The Caribbean island of Antigua was built on food. Originally settled as the site of sugar plantations and rum distilleries, Antigua in recent years has become a culinary destination because of the wealth of seafood in its oceans, the quality rums in its glasses, and the joy in its people. These are the seven foods you must try when you visit the island's pearlescent shores.
Like most Caribbean islands, Antigua excels in seafood and conch is one of the most popular meats. Conch (pronounced conk) is the meat found inside the spiral shells that wash up on the West Indies’ sandy beaches. Slightly chewy and reminiscent of clams, conch can be prepared in curries, fritters, chowders, and raw in ceviches.
One of the best places to try conch is at the Copper and Lumber Hotel’s Friday Night Seafood Buffet. Named one of the best fish fries in the Caribbean, the Friday Night Seafood Buffet is located at the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site Nelson’s Dockyard. Locals, expats, and tourists alike attend this seafood extravaganza where crispy conch fritters and conch dishes are always on the menu. If conch isn’t your speed, try the massive surf and turf which includes steak, half a lobster, and sides.
Saltfish and Fungi
Saltfish and fungi (pronounced foon-ji) is the Antiguan national dish. Fungi is an Antiguan version of polenta or grits, made by forming a cornmeal and okra paste into balls. A staple in the Antiguan diet, fungi is frequently served with stews and meats. Saltfish, a salt-cured and flaked white fish, is one of the favored pairings for fungi.
This is stick-to-your-ribs, homestyle Antiguan cuisine and, if you want to try it, head to Millers By the Sea in St. John’s. Featuring superb beachside facilities, amazing local cuisine, and a thriving nightlife scene all year long, Millers By the Sea is a little off the beaten path directly on the shores of Fort Bay. Here, locals enjoy the meals they grew up eating, like black-eyed pea rice, chop-up (chopped and stewed spinach, okra, and eggplant), conch water (salty broth with conch meat), and the all-important saltfish and fungi.
Rum is the main alcoholic beverage on Antigua since the rum trade literally built the island. Antiguan rum is less sweet than other rums and Antigua Distillery Limited, the largest distillery on the island, produces two high-quality rums: Cavalier, which comes in light and dark, and English Harbour, which offers a 5- and a 10-year rum. These are high-quality rums, best sipped straight, so you won’t find them in many rum punches. If you want to really delve into rum-drinking, head to Antigua Distillery Limited to tour their facility and try their rums in their tasting room.
While rum is the main alcoholic beverage on the island, rum punch is the island’s favorite drink. And, pretty much everyone will tell you that if you want to find the best rum punch in the Caribbean, make your way to Papa Zouk, just outside of St. John's. Over 200 rums line the bar and shelves along the walls throughout the restaurant and you’re guaranteed to find a rum or rum punch that suits your taste buds. A favorite is Papa Zouk’s Ti’ Punch, made with high-quality rum, lime juice, and cane sugar.
Ducana is an Antiguan sweet potato recipe, made by wrapping grated sweet potatoes and coconut in a banana leaf and then steaming the dumpling. Similar in texture to a tamale, the ducana is slightly sweet and spicy, a perfect complement to saltfish or conch.
Beer may not seem an obvious choice on a Caribbean island known for its rum, but Wadadli beer is unique to Antigua. Brewed on the island and named from the old word for the Antiguan people, Wadadli is a light, sweet lager, perfect for drinking on a balmy Antiguan evening by the water. Wadadli is not widely available outside of the Caribbean, so you’ll have to enjoy plenty of it while you’re in Antigua.
Susie's Hot Sauce
Hot sauce is big in the Caribbean, and on Antigua, Susie's Hot Sauce is queen. Run by Rosemarie McMaster, daughter of Susie McMaster, the company’s founder, Susie’s Hot Sauce has grown into an empire since its founding in 1960. “When I took over when my mother died, she had one sauce and that was the original and I took it to 11+ sauces,” McMaster says, standing in the kitchen of her home surrounded by hundreds of hot sauce bottles of different flavors, sporting standard to commemorative labels.
McMaster makes a huge variety of hot sauces, from the 1-million Scoville unit “Scorpion” sauce to the sweet, mild “Pineapple Passions.” She made her “Tear Drops” sauce so that local bartenders could replace imported Tabasco with a local alternative. "My Tear Drops can beat any Tabasco," she chuckles. And of course, she still makes the original sauce her mother developed, medium-spicy and vinegary, perfect for Antigua’s excellent seafood.