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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Grand Cayman Cuisine

One of my favorite aspects of traveling is the food.  Yeah yeah the sunshine and crystal clear water is nice, but the food is the biggest perk.  New restaurants, new menus, new cultures and new amazing food. I always get extra excited when my travels bring me to an island because this typically means a lot of fresh fish will be offered on all the menus. So what type of food can you expect on Grand Cayman? My week was filled with stewed turtle, conch fritters, kangaroo sausage,  lionfish tacos, jerk chicken, countless curries and chicken tikka masala.  But before I go into how good lionfish tacos are, we need to go over a quick and dirty 1 paragraph history lesson and then the food will all make sense (except for the kangaroo). 

SHORT VERSION:  Grand Cayman was first colonized by Jamaica, and then by the British. HISTORY LESSON:  "The Cayman Islands were sighted by Christopher Columbus on May 10, 1503, during his last voyage to the West Indies. At first the Spaniards named the islands Las Tortugas because of the many turtles in the surrounding waters, but by 1530 they were known as the Caimanas or Caymanes for the alligators (caim├ínes) reported to be native there. After the Treaty of Madrid (1670)—which ceded Jamaica and a number of other Caribbean islands, including the Caymans, to Great Britain—the first permanent settlement was established on Grand Cayman. Most of the inhabitants were British mariners, privateers, shipwrecked passengers, and African slaves, as well as land-grant holders from Jamaica. The remoteness of the islands, and integration following the emancipation of slaves in 1835, resulted in a socially homogeneous society." Read More

Shrimp and Mango Salad from Paradise Grill - Georgetown

The food on Grand Cayman reflects the islands Jamaican and British history but is still heavily influenced by tourism. To throw a quick number at you, when the cruise ships stop at GC, you can expect 20,000 people to infiltrate the tiny capital of Georgetown. With a lot of American tourists and the island's Jamaican/British history, you can find these three cultures all throughout Grand Cayman cuisine. Jamaican jerk spices and various British specialties and curries are found on almost every menu in Grand Cayman. And of course, you can almost always find a cheeseburger and fries. GC even has all the chains you would expect (Burger King, Wendy's, Dominos, etc). But you came here to read about the local food, not about how many McDonalds are on the island, right? 

While it may seem obvious to you now that you have read a quick history of the island and know that GC is a British Overseas Territory, I was surprised at the number of curry dishes on the menus and how good they all were. I guess taking it back one step further, I never really associated British food with curries (UK travel is high on my radar).  I was shocked to read that "London now has more Indian restaurants than Mumbai or Delhi, and Britain currently boasts the largest Indian restaurant in the world, The Aakash, which can seat up to 750 people in one sitting.." Read More.  

Long story short... I would have never thought that I would be going to Grand Cayman and ordering a goooooood Tikka Masala. I sampled various curries throughout the island and each one was as good as the last. 

Great lionfish tacos served at Eagle Rays Bar & Grill Restaurant. Restaurants that serve lionfish in Grand Cayman
Lionfish Tacos at Eagle Rays  Source
(Lionfish are invasive and eat large amounts of native Reef Fish.  They are also delicious in taco form).

If like me you came for the seafood, don't worry, you can get all those delicious fishes with your curry. You can also start to see more of the Jamaican cultural aspect come into play through the island's spices and seafoods.  Like most islands, seafood dominates the menus. Conch, lobster, grouper, mahi-mahi and snapper and tuna are common for island cuisine. You can usually order your fish grilled, blackened, fried or prepared more traditionally with tomato and onion.  Conch could often be found shaved thin on salads, ceviche style, or my favorite, deep-fried into a fritter (I lost track of how many different conch fritters I sampled on this island). Grilled lobster, the Caribbean style without claws, is also popular and delicious spiced and grilled. If you are familiar with our Maine/Canadian lobsters here in New England, these are going to taste quite different. Less sweet and more along the taste and consistency of shrimp.

Appetizer menu at Tukka's. 
If you want to try something different, turtle can be found on the island menus and it all comes from the on-site turtle farm. The stewed turtle was offered at Big Tree BBQ (more on that gem below) and I have to admit, I tried stewed turtle and I liked it. Not something I plan to order off every menu I see but when on the island, eat like a local. If you want something really different, you can head to Tukka and have your hand at some kangaroo sausage. Isn't traveling all about different experiences, different cultures and trying something new?

Lionfish Ceviche and Kangaroo Lollipops

When you are ordering, many of the wait staff at the more touristy spots will ask you what you would like for a spice level.  At the more local spots, expect the food to have the heat turned up a few notches as this island likes it heat.  

As far as sides go, rice and beans tend to be the most popular choice. Of course, the more touristy spots always offer more American sides like french fries and onion rings.  If you are going the more authentic route, expect rice and beans to accompany your dish. 

 Vegetables?  Those are far and few between.  Every time I travel to an island, I am always reminded of the same thing.  Vegetables and fruits are hard to come by.  This may sound a little counter-intuitive.  When you picture island life I am sure you are imagining tropical fruit and colorful veggies.  These are hard to grow on an island and expensive.  A few days into an island vacation and I am almost always craving healthy foods and greens.  I ordered a shrimp and mango salad only to be disappointed by a plate full of iceberg not-really-nutritious lettuce. 

Grand Cayman has a variety of restaurants from classy resort five-star dining, to mid-priced tourist stops, to local authentic "literally in someone's backyard" type of places.  

Here's where we ate and what I thought. 

Big Tree BBQ- Local food and "Best Ribs"

Favorite meal -- Big Tree BBQ:  
If you want to try some authentic island food, this is the spot.  Big Tree is literally two guys cooking up a bunch of amazing food in their front yard.  They wake up in the middle of the night to start prepping and cooking food for the day.  Head up to the tent and they will show you what they have.  They will open up every container for you to show you just how good everything looks, making any decision that much more difficult.  The menu changes daily based on the days catch and avaiable proteins.  Standard sides include rice and beans, bread fruit (taste like potato) or corn, a ginger spiced corn bread and cole slaw.  Pick your protein and get all those sides along with your meal for under $20.  We ate here on two different occasions and the menu ranged from grilled lobster and whole fish to stewed turtle, bbq ribs or jerk chicken.  Grab your meal and take a seat at one of the tables literally under the Big Tree.  These guys were friendly, courteous, and really excited to have you come try their food.  They are BYOB so bring along your favorite beer or bottle of wine.  Beware, this spot is cash only and it may take a little while to go through the group if you arrive in a large group.  

Big Tree BBQ Setup

Jerk Chicken, Rice and Beans, Bread Fruit, Ginger spiced corn bread and potato salad from Big Tree BBQ

Other meals on the island
Sunset House: Touristy Iconic Grand Cayman restaurant, great Chicken Tikka Masala

Miss Vivines:  Authentic local cuisine served out of Miss Vivines kitchen. 

Tukka:  Cool spot with exotic foods such as alligator and kangaroo

Bombay chopsticks: Asian fusion with a lot of great fish and curry options.  We loved the conch fritters and the fish. 

Paradise Grill: Touristy popular restaurant in Georgetown.  Lunch comes with a free tow/boat ride on the inflatable whale.   

Dinner at Mimi's Dock at the Morrits
Mimis Dock Bar and Restaurant: Touristy but friendly staff and awesome location. Coconut shrimp was a great starter and I had a delicious fish and chips.  The location is as good as it gets... out on a gazebo on the water.  Feed the resident fish after dinner. 

South Coast Bar and Grill:  Recommended by a local and certainly more of a local scene.  Drink specials and great fish options (mahi mahi and wahoos were favorites).  

Eagle Rays:  Restaurant at our hotel.  Lion Fish tacos were a fun local fare. 

Overall, the food on Grand Cayman was delicious.  For a seafood lover like me, its pure heaven to have that much fresh seafood on every menu.  Grilled, Blackened, Fried or drenched in a curry sauce, all of the fish on the island was great.   As far as costs, food prices can be a little expensive, especially at the more touristy spots.  If you are trying to be "super healthy" while traveling, this may be a little tougher.  Don't expect to see a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables on the menus.  Expect to see a lot of seafood, jerk spices, curry, and a lot of rice and beans.  My biggest advice?  Try to find the more local spots to eat and always (always!) ask the locals where they recommend.  Don't be afraid to try something new like a stewed turtle, a local favorite grown right on the island at the turtle farm.  You will only feel a little guilty diving with the turtles in the morning and eating their cousins by dinner time.

Happy Eating,

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