Top 25 Foods of Saint Lucia, the Helen of the West Indies
Saint Lucia, the tropical paradise nestled between the Caribbean islands of Martinique to the north and St Vincent to the south, is the only Caribbean island named after a woman. Fair Helen or Helen of the West Indies, as she is more affectionately called, is world renowned for her lush green vegetation, breathtaking waterfalls, scenic beaches, and warm and friendly people. She boasts magnificent twin peaks – the Pitons, two majestic mountains rising from the ocean – which is a world heritage site. It is home to the world’s only drive-in volcano and local cuisine that is to die for.
St Lucia’s food culture stems from its history. Ownership of the island changed 14 times, 7 times the British claimed it and 7 times the French. The tug of war was finally won by the British. However, on February 22, 1979, St Lucia gained her independence as a nation. St Lucian cuisine is therefore a mixture of British, French, and Creole, which is our unique heritage from the mixture of British and French culture, and Indian, in influence brought here by the indentured laborers who were transported to the island from India,
The local ingredients are always fresh and, as well as being purchased from supermarkets, can be found at roadside stalls selling fruits, vegetables, and meat.
Most dishes are usually flavored with an array of fresh local green herbs and vegetables such as peppers, chives, big leaf thyme, celery, parsley, and scotch bonnet peppers, for those who enjoy that added kick. The preferred local pepper sauce is West Indian Hot Sauce, bursting with flavor and spices and is a staple at every food establishment on the island. It’s even locally manufactured by Baron Foods St Lucia Ltd.
Local juices are a given, not only found at eating establishments but also in the fridge of every St Lucian. Fruits are seasonal and juices are available dependent on what is in season. For example, citrus fruits are at peak season during the months of September to November, during which time mandarins, tangerines, oranges, grapefruit, sweet oranges, sour oranges, grafted oranges, Pomelo (locally known as Shaddock), limes and lemons can be found in abundance.
Other juices dependent on the season are cherry, soursop, golden apple, guava, pineapple, star fruit. Sorrel must be mentioned in isolation as this is actually a flowering plant which buds once a year during December and is a Christmas treat for all. It is usually boiled with spices such as ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and cooled and sweetened to taste.
When indulging in St Lucian cuisine your taste buds are always in for a surprise, whether it be an appetizer, meat, sides, dessert or a drink. The following are the most common foods in Saint Lucia along with a brief description, and a link for recipes, ingredients, and general information.
1. Green Fig and Saltfish
Green fig and saltfish is known as the national dish of St Lucia. Rumor has it that saltfish, sometimes substituted with cod, was extremely affordable during the time of slavery and was purchased in bulk by slave owners to feed to their slaves. This dish consists of stewed fish, which is usually sold dried and salted, with boiled green bananas, locally referred to as green fig. It would usually be served with fresh cucumber salad, avocado slices, carrots, and cabbage. The saltfish is stewed with tomatoes and lots of fresh green herbs, peppers, garlic and onion.
2. Smoked Herring & Breadfruit
Herring is sold after being dried and smoked. Breadfruit grows on tall trees and is round and green and rough on the outside while yellow and creamy on the inside. Breadfruit, can be served boiled, fried or roasted, and can be eaten on its own or prepared as a casserole or salad. For the purpose of this dish, the breadfruit is usually boiled, although others prefer it roasted. Similar to green fig and saltfish, this dish can be served with cucumber salad, avocado slices and steamed or sautéed vegetables.
3. Stewed Pork & Ground Provisions
Pork is the preferred meat for St Lucians and is usually served stewed, baked, roasted or barbequed. Various ground provisions are usually available for purchase at local markets and supermarkets – sweet potatoes, yam, and dasheen – and are usually boiled to be served with the stewed pork. Some other sides served with this dish would be green figs, breadfruit, plantain, etc.
4. Mannish Water
If you are in search of a local gamey dish, then Mannish Water is your best bet. This is a soup made from various parts of a goat that are boiled with lots of spices. It is usually touted as a dish for men because it has stimulant qualities. This dish is not traditionally served by city restaurants but rather at small countryside or out of town restaurants. The dish can also be served with vegetables or corn on the cob.
5. Stewed Chicken Backs
This is an all-time favorite on the island. Chicken backs are one of the most affordable parts of the chicken and are commonly stewed in a rich, heavily flavored sauce with fresh local seasoning and served with rice and peas or ground provisions. Most people who enjoy this meal say that their favorite part is crushing the bones and savoring the rich flavors they have soaked up.
6. Fish Broth
Considered one of the most nutritious local meals, fish broth or fish soup, as it is sometimes referred to, can be cooked one pot, as the locals call it, with vegetables and ground provisions, or it can be cooked to accompany a main meal. St Lucia has several fishing villages, Choiseul, Dennery, and Anse La Raye, just to name a few. You will note that most place names in St Lucia are of French origin, as a result of being ruled by France 7 times.
Fishermen set out to sea during the wee hours of the morning on their privately owned pirogue vessels in search of the day’s catch and return between 5pm to 7pm to sell their fresh catch to individuals patiently awaiting their arrival to choose from the selection of fish and seafood.
7. Fried Fish Roe
Sometimes boiled as an ingredient in a fish broth, the true experience of the flavor of fish roe is when it is seasoned and fried. The fried fish roe can be eaten plain or sometimes served and eaten with tartar sauce or garlic sauce. Fish roe is not usually as plentiful as fish, as when a pregnant fish is caught, the roe is usually kept for personal consumption by the fisherman or sold to close friends who operate restaurants. To cook them, just follow a fried fish recipe but substitute the fish with fish roe.
8. BBQ Kidney
Prior to the global pandemic as a result of Covid-19, a weekly event would be held in one of the towns of St Lucia – the well known Gros Islet Street Party. Locals and visitors alike would wait in anticipation of Friday evening when street parties would be hosted in two fishing villages – Anse La Raye and Gros Islet.
Gros Islet was the larger of the two street parties. From early in the evening, food vendors with roadside seating for patrons would have an array of seafood and other meats and side dishes on display for purchase. As the night carried on, a live DJ would play soca, reggae, dub, RnB, hip hop and all the trending local and foreign hits – making the crowd wild with the pulsating sounds of the music.
The sounds of laughter, lively chatter, and voices of hundreds of people having a good time would be heard throughout the streets of Gros Islet till 2am, when the street party would end. One of the items sure to be on the grill of every food vendor would be BBQ kidney served with a ketchup-based BBQ sauce and the option of adding pepper sauce to taste. BBQ kidney is seasoned, skewered on a kebab stick, and roasted over an open flame.
It is a popular and enjoyable bite to have while browsing through St Lucia’s world renowned Friday Night Street party. A BBQ chicken recipe can be followed for this dish; just substitute the chicken for kidneys.
9. Lamb Neck Bouillon
Bouillon is the Caribbean’s equivalent of America’s chicken soup. This dish is always included on the weekly lunch menu of most restaurants. A mouth watering one pot of fall off the bone lamb, vegetables, ground provisions, and flavored with fresh local seasoning. It is also a very satisfying meal and does not leave much room for eating anything else. Various meats can be used to make a bouillon, lamb, pigtail, and saltfish are the more common types. This recipe is for lamb but pigtail can be used in its place and the lentils substituted for red beans.
10. Pigtail & Red Bean Bouillon
Pigtail and red bean bouillon is another favorite bouillon option made with salted pigtail or sometimes a combination of salted pigtail and ribs. This dish is very similar to lamb neck bouillon except for the meat and beans used. Coconut milk is sometimes used to perfect the texture and flavor of this dish.
St Lucia isn’t only known for its main courses. It also boasts several local desserts. Paime is a creole word for a dessert made with cornmeal, spices, coconut, and sometimes raisins. The mixture is placed in a green banana leaf, securely tied and boiled till cooked. Not an everyday item, but it is a favorite and one of the most anticipated items on the menu for Creole Day celebrations, which are held on the last Sunday of October.
The Creole word for a local dessert which is a type of coconut cake cut into squares and is usually available for purchase daily from local bakeries. However, it is still a dessert of choice for October Creole celebrations.
13. Cocoa Tea and Dumpling
If you are a fan of chocolate tea you will know this dish is a piece of heaven. Cocoa, the plant from which chocolate is made, is a very common plant in the south of the island. Many cocoa farmers sell the cocoa pods. These are the yellow fruits with sweet fleshy seeds, which are usually dried under the sun and are fermented to make the final product of cocoa sticks or chocolate.
Cocoa sticks are created from dried ground seeds, along with various spices and shaped either into individual square blocks or a small round log, packaged and sold to be utilized for baking or tea making. Once purchased, the preferred size is broken off and boiled with water to which spices, milk, and sugar are added to taste.
14. Crab Callalloo
Crab hunting is a favorite past time for many young St Lucian men, particularly on rainy days when the catch tends to be plentiful. Once caught, the crabs are tied up with string, to prevent the crab from biting anyone, and are sold alive in a sack. The crab is usually fed only grass for a few days as a means of purging the crab before it is cooked. Once purged, the crab is cleaned and seasoned and boiled in a large pot of callaloo leaves, potatoes, pumpkin, vegetables of choice and fresh seasoning.
15. Bakes and Accras
Bakes are a flour-based dough, sometimes with the addition of powdered cinnamon for that extra flavor, which is fried till golden brown. Accras, sometimes referred to as fish cake, is shredded fish – more commonly saltfish or canned tuna – whipped into a batter with baking powder, flour, local fresh seasonings and pepper to taste. The two go together like love and marriage. The bakes are usually cut open and a fried accra is placed into the cut and the two are eaten together.
16. Black Pudding
Black pudding may be an acquired taste, but once you have identified your preferred local food joint with the right recipe, it will be challenging to not make indulging in this delight a weekend ritual. The pudding is made with either pig or cow blood which is seasoned with fresh local seasoning, and sometimes cracker crumbs are added. It is then stuffed into the cleaned and sanitized intestines of a pig or cow and boiled. The final product has the resemblance of a sausage and tastes like superbly seasoned minced meat with a softer texture.
17. Creole Fish
Another common way of preparing fish is creole style – this means with lots of local peppers, fresh seasonings, fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce. Depending on preference, some people fry the seasoned fish and then use the fried fish to make a creole sauce. Alternatively, the creole sauce can be done by first sautéing the fresh ingredients and then add the fish, leaving it to simmer till cooked to the perfect texture.
18. Curried Goat
Although curry is more affiliated with Indian cooking, this is an ingredient commonly used for the flavoring or meats in St Lucia. Curried Goat is usually served with rice, and coconut milk is used to cook the goat and provide a somewhat creamy texture and bring out the meat’s flavor.
19. Green Fig Salad
This salad is prepared in a similar manner as potato salad. Green bananas are boiled and cut into small pieces, and mixed with mixed vegetables, shredded saltfish, and mayonnaise. Freshly chopped herbs such as parsley and spring onions are added for more flavor. It is a favorite local side dish, especially when BBQing and can accompany any meat.
20. Cassava Bread
Driving along the west coast of St Lucia shortly before approaching the village of Canaries, there is a sudden shift in the smell of fresh ocean breezes. It becomes a pleasant smell of freshly bakes goodies. This means you are fast approaching an extremely popular stop for tourists and visitors alike – Plas Kassav, the Creole term for the Cassava Place. This is a small family owned establishment where various flavors of cassava bread and, on rare occasions, cassava cakes are sold, such as saltfish, cherry, raisin, ginger, just to name a few, are available for purchase. With the wide array of flavors available, you are guaranteed to obtain a cassava bread that tickles your fancy.
Cassava bread is not usually made by the average household as it requires particular equipment and processes to create. However, for years Plas Kassav has been the one stop shop for locals and tourists alike to satisfy their cassava bread cravings.
21. Farine & Pear
Farine is a by product of cassava. It is the fine dried remains of cassava after the natural juices have been removed. Mashed avocado would be combined with farine and rolled into a ball, after which it is ready to be eaten. This is not an everyday menu option, but is available during local Creole Day celebrations or any other activities that require local food being on display or for purchase.
22. Stewed Opossum (Manicou)
Opossom or manicou, as it is locally called, has a similar appearance to the opossums originating from America. However, in St Lucia these animals can be briefly spotted in the countryside, scampering across main roads in an attempt to avoid being accidentally run over. Stewed Opossum is a delicacy and is usually available for purchase during local food fairs or cultural celebrations.
Served with freshly grated cucumber salad, this dish is usually made with stewed pig trotters. This is not an everyday meal, but rather a meal available for purchase as a treat on a weekend or occasionally made at home. But it is a big hit for Creole Day celebrations – a must have on every menu.
24. Breadfruit Balls
Boiled breadfruit is mashed and mixed with various seasonings, then rolled into a ball, coated with breadcrumbs and baked. This is usually a side dish and not a dish eaten on its own. In addition, usually for Creole Day celebrations, each local company nominates a team member to bring one local dish. It is not uncommon for the individual who is responsible for bringing breadfruit to have it prepared in more than one way – including boiled, roasted, fried, breadfruit salad and breadfruit balls.
25. Lambi Soup (Conch)
The conch shell, which is home to somewhat of a sea slug, is a common sea food option for local BBQs. It is a beautiful glossy shell covered with various shades of peach and produces a unique sound when blown. It is commonly used by fish vendors to alert people of the sale of seafood, as well as a noisemaker at sports matches. The animal it houses, conch, locally referred to as Lambi, other than being done as a soup is also commonly grilled and serve with a garlic sauce. One unique aspect of Lambi is that it needs to be stretched out and pounded in order to tenderize the meat, otherwise it is excessively chewy. Lambi soup is prepared in a similar way to a bouillon, except no peas or beans are included, mainly vegetables, and it has more of a rich and creamy consistency.
Indulging in St Lucian cuisine is truly an unforgettable experience, with a kaleidoscope of colors with every meal and the breath-taking aromas, you will surely have your taste buds dancing to the flavorful tune of every bite.