One of the best parts of traveling is all the new experiences you’ll have—especially in the culinary realm. In Thailand you’ll eat the best Pad Thai of your life; in London you’ve gotta try fish and chips.
But what edible specialties should you look out for when you travel to the Bahamas? Many people are not quite sure what the staples of Caribbean cuisine are. Seafood is a good guess—and you’ll eat plenty of it in the islands—but there are many other dishes native to the region and some that you can only get in this tropical locale.
Wondering where to go and what to order when visiting? Here are some of the top dishes to try during your trip to the Bahamas:
Conch (pronounced “konk”) is popular throughout the Caribbean, but it’s the national dish of the Bahamas!
This delicacy comes from that beautiful pink and white seashell you’ve seen associated with tropical climates. A conch is a mollusk, and it has a somewhat rubbery texture similar to calamari. Conch meat is firm, white, and chewy. Its flavor is very light, so it usually takes on the taste of whatever way it’s cooked.
There are many different ways to enjoy conch. Some of the most popular preparations include fresh conch salad, which is like a conch ceviche, and conch fritters. Conch salad is usually prepared with finely chopped vegetables like green pepper, onion, tomato, and lime or lemon juice to “cook” the conch. It’s light but filling at any time of day. Conch fritters, on the other hand, make a great heavy appetizer—they are bite-sized balls of conch deep fried to doughy perfection.
For the most delicious and refreshing conch salad, you’ll want to make sure the conch was pulled right out of the ocean before being prepared into the dish. Find some nameless seaside conch stand anywhere in the Bahamas and you’ll secure the freshest conch salad you can possibly have. Or, if you want to head somewhere specific, you can find a memorable conch salad at the famous Sip Sip restaurant on Harbour Island, which now also has a location at The Cove at Atlantis on Paradise Island.
Other popular preparations of conch include cracked conch, conch chowder, conch burgers, and more. Cracked conch is deep-fried but not doughy like conch fritters; you could almost mistake it for calamari if not for its different shape and flavor. Cracked conch is often served with fries and a spicy dipping sauce.
All fried conch dishes are best enjoyed with a cold Kalik, a local Bahamian beer. You can’t truly say you’ve tried Bahamian cuisine until you’ve had a bite of conch!
Eating at a fish fry is another Bahamian must-do and a long-standing cultural tradition. Head to any part of the Bahamas and chances are, you’ll be able to find a community fish fry somewhere on the island. However, the most popular fish fry is at Arawak Cay, Paradise Island.
A fish fry is more an experience than it is about eating any one dish in particular. At a fish fry, you can feast on conch, but you can also expect to see stalls offering seafood, including local fish, lobster, shrimp, and more. Traditional sides like cornbread and mac-and-cheese will round out your meal, and you certainly won’t leave hungry!
At a fish fry, you’ll also get a chance to enjoy live concerts and performances, especially if you visit during Junkanoo.
Fruity Rum Drinks
Another delectable way to dive into Bahamian cuisine is to enjoy the many flavorful beverages the island offers.
Go anywhere in the Caribbean and the trip just won’t feel complete without sipping a colorful concoction made with fresh fruit and a dark Caribbean rum. Due to the abundance of tropical vegetation, fruit juices are very common in the Bahamas, as is fresh coconut water.
Where to begin? Sky Juice is a famous combination native to the Bahamas. It’s a surprising recipe of gin, coconut milk, condensed milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg that somehow just works.
Other popular drinks to order in the Bahamas include a Bahama Mama, a Planter’s Punch (though its origins are disputed), and a Goombay Smash.
The history of the Bahama Mama is unclear, so no one is sure of the original recipe, but today your drink will likely be served with some combination of coconut, grenadine, orange juice, and pineapple juice. The Goombay Smash was created at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar in New Plymouth, so head there if you want to try the original recipe.
Not an alcohol drinker? Try a switcha, the refreshing Bahamian twist on lemonade that’s made instead with limes, or a canned Goombay Punch, a super-sweet soft drink that’s yellow in color.
Traditional Bahamian Meal
What are the ingredients for a traditional Bahamian meal? If you were to sit down with a family in the Bahamas for a Sunday supper, your plate would likely hold steamed chicken with plenty of spices, peas and rice, coleslaw, plaintains, and baked mac-and-cheese.
Each of these foods has a special meaning to locals and has been a staple of Bahamian cuisine for centuries. The combination of these foods is a common meal for families living in the Bahamas, though you can order it on most restaurant menus too.
Another traditional Bahamian bite is the Johnnycake. Legend has it that this cornbread-like biscuit gets its name from the term “journey cake,” as it was created to survive the long sea voyages to and from North America. Today, it’s eaten as a side with many island dishes.
Not invited over for dinner at any Bahamian household? Prudence—better known as “Cookie”—will take care of you at family restaurant Bahamian Cookin’ in Nassau. The family is three generations in to running this well loved eatery, and the food stays as delicious as ever.
If you’ve traveled much to the Caribbean, you’ve probably seen the little yellow Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake boxes sold in duty free stores and tropical sundry shops all over.
Rum cake is a dessert staple throughout the Caribbean, and the Bahamas is no exception. You can visit a Tortuga Rum Cake bakery in Nassau and sample six different flavors of rum cake, which are baked daily using 5-year aged rum.
The history of rum cake can be traced back to the Bahamas’ bootlegging rum trade days. The islands of the Bahamas were an ideal stop for smuggling spirits to the States during the Prohibition Era of the early 1900s. Rum cake also pays homage to the Bahamas’ huge sugar cane industry.
Other traditional Bahamian desserts include guava duff and sweet dishes that incorporate coconut, pineapple, and other tropical fruits.
You can’t leave the Caribbean without indulging in plate after plate of fresh seafood! The Caribbean waters are home to a huge variety of fish, including mahi mahi, snapper, grouper, wahoo, swordfish, tuna, and more. You can also find lobster, shrimp, and conch in abundance.
One recent seafood addition popping up on menus around the Bahamas may surprise you.
Lionfish are striking in appearance, but they are not typically eaten; they’re an invasive species that are harmful to Caribbean waters, as they have no natural predators and are native to Asia, not the Americas. They began to reproduce in Caribbean waters when consumers bought them as pets in an aquarium and then released them into the wild when they could no longer take care of them.
Bahamians are fighting back against the lionfish invasion by encouraging hunting and finding ways to prepare lionfish in delicious ways. You can head to to Fish by José Andrés for a surprisingly delicious whole fried lionfish. A portion of the proceeds from each dish goes back to Blue Project Foundation, an organization dedicated to saving marine species and their habitats.