Distinctly Dutch, yet decidedly Caribbean, Curacao sits in a fascinating area geographically and culinarily. For most, a beautiful island like this would not seem to be a gastronomic destination, and yet that is just what it is. The food – and drinks, one must not forget the drinks – is fantastic here, and this guide will serve as an introduction to my favorite dishes, my favorite drinks, and my favorite restaurants I tried during three weeks in this Caribbean paradise.
The Netherlands is not known for its food. But a few tasty morsels have made their way to Curacao to become worthy of trying. (This is in addition to Dutch snack foods, like Stroppwafels, which can be found in the local markets if you decide to do some grocery shopping.) Let’s begin with Dutch Treat, a small stand just on the Otrobanda side of Queen Emma Bridge serving up all things fried. The focus is French fries with a sauce, and they are both reasonably priced and delicious (try the sweet and spicy chili sauce), although they can be slow in coming out once ordered. But Dutch Treat also has bitterballen, a deep fried ball filled with beef and gravy that can be found as a bar snack at a number of other places. Make sure to eat them with mustard, and try not to cringe at the Dutch tourists putting mayonnaise on their fries.
If you like cheese, keshi yena is a must-try. It is basically a wheel of Gouda stuffed with chicken and pickled onions, a perfect hybrid of Dutch cheese and Caribbean flavors. Unfortunately it isn’t on the menu everywhere – it should be – but the iconic Restaurant Gouverneur De Rouville serves it up. It is melty and delicious, plus the view from that establishment does not suck, looking across the water at Punda. Reservations are necessary.
Being just off the coast of Venezuela, it is not surprising that there is good Latin food here in Curacao. My favorite: Los Caballeros in Pietermaai. The restaurant sits on the beach (yay!) and the octopus tacos are to die for. Just make sure to reserve a table ahead of time if you want a sunset dinner. Alternatively, if you like authentic Latin American ceviche, check out Ceviche 91 in the Rif Fort. Get the trio.
For the best view in Willemstad, head up to the city’s highest point: Fort Nassau. Built into the first Dutch fort on the island, the restaurant offers dynamite views of the city in 360 degree panorama, as well as classical French cooking with island ingredients. It is pricey, but if you are looking to celebrate a special event while in Curacao, this place fits the bill.
It is a necessity when in Curacao to try goat, one of the most commonly eaten meats on the island. For a good introduction to this (in my opinion) wonderful meat, try Toko Williwood, a bit outside Willemstad, and their scrumptious goat burgers. Add goat cheese for a truly authentic experience!
If you’re a goat pro, head to the old market (Plasa Bieu) and to Ivonne di Plaza for goat stew. It is served with rice and beans, and a jar of homemade pika (spicy pickled onions). If you are like me and love spicy food, you’ll enjoy the looks of the locals as you dump it on. They’ll be laughing at you, but in a completely friendly way. I ate here on three different occasions in my three weeks in Curacao, and at $10, it was the best bargain on the island.
Iguana doesn’t sound like something most people would have eaten before, or might even want to eat. But it’s local and worth a try. The best is at Jaanchie’s in Westpunt. (Don’t worry, it tastes like chicken but with more bones.)
Lionfish are not local to Curacao, but an accident by a ship carrying them for aquariums left a wild population that is taking over. So you’re doing the local reefs a favor by eating them at Bario in Otrobanda. The restaurant has different preparations that change regularly, so try a few! And don’t worry, once the spines are removed, they are not at all poisonous. Lionfish tastes like sea bass, and is truly spectacular.
Finally, for a great local seafood soup, head to Iguana Cafe in Punda. Their coconut seafood soup is listed as an appetizer, but will fill you up at lunchtime, especially with bread dipped in.
Are you really in Curacao if you don’t try drinks with the namesake Curacao liqueur? Landhuis Chobolobo is where it comes from, and if you take the tour and cocktail making class you’ll have a great experience and a few delicious drinks. Make sure to try their tamarind liqueur in addition to the brightly colored orange ones; it is delicious and doesn’t come in small bottles to bring home in your carry-on.
If you want a good happy hour, look no further than Doo-Shee cocktail bar in the Rif Fort. Several of their colorful tropical concoctions are only 10 guilders (about $5.50) from 6-8pm. (They also have quality bitterballen to munch on while sipping.)
If you find yourself in Otrobanda in the evening, head to the famous Netto Bar for their green rum. It has a slight anise flavor to it that is apparent if you take a shot (start that way), and makes for wonderful and bright green mixed drinks. Plus, the place is always crowded, there is always music, and you’ll be amused at the photos of Dutch royalty, American and European leaders, and even Popes who have come to drink here in the more than half century it has been open.
Do you like coconut water? If so, it is even better fresh from the source. And if not (I don’t like the cartons), you might surprise yourself by trying it fresh. At any number of places, you can get a coconut, opened by a hole with a straw in it, and you just drink out the water. It is wonderful and refreshing!
My personal favorite drink in Curacao was the Pornstar Martini at De Heeren @See in Pietermaai. Made of passion fruit (one of my favorite ingredients) it tasted almost creamy. Combined with the sunset from my table, it was perfect!
Curacao is an incredible destination for the history, the culture, the people, and the natural beauty. But it also excels for a culinary vacation. Please share your favorite spots, bites, and sips in the comments!
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