Aruba may be famous for its beaches and flamingos, but the island nation is also well-known for its dushi bites ("dushi" is an island term that means sweet, perfect, and ideal). The island cuisine is a melting pot of flavors and spices, informed both by its Dutch heritage as well as its history of traditional Caribbean recipes. But it's not merely this (quite flavorful) dichotomy alone that governs the local palette: The popular dishes of Aruba reflect a fusion of African, French, Spanish, and Chinese influences as well. Read on for the 10 best foods to try while visiting Aruba, as well as the best restaurants to order said dishes. Bon appetite!
Sopi mondongo is a soul food-style soup made with slow-cooked tripe and veggies. This beloved dish is guaranteed to leave travelers feeling quite full, so prepare to relax afterward and digest (maybe on one of the beautiful beaches found throughout the nation). Travelers stuck at home should check out this traditional Sopi Mondongo recipe to recreate the island flavors. When you're in Aruba, head to Mi Dudu Bar and Restaurant in the capital of Oranjestad to order the recipe where it's best enjoyed.
Savory Dutch Pancakes
You can thank the deliciousness (and prevalence) of this dish on Aruba's membership as a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Compared to the fluffy American pancake, Dutch pancakes are larger, thinner, and ostensibly healthier (though nevertheless cheese-filled and topped with savory ingredients such as bacon, ham, mushrooms, and onions). Head to brunch at the Dutch Pancake House in the capital of Oranjestad to start your day off the proper, Arubian way. The institution is famed for having the best breakfast in Aruba, and after one single visit, you may find yourself revising your definition of "Breakfast of Champions."
Aruba Dragon Fruit
While Dutch pancakes can be quite a heavy choice when you wake, dragon fruit is always crisp and refreshing, and is a staple throughout the West Indies. Visitors to Aruba should head to Ponton, a region in the nation's capital, where local farmer Jimmy Ramos sells his crops at cult-favorite Cunucu di Jimmy.
Caribbean Spiny Lobster
Caribbean spiny lobster is famous throughout the West Indies, and for good reason. Aside from the spiny quality referenced in the creature's name, this crustacean lacks the two large claws that are such a favorite of American seafood aficionados; the myriad options for tasty dishes featuring this local lobster, however, more than compensate for its claw-less state. Order the broiled Caribbean lobster at Driftwood (located downtown).
Cocada (Coconut Candy)
Cocada, also known as coconut candy, is a delectable treat often served on broken coconut shells. A fudge-based snack, cocada is magnificently sweet and can be ordered at many a local restaurant on the island (though we recommend browsing festival stalls and local grocers for a sugar rush on the go). For readers anxious to experience this delectable dushi bite now, the treat is quite simple to make at home. The ingredients are wonderfully uncomplicated—all you need is brown sugar, coconut juice, and lime. Though the baking itself is hard to mess up, we recommend following this particular coconut candy recipe for best results.
Pan Dushi (Small Sweet Rolls)
Pan dushi, or small sweet rolls, is traditional Caribbean bread. These rolls are a staple of traditional Arubian cuisine and often served with breakfast in the morning or with afternoon tea or coffee later in the day. This breaded treat is ubiquitous on the island, so make sure to taste at least one before you return home—whether that's at your hotel or in any one of the local or fine-dining restaurants serving the delicacy.
Cool Island Soup
Gazpacho's sweeter cousin (in our humble opinion), cool island soup is a mainstay starter course in restaurants throughout the 20-mile-long island. This chilled fruit soup is made with pineapple, cantaloupe, papaya, and apricot, with an added dose of sparkling water and lime juice. For would-be travelers desiring a taste of the islands now, check out this Cool island soup recipe and try to recreate the ambiance of a sunny day and a tropical breeze from the marginally-less idyllic environs of your own home.
Arubian Mahi Mahi (Dolphin)
Mahi mahi is better known as dolphin in Aruba, so don't be alarmed when you see a variety of dolphin dishes on the menu. We recommend ordering the Arubian mahi mahi at the Red Parrot Restaurant on-island, but adventurous chefs looking for a taste of the Caribbean at home can consult this recipe online.
Pan bati (which translates to "smashed bread") is traditional Arubian food that resembles pancakes and served as a side dish. Given its prevalence on the island, you needn't seek the dish out necessarily; pan bati can be found in many locally-owned restaurants as an accompaniment to stew, soup, or conch. Though you can find pan bati just about anywhere, we suggest getting it at Coco Plum Restaurant, located in the nation's capital, with an order of grouper.
Whether you like your conch cracked, fired, or mixed into a stew, you can't go wrong with this iconic treat of the West Indies. The subtle flavor of conch means that it blends perfectly well into almost any recipe you can imagine. For the best conch fritters on-island, head to Pincho's in Oranjestad. They're also known for their excellent fish cakes—another Caribbean delicacy—so we encourage you to order both appetizers for the table. And treat yourself to the ceviche while we're at it; while in Aruba, you should be living (and ordering) large.