The southern Caribbean island of Curaçao serves up an eclectic blend of cuisines that reflects its diverse culture and history. Formerly part of the Dutch Antilles, the island offers dishes from the Netherlands and Indonesia, as well as neighboring Venezuela and about 50 other nationalities that call Curaçao home.
The culinary scene is wide-ranging, with elegant dining rooms, beachside cafés, and food trucks supplying both traditional Caribbean dishes and innovative fusion meals. A taste of Curaçao is like a mouthful of surprising flavors that somehow seamlessly work together. Here are eight dishes to try that showcase this distinctive island.
Pastechi at Silva Snack
Stroll down the main streets of the island on any morning and you’ll spot stands and trucks selling local breakfast foods. One of the most popular is the pastechi, a fried and stuffed dough pocket similar to an empanada, but with a flakier crust. The fillings are usually chicken, cheese, codfish, beef, or tuna, and the earlier you arrive, the warmer the pastries will be. For the full local experience, walk up to a roadside truck and order a batido—a smoothie made with condensed milk and tropical fruits like tamarind, passion fruit, and soursop—and then head to Silva Snack, a casual eatery noted for its pastechis. Order two or three and sit on the patio to enjoy with friendly locals.
Williburger at Toko Williwood
The village of Sint Willibrordus, located on the western side of the island, is famous for flamingos, salt flats, and the goat burgers at Williwood. Look for the sign with a goat sporting sunglasses; it will usher you into the rustic world of Williwood. Once a convenient store, the casual diner now features a terrace, souvenir shop, and packed crowds waiting to sample the famous burger. The menu is small, with just a handful of specials, appetizers, and the Williburger in four different forms. Order the option topped with goat cheese, add a side of sweet potato fries, and enjoy an Otrabanda IPA Curaçao beer for the ultimate in gamey and smooth tastes.
Indonesian rice table at Landhuis Daniel
Since the Netherlands colonized Indonesia as well as Curaçao, you will find Indonesian culinary influences all over the island, from peanut sauce to satay skewers on bar menus. But the ultimate Dutch Indonesian experience comes in the form of rijsttafel, or the Indonesian rice table. This diverse array of tapas representing the different regions of Indonesia was originally toned down for the Dutch palate, so the dishes are not as intensely flavored as traditional Indonesian versions. Still, you should visit Landhuis Daniel for an open-air Indonesian rice table experience. Sit on the orchid-lined patio and dig into rendang (beef stew in a spicy coconut sauce), telur balado (deep-fried eggs cooked in sambal), and other dishes accented with herbs and vegetables from the restaurant’s garden. The fiery flavors and tropical breeze will make for an unforgettable feast.
Frites canard at Kome
Creativity is a popular ingredient in Curaçao’s cuisine. Traditional dishes are often transformed into modern interpretations, and funchi—a stiff cornmeal mush similar to polenta—is one of the most prominent. This African dish is served in different ways all over the Caribbean, and a popular rendition in Curaçao is funchi fries—crisp, thick slices of cornmeal that can be dipped into sauces. At Kome, a fusion spot in the historic Pietermaai district, you can enjoy a gourmet version with duck confit, poached egg, velouté, and crackly duck skin. Kome means “to eat” in the local Papiamentu dialect, and the combination of rich duck flavor, crispy and soft textures, and salty funchi fries takes eating to another level.
Keshi yena at Rozendaels
Many of Curaçao’s signature dishes date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Dutch empire colonized the island and enslaved Africans combined new ingredients with cooking techniques that they brought with them. Keshi yena means “stuffed cheese” in Papiamentu, and it once featured the shell of edam or gouda cheese that the enslaved workers were given and whatever leftover meat and vegetables they could find. The dish is baked until the cheese melts and, today, is usually stuffed with chicken, olives, raisins, and spices. Go to Rozendaels open-air bistro to dine in an elegant atmosphere of saffron tablecloths surrounded by potted palms. Here, the keshi yena is served with gouda and a side of fried plantains and cole slaw. It’s a rich and satisfying dish that will linger on your tastebuds.
Grilled chicken at the Koki Riba Bloki food truck
You can’t leave Curaçao without trying the truk di pan, or food truck scene. Decades before the trend reached the United States, Curaçao was hosting trucks to feed the late night revelers flooding out of bars and nightclubs. Most of the food is barbecued with generous portions, plus heaps of fries and a small salad. Trucks start lining main roads at about 8 p.m. and serve until 3 a.m. The most iconic food truck is BBQ Express, but for the best galina ku batata (grilled chicken with fries), check out the beloved Koki Riba Bloki food truck. Take your platter and cover the fries with peanut, garlic, and rosada (ketchup with mayo) sauces for the local combo. Sit on the curb or on the roof of your car and inhale all the savory goodness.
Red snapper at Serafina
You will be spoiled for choice by all the food and dining experiences in Curaçao, but for a sophisticated and high-quality take on Italian, Serafina is the best. Set in a colonial house with a lovely courtyard lined with twinkling lights, the restaurant offers a welcoming ambience, with the chef greeting every table. Red snapper is a favorite local dish throughout the Caribbean region, usually served with Creole sauce and fried plantains. At Serafina, it’s pan seared and dressed with a delicate lemon sauce. The fresh flavor bursts through and the texture is firm and flaky. Pair it with an Italian white wine and you will be transported to the Italian coast.
Green rum at Netto Bar
Curaçao is known for its namesake blue liqueur but you can drink that anywhere. Only on the island can you sip the homegrown rom berde, or green rum. Step into Netto Bar and you will be greeted with an explosion of pictures, signs, license plates, and history. Open since 1954, the bar serves green rum cocktails, but the most traditional option is a shot glass. The fluorescent green liquid tastes sweet and medicinal. It packs a strong kick that can make you woozy but that’s part of the appeal.
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Curaçao