The island of St. Martin has a tradition of excellent food that provides not only a feast for the senses, but a crash course in the island’s history and cultural inheritance as well. The native population’s heritage can be traced back to the French, Dutch, African, Indian and British, and when you combine those cooking preferences and styles with island fare like plantains, seafood, tropical fruit, scotch bonnet peppers and sweet potatoes, even the most devout food snobs will find themselves happily converted. Nowhere is this fecundity of flavor and style more noticeable than in the Creole cooking abundantly present throughout St. Martin.
Creole cuisine is the perfect reflection of the people of St. Martin’s remarkably divergent roots. Deceptively simple cooking methods result in spicy and colorful dishes that use locally grown produce and meats and locally caught seafood. In step of preparation, you can taste and see the island’s history. When slavery was part and parcel of life on St. Martin, yams and sweet potatoes were grown to feed the slaves. Indian immigrants introduced curries, which evolved into a Creole version called Colombo. The island’s native population used red seeds to bring surprising color to the dishes. When the French came along, their use of rice, dried vegetables, dried cod, flour and smoked bacon stuck to the island’s palette. Taken together, these ingredients and methods have generated an amazingly distinct cuisine that every visitor on holiday to St. Martin gets to enjoy. Here are a few unique and flavorful offerings available around the island.
Most Creole meals on St. Martin start with an aperitif of ti’punch, a cocktail made with rhum agricole, a high-octane white sugar cane juice rum. Most rum is made from molasses, which not only gives it its dark color, but also gives it its distinct and almost smoky sweetness. Rhum agricole maintains a bit of the earthiness of the sugar cane juice, so its sweetness is brighter and more complex. Because it is a French rum made on Martinique, rhum agricole is highly controlled and regulated with the real deal bearing the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) distinction that high-quality and carefully crafted French cheeses and wines can earn. Ti’punch is a heavy pour of rhum agricole, fresh lime juice and sugar cane syrup served with one or two ice cubes.
The most common accompaniment to ti’punch is an appetizer called accras. Accras are made from preserved cod that has been soaked in water for about 12 hours in order to remove the salt. Sauteed celery, onion and green pepper are combined with spices, flour, eggs and milk. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, the drained and de-salted cod is added to the batter. The thick mixture is then deep fried until it is hot, cooked-through and golden brown.
A dark-colored blood sausage that is made in the French tradition from pork, pig’s blood and any number of other Creole spices that range from savory to spicy and sweet, boudin is a popular dish throughout the island. Every restaurant and home cook has their own version of boudin, so if you love blood sausage, you’ll love St. Martin.
Bakes or Journey CakesCallaloo soup is a hearty stew and the national dish of St. Martin. Made from callaloo, a leafy green that is similar to spinach, the soup’s base is homemade chicken stock, and in addition to the callaloo, it features cubed pork, kale, okra, thyme and a hot pepper or two to add a heavy, spicy punch. Even the finest restaurants on the island have a version of the soup, so you’ll be able to try it just about anywhere you go.
Bakes, or journey cakes as they’re commonly called, are a simple, slightly sweet and lightly fried cake served hot or cold. Served with butter, jam, honey or syrup, they’re also eaten plain. Ideal for when eating needs to happen in a hurry, bakes were traditionally made throughout the island so that workers could enjoy a quick midday meal in the field. These days, you’ll find journey cakes served at breakfast and brunch, or as an accompaniment to a meal.
Traveling to and staying in St. Martin promises a wealth of relaxation and enjoyment. The laidback lifestyle, stunning beaches, charming towns and expansive and rich Creole cuisine provides every holiday-goer with a healthy dose of fun island culture.