenirs.
Try it at: Tortuga shops can be found throughout Grand Cayman.
Sancocho, Dominican Republic
Considered a national dish, sancocho is a hearty soup or stew that’s packed with potatoes, cassava, plantain, pumpkin and corn on the cob chunks. Made with meats like beef, goat, pork and chicken (all in one pot), it takes time to prepare, so is often only cooked for special occasions. Many hotels and resorts serve sancocho as part of their weekly “Dominican night.”
Try it at: Majestic Colonial in Punta Cana.
Tacos Al Pastor, Mexico
Nobody leaves Mexico without eating a taco or three—but not the crisp-shelled, store-bought kind. Instead, palm-sized soft corn tortillas make a floppy base for diverse fillings. For tacos al pastor, marinated pork is cooked on a gyro-style spit and then shaved off to order; onion, cilantro, pineapple, lime and salsa bring it all home.
Try it at: La Parrilla in Cancun, or Takos Pancho’s in Puerto Vallarta.
Ropa Vieja, Cuba
A dish of shredded flank steak, onions and peppers, the tomato-based ropa vieja is named for its tattered appearance (it means “old clothes” in Spanish). The dish, which originated in the Canary Islands, is often eaten with yellow rice, beans and plantains.
Try it at: Family-run paladares like Doña Eutimia in Havana, or La Campana in Varadero.
Five Warm-Weather Resorts With Exceptional Restaurants
Typically, resort food isn’t the highlight of a trip to the tropics, but an increasing number of resorts are upping their game with chef-driven concepts that should be experienced. Get classic French fare at Café Martinique at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas or sip aged rum at The Sugar Mill at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica.
10 Reasons to Visit the Caribbean this Summer
Escape to a Caribbean island this summer for great deals, fewer crowds and lively festivals. Take the whole family to Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas, catch turtle nesting season in Barbados and attend one of the world's largest merengue festivals in Dominican Republic.