Food in Curacao: Top 5 Local Dishes to Try When Visiting the Island

04 Apr 2024

Savoury Secrets of Curacao's Culinary Mosaic

When you dream of a Caribbean getaway, does your mind immediately drift to the sapphire waters and beaches of Curacao? If so, there's probably a food enthusiast inside you eager to sample the island's distinctive flavours. And who can blame you - it's a fusion of cultures, a medley of ingredients, and the result is an outburst of delight that's not just an accompaniment to your holiday but a highlight of it.

Curacao's story unfolds not just through its architecture nor its language but also through its food. For the culinary voyager, Curacao has much to offer outside the typical resort menu and fast-food chains. Brace your taste buds for a sensory adventure as we uncover the top five local dishes that are an absolute must-try when you find yourself on this enchanting island.
Food in Curacao: Produce Stands at Floating Market in Willlemstad © Flickr, Roger W CC2.0

1. Keshi Yena - A Taste of Dutch and West African Influence

Keshi Yena is more than a taste of Curacao; it's a bite of history, capturing the essence of the island's colonial past. The dish, which translates to "stuffed cheese," embodies the creativity that emerged from scarcity. A hollowed-out wheel of Edam or Gouda cheese is filled with a spicy meat mixture, typically chicken, then baked to creamy perfection.

The origins of Keshi Yena date back to the days of Dutch colonial rule, where slaves were often left with the remnants of their master's meals. They ingeniously transformed leftover cheese rinds by melting and shaping them into new cheese rounds, using whatever other ingredients they could obtain. The result is a dish of rich flavours and layered heritage that further melds the Dutch influences with those of West African traditions.
Food in Curacao: Keshi Yena (Cheese stuffed shell) © Flickr, Pinguino K CC2.0

2. Stoba - The Hearty National Staple

What might be considered 'soul food' in other cultures is 'stoba' - a rich stew that stands as Curacao's national dish. The name 'stoba' comes from the Portuguese word 'estofado', meaning stew. Originally making use of cheaper cuts of meat, such as beef tail or goat, marinated with a flavourful blend of spices and slow-cooked to tender perfection, today's stoba is often enjoyed with bread or funchi, a starchier version of polenta.

The allure of stoba lies not just in its taste but in the communal tradition of preparing it. Families and friends often come together over the extensive preparation process, affording them quality time and a shared love for this hearty, ready-to-feed stew.
Food in Curacao: Stoba stew © Flickr, Bilboko Konpartsak CC2.0

3. Sopi Mondongo - A Tasty Bowl of Tripe Soup

Sopi Mondongo, or 'tripe soup', may spark a few raised eyebrows, but its place in Curacao's culinary scene is undeniable. Typically served with a side of white rice and accompanied by a pika (spicy sauce), this dish is testament to the island's love for offal, a common ingredient in many local recipes. The soup is made from the lining of an animal's stomach, which is cleaned, seasoned, and slow-cooked until tender. Its robust and full-bodied flavour profile makes it a must-try for those eager to venture beyond the familiar and into the realm of tradition, where flavours that tell a story are savoured.

4. Batidos - The Cool, Sweet Relief

To balance the savoury, the cool and sweet relief of Batidos is here to please. Defined as smoothies, Batidos are made from fresh, often locally sourced, tropical fruits like papaya, soursop, or passionfruit. These are blended with milk, ice, and sometimes sugar, creating a refreshing drink that serves as an antidote to Curacao's warm weather. Part of the charm of Batidos is their simplicity, emphasising ripe, natural sweetness. They're not just a beverage but a taste of the island's biodiversity, served up in a glass for pure enjoyment.
Food in Curacao: Batidos (with a view) © Pixabay, Michelle Raponi

5. Yuana - A Local Exotic Not for the Faint-hearted

Last but certainly not least is Yuana, a dish as intriguing as it is challenging. This stew, prepared from the meat of the iguana, is part of Curacao's traditional diet. It's a dichotomous dish - frowned upon by animal rights groups but cherished by many locals as an integral part of their culinary heritage.

Yuana, cooked in a tomato-based sauce with a blend of local spices, is not as easy to find as other dishes, and being available in private homes rather than restaurants adds an elusive touch to its allure. For those who can put aside their reservations, Yuana offers a unique taste and a direct insight into the island's local customs.

Navigating Curacao’s Culinary Cove

For the uninitiated, the culinary alleyways of Curacao can be akin to a labyrinth, but fret not; we'll drop a pin on your gastronomic map. Start at the local Marshe Bieu, a vibrant market providing a feast for the senses and an unadulterated experience of local life and flavours. Be on the lookout for casual eateries called 'truk di pan', where you can grab a quick bite of local comfort food.

But, if you're looking for a more upscale experience, the charming restaurants of Willemstad are your compass. Here, chefs adeptly blend the island's traditional ingredients with international techniques, creating a nuanced fusion well worth exploring. Don't forget to ask for the specials – often a delightful twist on local favourites.

Relishing the Diversity

The essence of Curacao's food is diversity. It mirrors the multiculturalism that defines the island, offering a culinary crossroads where Spanish and Portuguese meet West African and Indonesian influences, resonating in every savoured bite.
By experiencing Curacao's local dishes, visitors are not just ingesting food; they are nourishing their understanding of the island's history and its people. Each dish represents a chapter in the narrative of a resilient, spirited community that takes immense pride in its flavours - a microcosm of the love Curacao has for its land and its legacies.

Your curiosity to explore beyond the beach is the key to unlocking this treasure trove, where every dish is an invitation to connect with Curacao's past and celebrate its present. In the end, you'll find that the memories of these flavours linger long after your vacation ends, a testament to the island's ability to charm, right down to your last morsel.


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