“As with many countries around the world, if you are looking to fully immerse yourself in local culture, a street food cart is the ideal spot to do so,” says Trinidad-born celebrity chef, restauranteur and the Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food host Roger Mooking. “Each island has their own specialties and are all worth exploring.”
Plus, street food is more than just an authentic Caribbean experience. Many would argue that street food vendors offer a far more superior product than what’s found in restaurants. Among those subscribing to that belief is Denville Myrie, a Jamaica-raised food truck chef, who operates his JerkatNite food truck in the metro D.C area. In his experience as both a food truck merchant and someone who regularly visits the islands, Myrie says street food vendors win the “taste contest” because they concentrate their efforts on select foods.
“If you ever go to a jerk man, you’ll notice that he’s selling you chicken and bread; he’s not selling you chicken, rice, cabbage, plantain, and all that stuff. He is focusing on that chicken,” Myrie says. “The street vendors put more passion into the food because you have to smell it, look at it, in order to trust them to buy it. It’s literally what you see is what you get.”
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Myrie admits that when traveling, it’s easy to get comfortable with the seemingly endless food and drink options of all-inclusive resorts who rely on imports to feed their guests. But he urges tourists to venture off these private properties in an effort to fuel local commerce (Note: While tourism is a major economic driver for many Caribbean nations, the heavy reliance on food imports has unintentionally damaged local agriculture and food industries).
“The food ends up tasting better because it’s from the land,” Myrie says, suggesting that street food vendors are more likely to source their products from local farmers, fishermen and food producers. “So, if and when you see street food vendors, I encourage you to support them.”
There are so many places outside of the resort to find great food. But how will you know what to order? We turned to chefs Mooking, Myrie and a few others to help us break down the best street foods on these popular islands. So, let’s hit the road!
“Any jerk man on the side of the road is a go,” says Myrie, who insists tourists put jerk at the top of their street food lists. He also advises to try the local soup vendors, who often sell traditional Jamaican soups, such as cow soup, mannish water (a goat soup) and red pea soup. “I had the best soup I ever had in my life outside of Margaritaville in Montego Bay,” Myrie recalls about the Gloucester Avenue location known as the Hip Strip because of all its restaurants and merchants. “There’s always a line of street vendors outside.”
And last but not least, save room for the Jamaican beef patty and coco bread. For patties, visitors can’t go wrong with the Juici or Tastee franchises, which Myrie says are loved by tourists and locals alike.
Photo Credit: Denville Myrie Jr.
Trinidad and Tobago
“In Trinidad, ask around for the best roti shop, and everyone will give you a different answer,” Mooking says about the staple dish, which is often served in two styles: wrapped or buss-up-shut. “Trinidadians have been known to go to the other side of the island just to hit up their favorite roti shop.”
But if you need somewhere to start, Mooking advises heading to Maracas Beach, where some of the island’s most famous food stalls are located. Here, tourists can taste another local favorite—bake and shark. The bake is a fried dough, hollowed out and stuffed with shark or another white fish. “The best part of the bake and shark experience is the endless array of condiments, including chopped vegetables, sauces, chutneys, herbs and pepper sauce (hot sauce); every single order you customize yourself just the way you like it. Nothing better,” Mooking adds.
After that, head to Ariapita Avenue for doubles. The double, which is a curried chickpea filling, sandwiched between two pieces of fried dough, is the quintessential street food of the nation. “I think they’re so popular because it’s easy, it’s tasty and you can eat them anytime,” says Dexter Samuels, a native of Trinidad and a celebrity personal chef currently based in Houston. “Ariapita Avenue has become the avenue for street food, you can get double, bake and shark, corn soup, which is another popular dish. You can get pretty much anything right there.”
Photo Credit: Alex Smailes for The New York Times
“In Barbados, you are looking for a car pulled up on the side of the road with the trunk open serving up home cooked meals,” says Mooking about the surefire sign for a great find.
But for island signatures, seek out a bread-and-two (two fishcakes sandwiched in salt bread); cou-cou and flying fish (the Bajan national dish of cornmeal and fish) and macaroni pie (a cheesy macaroni casserole). For a new street food twist, head to Bridgetown’s Black Rock Main Road to find Yelluh Meat stand, which fire-roasts breadfruit bowls that are filled with meat, fish or vegetables and topped with pepper sauce.
Photo Credit: Yelluh Meat
U.S. Virgin Islands
Still recovering from two hurricanes in 2017 that devastated the island, tourism dollars are ever-more welcome, according to Chef Livinton Bedminster. So, put the island on your radar to visit for local specialties like conch, fungi (a cornmeal and okra mash served warm), boiled snapper and bush tea (an herb infusion tea often sold on the roadside).
“When I come home, some of my favorite things to eat are conch and seafood. We do a lot of conch in butter sauce. We don’t do too much fritters like they do in Bahamas,” says Bedminster, who after manning Ritz Carlton kitchens in both his homeland of St. Thomas and his current base of Atlanta, recently decided to branch out into private catering and pop-up shops. He recommends seeking out vendors and food trucks in Crown Bay, on Red Hook Road and the Rothschild and Bordeaux farmer’s markets.