Cayman has been called “the culinary capital of the Caribbean,” and its reputation is well-founded. Like its motto, “he hath founded it upon the seas,” the Cayman Islands food could be described as “we have found it from all over the seas.”
A Fusion of Cuisines:
From the very first days when the first settlers arrived from Jamaica and other parts of the region, they brought their rich and varied cuisines. They adapted them to what the islands had to offer, abundantly beneath the waves, not so much above. Over the centuries, when the Cayman Islands were known as “the Islands time forgot,” the menfolk would leave to work on the ships, primarily as engineers, as that was the only way to support their families during these long, lean times.
These sailors tended to work on larger ocean-going ships, meaning they sailed to all corners of the world, often for years. When they finally returned home, they brought the food and influences of the many far-flung places they had been and the cultures they had experienced.
This cosmopolitan approach to the world sets the ground in which the seeds of an international financial and tourism powerhouse would land, germinate, and thrive. So, when the time and circumstances were suitable for people from all over the world to start coming to Cayman, the people were ready, with open minds, arms, and mouths, to taste the best Cayman Islands food.
When the Ritz-Carlton was getting ready to open, and Chef Eric Ripert was exploring the island, he remarked on how many of the local dishes could be traced to other parts of the world, one particular word, where the food was prepared in a clay oven then cooked buried underground, could be seen as a direct variation on a classic Indian dish adapted to suit Cayman Islands food style. At that time, the islands already had almost a hundred nationalities living there, and each group had some form or flavor from their homeland that they managed to prepare and share with the rest of the island.
Elevating the Cayman’s Food Scene
But the opening of Blue at the Ritz-Carlton and the beginning of the international food and wine festival took Cayman Islands food to a new level, becoming one of the premier food and wine events globally and raising the level and quality of food and service island-wide. As is usual in the industry, one great kitchen inevitably sends disciples out to raise the level in other establishments. Also, it fosters new dining venues to open up, having proven there is a market for the very best.
So you would think that with all this press and exposure, there wouldn’t be much you could find off the beaten track in Cayman Islands food and wine, but you would be mistaken. As in every tremendous food-focused locale, there are always some hidden gems if you’re willing to search them out.
Hidden Gems of Cayman Island Food
A literal shack on the side of the road in Bodden Town is run by George, a towering Czech ex-professional hockey player who has also worked in some of the finest kitchens globally and in Cayman, and his diminutive wife Denise, who supports him in the kitchen and makes sure everything runs as it should. They have the most fantastic fusion of Caribbean, Central European, and international food. With the menu on a blackboard and chickens running under the tables, you get some of the freshest, finest, and most delicious food anywhere on the island. Try the fish tacos, the Asian ribs (the best on the planet), and the schnitzel. You might also find local music legends Cayman Cowboy or Barefoot Man hanging at the bar, plucking their six strings.
While technically a bespoke butcher, Carnivore makes the best Reuben and burger on the island. Along with some fantastic Texas steak salads and other dishes. Run by celebrity chef Dylan Benoit, the quality is a step beyond, and the drinks fridge has an excellent combination of Caybrew in cans and Krug non-vintage. When you are done with your meal, you can make your selection from the counter of the finest and most varied meats on the island (anyone for Kangaroo filets? Nice with a juniper berry dry rub).
This won’t be a secret for long. It is in Harbour Walk, just at the end of South Sound; it has a perfect combination of Mediterranean dishes served just the right way for sharing. Ignore the individual approach and enjoy sharing the many dips, kebabs, tagines, and, if you are in the mood, aged air-dried rib eyes, along with an exciting and varied wine list.
Coming this fall, Mario’s, run by local wine and hospitality legend “Mario” after years of treating all and sundry to his home-made inspirations out of the back of his wine shop, the tasting room, will be opening in the Grove will feature a fixed menu for the day of whatever Mario thinks is the best on offer for the day. The wine will be superb, and the hospitality will be without parallel. There is so much more going on in the Cayman Islands food and wine world; another installment will surely come soon.