10 Essential Cayman Foods You Must Try

The Cayman Islands are a trio of paradise islands known for their sparkling sapphire waters, white sand beaches, and yes, favorable tax laws, and are also famous for being the culinary capital of the Caribbean. These compact islands have limited options when it comes to farming, so locals have turned to a plentiful alternative: the sea.

With more than 200 restaurants covering Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, the cuisine takes the rich marine life of the islands as its foundation, then immerses itself in the flavors and influences of the Greater Antilles, Mexico, Cuba and neighboring Miami. Snapper, mahi-mahi, lobster seasoned with herbs, citrus, and a generous helping of chile are some of the most popular Cayman staples, but the list doesn’t stop there.

Here are 10 dishes you must try during your next visit to the Cayman Islands, as well as a few of the best places to find them.

fish tea

Reading the name, you’ll be forgiven for thinking this dish combines two ingredients that one shouldn’t. However, this delicious soup gently toils for hours in homes across the Caribbean. Typically made with yam, pumpkin, cassava, and bananas as well as fresh seafood catch, the soup is seasoned with a liberal dose of thyme, butter, and coconut milk.

Ronaldo and Rosie Garcia at Heritage Kitchen are the local authorities on this caymanian classic. Sit at one of the brightly colored tables, or better yet, sit on the seawall next to the friendly western beach hut. Dishes change daily, but fish tea is always on the menu.

Fried Fish

When tasting what some argue is the most popular dish in the Cayman Islands, you should try it in a proper excellent restaurant. Run by hilarious couple Ozzie and Nancy Bodden, Grape Tree Café draws crowds with its hefty servings of fish fry.

It is usually made with battered or breaded snapper or mahi-mahi, fried in a skillet and served with coleslaw, french fries and hot sauce. You’ll be so full that you probably won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. Or opt for Jamaican favorite Escovich: crunchy whole red snapper with Scotch pepper and vinegar that adds some fiery Caymanian heat.

cassava cake

This sugary dessert tends to go for the sweet stuff: coconut milk, brown sugar, vanilla butter, and cassava. Also known as “heavy cake,” this Cayman staple is often made from sweet potatoes or sweet potatoes and is a favorite at festivals and celebrations.

Arrive early to Vivine Kitchen, the yellow seaside home belonging to Vivine and Ray Walter, who serve up the best cassava cake in Grand Cayman. For your main course, curry goat or Cayman-style beef is delicious, but be warned: By afternoon it will almost certainly be all sold out and the cafe will be closed all day.

goat curry

Whether you’re on the roadside, at local homes, or at expensive restaurants, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the Cayman Islands that doesn’t serve goat curry. A spicy dish also popular in India and Sri Lanka, goat curry is flavored with Scotch hood, ginger, tomatoes, thyme and – in the Caribbean version – hot Jamaican curry powder.

At the new Palm Heights restaurant Tillies, a team of chefs from across the Antilles are bringing the dish back to its South Asian roots using whole local goats with the addition of coconut sambal and tamarind roti shells.

lion fish

There’s new fish on the block, and this invasive, thorny, venomous predator is the potential champion of the Cayman Islands’ sustainable seafood scene. A delicious, grouper-like white fish, lionfish can easily be fried or served as sushi, although you’ll want to try it in a citrusy dish for a local flavour.

Tukka on Grand Cayman has become one of the biggest advocates of eating lionfish, as chef Ron Hargrave skillfully blends Caribbean ingredients with Australian classics. Don’t miss the delicious lionfish taco with sweet peppers and fried onions. Both East End and West Bay restaurants have longer rum menus than Seven Mile Beach, which you can enjoy paired with refreshing Cayman Island ice tea.

cracked conch

The golden taste of fried cracked oysters is a Bahamian dish deeply rooted in Cayman Island life. Conch appears in endless recipes, and whether it’s boiled, stewed, sautéed or steamed, the crunchy strings of cracked oysters—similar to calamari and usually served with French fries and hot sauce—always hit the spot.

The name “crack” derives from a preparation technique that involves using a skillet to grind meat into thin, tender strips, and those who do that best are the chefs at Cracked Conch, where the dish has been served with pickled fennel and Escovish tartar sauce for more than 40 years.

Conch stew

All that alerts you to this popular local café in Cayman Brac is the chalkboard decorated with “Pats’ Kitchen” and a few scrabble dishes.

Slow-cooked with potatoes, carrots, dumplings, and tomatoes, it’s a hearty, family-oriented dish that originated in the Florida Keys. On these islands, you’ll always order them “cayman style,” which means they’re well-cooked and hot. In Patrick’s kitchen, Chef Patrick scrubs dishes off the menu all day long, so when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Cayman style beef

At Tomfoodery Kitchen, with its bright interiors painted by local artists, you’ll find Caymanian classics with a twist. Cayman-style beef is a favorite dish of chef and owner Thomas Tennant, founder of the Cayman Islands movement to put invasive lionfish on menus and advocate the use of locally grown ingredients.

A dish he says is “simple and satisfying,” tender beef steaks are mixed with onions, garlic, and peppers before marinating over several hours. A particularly popular meal during Christmas in the Cayman Islands, Tomfoodery serves no frills, with coconut rice, peas, and fried plantains.

chicken jerk

Jamaica does not have a monopoly on jerk chicken. If you can handle the heat, it’s a meal not to be missed in the Cayman Islands either. Jerk – Derived from the Spanish word jerky Means “dried meat”—includes three basic ingredients: Scotch hood, oregano, and thyme. Chicken or pork is marinated in this spicy and salty mixture for a hot, smoky flavour.

At Island Bites – a Cay-Mex food truck owned by chef Huey Crawford – clean chicken is a lunchtime favorite. Grab a $7 platter with some Cayman-style bread fries and rice for a taste sensation. Those who prefer to relax on chili should opt for the shelled snapper or oyster soup, similarly tasty but gentler on the taste buds.

Coconut Rundown

Originating from neighboring Jamaica and Tobago, the rundown is a stew traditionally made of mackerel mixed with thyme, tomatoes, pumpkin, and thickened coconut milk and heavily diluted to produce a creamy sauce. In the Cayman Islands, okra and cassava are added and milder ingredients are swapped to use Scotch lids.

At Peppers – an open-air palapa restaurant with continuous happy hours – this special kaymani is made with Mahi Mahi. Order with toast and stuffed fries and enjoy live music every weekend.

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