Anguilla, an unassuming island only 10 miles long and 3 miles wide, sits nestled in the pristine waters of the Caribbean Sea. Just a 20-minute ferry ride north of the bustling island of St. Maarten, Anguilla is somewhat of a hidden gem.
Anguilla, an unassuming island only 10 miles long and 3 miles wide, sits nestled in the pristine waters of the Caribbean Sea. Just a 20-minute ferry ride north of the bustling island of St. Maarten, Anguilla is somewhat of a hidden gem. While St. Maarten is dotted with fashion, nightlife, and high-end shopping, Anguilla is serene and secluded. It’s home to what the Travel Channel boasts is the “best beach in the world” and offers private bays and unmatched Caribbean views. There are few tourists to be found and, with over 33 of the world’s most beautiful beaches and a small year-round population, you almost always feel like you have the tropical island all to yourself.
At first glance, you would never suspect that this quiet little island is known to be the culinary capitol of the Caribbean. With only about 30 square miles of island and over 70 restaurants, it’s said that Anguilla has more gourmet restaurants per acre than the island of Manhattan! Chefs, both locally born and raised and those classically trained and returned to the island, create some of the most ingenious plates in the region.
Our first meal was at Straw Hat in Meads Bay, where we sat among oil lamps and tiki torches, under twinkling lights just steps off the sand. We started with Thai Spiced Crayfish Cakes with Tropical Salsa and Ginger-Lime Sauce and then ripped into fresh lobster, grilled Anguillan style on a large open-flame grill.
The island of Anguilla is a British overseas territory that sits in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, east of the Virgin Islands and just north of St. Maarten. Its rich history, involving a melting pot of cultures, influences the cuisine to this day.
It’s not uncommon on an Anguillan restaurant menu to see a range of cuisines and cooking styles. Traditional island flavors, like coconut, passion fruit, and pineapple, sit right next to French Creole dishes, like Creole Mahi-Mahi served with a traditional Anguillian side dish of rice and pigeon peas. Carribean style jerk seasonings are prevalent as well and fresh spices like whole nutmeg and giant pieces of cinnamon can easily be found in small road-side stands.
The French and English influences can certainly be found in dessert as well, as the island has several bakeries that specialize in traditional French pastry.
This Caribbean-French-British fusion creates an amazing flavor palate for unique dishes that can’t be found on any of the other Caribbean islands — just one of the many reasons that Anguilla stands out as a culinary hot spot!
The concept of “Island time” is something visitors to Anguilla quickly become accustomed to. Things run on their own clock — one that is much slower than the average person living in a hustling and bustling city is used to. Folks drive a little slower, talk a little slower, and stores open and close according to their owners’ schedule that day. Dining is no exception to island time.
When I dine out at a restaurant at home in the US, my husband and I usually have our three small children with us and make it a goal to consume food as quickly as possible and leave the eating establishment before we lose our minds, or our kids destroy something, whichever comes first.
Island eating is a different experience altogether. Food isn’t generally prepped en masse; the cooking process is started and finished after you order, meaning that your food is fresh and the chef is putting careful thought into your individual plate. It also means it generally takes a little bit longer. Servers leave plenty of time for a drink to start (we preferred virgin fruit coladas) and fresh bread from one of the local French bakeries in abundance on the island. Appetizers, like fried calamari or garlic-butter muscles, are to be enjoyed and savored before the main course. Portions are considerably smaller and dining times are considerably longer, prompting an experience where food is savored, sweeping beach views are absorbed, and company and conversation is precious. It was a fresh and appreciated experience compared to the rush and commotion of the dining that I experience in my everyday life. A reminder to slow down, savor each bite, and enjoy the experience of a good meal.