With seven nations ruling the U.S. Virgin Islands throughout its rich and colorful history, it should come as no surprise that the islands’ cultural diversity is perhaps most authentically reflected in its cuisine. The islands’ multi-national population results in a striking compilation of culinary styles. Whatever their inclination — Italian, Irish, West Indian, Caribbean, Japanese, even German – visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands will find cuisine masterfully prepared by chefs whose training runs the gamut from top-notch culinary schools to the self-taught. A trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands would be incomplete without sampling the islands’ traditional cuisine, its flavors and textures dating back to 19th century slave-trading days. Among the intriguingly-termed dishes that comprise dozens of local menus are kallaloo (a stew of okra, local greens, meat, seafood and spices), fungi (a cornmeal polenta-like dish), Johnny cake (a deep-fried unleavened bread) and patés (a spicy meat-filled fried pastry).
A Bounty of Indigenous Ingredients
Naturally, seafood is a staple on island menus and there are dozens of restaurants that specialize in preparing the islands’ fresh catch. On any given day, wahoo, grouper, snapper, tuna, Caribbean lobster, mahi mahi and conch find their way onto the menus of both award-winning hotel dining rooms and local “mom and pop” restaurants. Likewise, the islands’ abundant produce features a unique array of desserts, including coconut and guava tarts, sweet potato pudding, soursop ice cream and local rum cake and delectable rum balls.
Beverages also take on a tropical twist. A local favorite, maubi is made of the bark of a maubi tree, fermented with ginger root, yeast and herbs. For non-drinkers, ginger beer, soursop juice, papaya punch and bush (herbal) tea are islanders’ preferred drinks.
Resourceful chefs and restaurateurs, however, don’t rely solely on indigenous ingredients. U.S. laws, language and currency, together with daily air access, ensure that chefs can easily access products and produce from around the world. So impressive wine lists, for example, are commonplace in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Cozy or Contemporary, A Setting for Every Occasion
Wherever travelers choose to dine, they can be assured settings of stylish charm and sophistication – and in virtually every case, ties are not required. From an outdoor terrace overlooking Cruz Bay in St. John to a centuries-old plantation field house in St. Thomas, restaurant surroundings are wide-ranging and many are visually quite dramatic. Historic townhouses, dock-side bistros, flower-filled courtyards, oceanfront terraces and beachside bungalows co-exist happily, affording visitors a diverse culinary landscape.
On St. Croix, visitors can dine in a historic townhouse in the heart of Christiansted, a cozy bistro in Frederiksted or any number of breezy and informal restaurants, enjoying everything from Thai-Mexican-Caribbean fusion to traditional French and Northern Italian.
Cruz Bay is “culinary central” on St. John and local eateries serve everything from Caribbean to Mediterranean cuisine, as well as authentic Italian and Euro-Asian fare.
St. Thomas, the most cosmopolitan of the U.S. Virgin Islands, boasts the highest concentration of restaurants; literally dozens of fine dining establishments, casual cafes and food carts line the streets Charlotte Amalie and the surrounding area. Caribbean, Continental, French, Pacific Rim, Thai, Japanese, East Indian, Spanish and Southwestern cuisine are among the assorted culinary choices.
In a destination that inspires such culinary complexity, it’s no surprise that many ingredients are island-made. St. Croix is home to Cruzan Rum Distillery, which has been manufacturing rum since the 1600s when the island was known for its thriving sugarcane industry. Centuries later, rain water and molasses are still the key ingredients used to produce this now world-famous island export. Today, Cruzan factory tours are a highlight of any visit but, for those on a tight schedule, Cruzan Rum may be sampled at tasting bars in liquor shops throughout the territory.
St. Croix also is home to Ft. Christian Pub, the only microbrewery in the Virgin Islands.
Festivals Celebrate Culinary Traditions
Throughout the year, festivals and fairs showcase the islands’ traditional cuisine in some way. The annual St. Croix Agriculture Fair held every February includes food demonstrations and competitions, as well as dancing, music and entertainment. St. Croix’s Crucian Christmas Festival in December is also a popular food fairs, as is the month-long St. John Festival in June. On St. Thomas, the Texas Society’s Chili Cook-Off in September brings visitors and locals together for an annual chili-tasting contest that is so popular it has spawned a similar festival in St. Croix. And St. Thomas’ Agriculture Fair in November features fresh produce, home-grown herbs and local dishes.
For more information about the United States Virgin Islands, call 800-372-USVI (8784) or go to VisitUSVI.com. When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. citizens enjoy all the conveniences of domestic travel—including on-line check-in—making travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands easier than ever. As a United States Territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport from U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland. Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens. Follow us on Twitter (@USVImockojumbie) and become a fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/VisitUSVI).