The Sweet And Spicy Sides Of Curacao
Though Curacao may seem like your average Caribbean island, this vacation hotspot has inherited a cosmopolitan sensibility unlike any other destination. Though colonized by the Dutch, Curacao boasts an incredibly diverse population, with 45 distinct nationalities represented in its modest population. Over the years, these diverse groups have had an incredible influence on the local culture. In the world of food, ethnic traditions have blended with local cuisine to create one-of-a-kind recipes. With the culinary styles of locations as diverse as South and Central America, Southeast Asia and the haute cuisine of Western Europe represented on the island, Curacao may boast some of the most delicious and provocative food in the world. Additionally, as the namesake of the popular sugary liqueur, Curacao has certainly grown a sweet tooth – best represented by the island’s original dessert recipes.
Despite the influence of so many cultures on Curacao’s cuisine, there are plenty of popular recipes that pre-date the island’s cosmopolitan development. The best example of this unique Caribbean style is iguana stew. Prepared just as you would imagine, the dish is a favorite of locals (who say the meat greatly resembles chicken), though it often takes an adventurous tourist to have a taste. Traditional Dutch recipes dating to the early colonial period such as keshi yena – a baked dish with plenty of Gouda cheese, meat and other fresh ingredients – are also popular in many of Curacao’s restaurants.
Much to the surprise of many visitors, Indonesian cuisine plays an important role in Curacao’s culinary scene. Brought to the island by the Dutch after establishing colonies in Southeast Asia, Indonesian ingredients and cooking techniques have found their way into many favorite local recipes. One such dish is rijisttafel (Dutch for “rice table”), a combination of rice, vegetables, meat or seafood and the hearty kick of chili peppers. Asian seasonings and preparations are also commonly used in Curacao when serving fresh local seafood such as mahi mahi and red snapper.
Despite the fascinating culinary atmosphere on the island, Curacao is certainly best known as the namesake of a popular liqueur. As the story goes, Curacao liqueur was an accidental creation. After establishing the first colony on Curacao, the Spaniards attempted to grow Valencia oranges. However, the oranges reacted to the vastly different climate, dramatically altering the fruit’s distinctive citrus flavor. Over time, the Valencia became the sour Lahara. Years later, growers realized that the peels of Lahara oranges contained sweet-scented oils. Through experimentation, the sugary exterior of the Lahara orange – along with a number of unusual spices – found its way into the recipe for Curacao liqueur. Today, the orange-flavored drink named for its birthplace is enjoyed throughout the world.
If you try some of the island’s namesake liqueur, you might also want to keep some dessert nearby. While Aruba might hold claim to the best beer of the ABC Islands, Curacao definitely cooks up the most distinctive sweets. One of the most popular desserts is a luxurious Caribbean take on the fruit cake known as bolo pretu – a rich, dark cake stuffed with Caribbean fruits.
As might be expected in the Caribbean, coconut finds its way into a number of recipes. A simple dessert known as djente kacho – or dog’s tooth – is merely fresh coconut cooked in a sugary syrup. The confection known as kokada finds the coconut cooked flat in patties, the result bearing some similarity to the macaroon. In the bakeries and restaurants of Curacao, you will also find sunchi (bite-size meringues), panseiku (pralines made with toasted peanuts, prepared with almond essence and brown sugar) and tentalaria (finely ground peanuts and cashews served in a fresh sugar cream).
Even some traditionally savory items served at lunch and dinner are prepared with the sweet tooth in mind. For instance, a dish called ayaka is cooked like a traditional meat tamale, yet banana leaves are used in lieu of cornhusks to lend a bit of sweetness to the dish. Likewise, one of the most popular appetizers in Curacao is a sweet soup composed of plantains and vegetables, seasoned with cinnamon and peppers.
For those wondering about the best Caribbean destinations to visit, the diverse culinary traditions of Curacao certainly give travelers one more reason to visit this unique island paradise.
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