Headed to the Caribbean this winter? Go ahead and aim your expectations at sun, surf, sand, and sweet rum drinks. If, however, you’re looking for local tropical fruit as well as fresh, cheap, local seafood, you may be disappointed. During a recent stay on St. John in the US Virgin
Photo and text by Veronika Trufanova, Globe Correpondent
Islands, our food diary looked something like this:
Day 1: Fish and chips at JJ’s Tex Mex, Ben & Jerry's ice cream bar, and local beer
Day 2: Raspberry-strawberry smoothie, Uncle Joe's BBQ, painkillers made from local rum
Day 3: Vacuum-sealed scallops (origins unknown), mussels from Prince Edward Island, champagne, and Nutter Butters … and bushwhackers on the beach
Finding something more exotic was not for lack of trying. Early on, I was befuddled by the lack of local dishes and the shortage of tropical fruit at the smoothie stands, which are instead decorated with plastic bananas and juices in cans. During dinners out, we were informed by servers that mussels are flown down from Prince Edward Island, and the king crab special hails from Alaska.
At the grocery store, we found a similar story – the shelves are stocked with the same products I see at my local Shaw’s, at a hefty markup and with much less variety. Instead of ripe mangoes and fragrant pineapples, the produce section is host to imported apples and celery - hardly the stuff of warm-weather getaways. I later found out that only 5.71 percent of the land is arable and most food is imported from the United States. I sleuthed this out not from one of the glossy tourist brochures but from the CIA’s World Factbook.
At least the rum is cheap and authentic. A 750-milliliter bottle of Cruzan goes for $3.50, compared with $5.50 for Celestial Seasonings tea. In deference to St. John’s sugar-cane-growing, rum-producing history, I recommend exploring local flavor through the myriad rum drinks that can be found reliably across the island. From pineapple-coconut painkillers to purple passions and bushwhackers (a deliciously dangerous blend of six liquors), these won’t disappoint, especially at the end of a long day of snorkeling and hiking in the Virgin Islands National Park, which covers about two thirds of the island. Locals may tell you, when you ask them what actually grows on St. John, that there are mangoes, coconuts, bananas, pineapples, guavas, limes, and other bounties. Although they eluded me at fruit stands among the park's lush vegetation, I believe they must have gone into the refreshing frozen blends resting in the shade of little paper umbrellas.
Posted by Veronika Trufanova, Globe Correspondent