With their long and varied history as colonial outposts and shipping-route stopovers, islands have evolved over the centuries into richly diverse cultural melting pots. Each offers an array of experiences that reflect its particular influences, like holiday celebrations, music, art, and architecture. But the most accessible—and delicious—way to explore an island’s cultural history is by enjoying its unique cuisine. Here are a few islands whose distinctive dishes whet both cultural and gastronomic appetites.
Set more than 1,000 miles off Africa’s southeastern coast, this island was occupied by French and British colonists before declaring its independence—and has since drawn a sizable population of transplants from central and southern Asia (particularly India and China). While some culinary traditions from these separate regions have remained distinct on the island, others have melded to form a unique Mauritanian creole. A few dishes that exemplify this are:
- Rougaille: A thick, mildly spicy tomato sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, and coconut or coriander chutney, usually served over fish, shrimp, or chicken.
- Vindaye: A pickled dish consisting of fried fish or octopus preserved in a piquant marinade of mustard seeds, ginger, chili pepper, and vinegar.
- Dholl Puri: A savory pancake made from ground yellow split peas, seasoned with cumin and turmeric, griddled on a tawa (flat pan), and typically served as an accompaniment to creole and curried stews.
With nearly 100 different nationalities living on this tiny island gem in the southern Caribbean, Aruban cuminda dushi (tasty food) is a zesty international mélange of native Caribbean favorites, South American flavors, and European flair. Because Aruba’s colonial roots are in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, you’ll find plenty of Dutch treats—but you can also discover some surprising delights, like delicious authentic Indonesian food. Among Aruba’s delectable signature dishes are:
- Keri Keri: An Aruban seafood delicacy, Keri Keri typically features a white fish, like barracuda or shark. The fish is boiled in salted water then shredded and sautéed with peppers, tomatoes, onions, basil, and native Aruban spices like the annatto seed.
- Keshi Yena: “Keshi” means “cheese” and “Yena” means “stuff.” This traditional dish starts with scooping out a Gouda cheese wheel and filling it with chicken or beef mixed with raisins, cashews, peppers, basil, garlic, onions, and capers, then baking it to perfection.
- Funchi: This Aruban version of polenta is a staple side dish for soups, stews, and seafood dishes. It’s boiled with salt and butter, then sliced and fried to a light golden brown. Locals like to add a slice of cheese while it’s still hot for a savory afternoon snack.
Unlike other parts of Greece, Corfu (along with neighboring Ionian islands) was never part of the Ottoman Empire. Rather, it was occupied by Venetians for centuries before becoming a British protectorate and providing refuge to other European forces during the two World Wars. These various populations left their distinct mark on the island’s cuisine, as in these typical Corfiot preparations:
- Bourtheto: This fish stew originally evolved from brodetto, a similar Italian recipe. It consists of local fish—typically scorpionfish or cod—cooked in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, lemon, and parsley.
- Pastitsatha: A dish of rooster meat braised with tomatoes, onions, salty Greek kefalotyri cheese, and brandy, traditionally served over handmade
- Sykomaida: A sweet paste made with figs and wine must, flavored with anise and pepper and wrapped in fig leaves like a loaf. Typically served with aperitifs like ouzo.