When you cruise to Bonaire, you’ll see a whole different take on the Caribbean lifestyle. There’s a small-town feel to the place, despite the steady flow of tourists. You’ll also find a distinctively different cuisine on the island, built on local ingredients filtered through the historic Spanish and Dutch influences.
The dishes are flavorful and well-seasoned but not chili-hot, leaning heavily on the island’s seafood and herds of much-loved goats. They’re usually served with funchi – the local equivalent of polenta – fried plantains, or rice with or without beans. You can pick one, or order “mitar mitar” (half and half), and get some of each.
The island is filled with places to eat, from sit-down restaurants to street vendors, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the local flavors. If it’s your first time in Bonaire, here’s our list of can’t miss local foods to try.
While you’re shopping in Bonaire or strolling the island’s attractions, try the pastechis. These flaky little pastries, stuffed full of meats, shrimp or poultry and deep-fried until they’re crisp and golden, are the island’s universal snack. They’re available all day, everywhere you go, and they’re just the right size for a quick bite.
One of the signature dishes of the island is guiambo, a soup made with okra and plenty of the local seafood. You don’t need to be much of a culinary sleuth to spot the family resemblance to gumbo. If you’ve had the Louisiana version, this will make for an interesting compare-and-contrast.
3. Sopi Piska
It’s hard to go wrong ordering fish anywhere in the Caribbean, and if you taste the local fish soup you’ll understand why. It’s loaded with the best local fish and shellfish, in a deeply flavorful broth. For seafood lovers, it’s a must-try.
4. Sopi Kadushi
Bonaire is sometimes called “Arizona with an ocean” for its rain-free, arid climate, and riding an ATV through the rugged interior is one of the most interesting things to do in Bonaire. It’ll give you a front-row seat to the island’s plentiful supply of cactus, which makes its way into the local cuisine in several forms. One way is this traditional soup made from the “candle cactus” and flavored with local seafood or cured meats.
5. Piska Kriyoyo
If you speak Spanish, you may recognize this as fish prepared Creole-style. It’s grilled or pan-seared, and then served with a spicy tomato sauce over rice or funchi. The fish is often lionfish, an invasive species that’s been aggressively colonizing the local reefs. It’s delicious, and eating it helps preserve the local ecosystem. Win-win!
6. Kabritu Stobá
Goats are one of the few domestic animals that could flourish on the dry and rocky island, making them one of the signature ingredients of the local cuisine. Kabritu Stobá is a sturdy goat stew, simmered in a richly seasoned tomato-based sauce. If you’ve had goat in other places and found it tough, don’t worry: Here it’s simmered to falling-apart tenderness.
7. Baka Stobá
If you like the idea of trying the rich local stews but can’t quite bring yourself to eat goat, try this instead. It’s the Bonaire version of beef stew, and it’s just as flavorful and authentic as the goat version.
8. Keshi Yena
This is the showcase dish of the island, a hollowed-out Edam cheese stuffed with meats and baked. It’s served at the table with some ceremony, and you’ll lift the rich, oozing lid to reveal the seasoned meat filling underneath. It’s a memorable experience, and not too challenging to recreate at home for friends.
9. Pika Siboyo
This isn’t a dish in itself, but a condiment. Unlike the cuisine of some other islands, Bonaire’s food isn’t built around chili heat, but pika siboyo – made of onions marinated with vinegar and peppers. Ask for it as a bold accompaniment to the rich island dishes.
10. For the Daring
If you enjoy trying dishes that make your friends and family shudder, Bonaire has a few interesting options. Sopi di yuwana, or iguana soup, is tasty and enjoyable for anyone who can get past the idea of eating iguana. Kabes ku higra, made of goat brains and liver cooked together, is a little more challenging. Sopi mondongo, or intestine soup, will definitely earn you the admiration of your travelling companions.
If you have a sweet tooth, definitely make a point of trying the island’s signature coconut sweets. Made with a hint of vanilla and rose flavors, the local candies are white or brown in their natural state – depending whether the brown skin is removed from the coconut – but you’ll also see them tinted in bright colors with food coloring.
You won’t lack for things to drink in Bonaire, but you shouldn’t miss the local spirit. Distilled from the island’s plentiful yatu cactus, tequila-like tekibon can be found in cocktails throughout the island. What better to wash down your meal with?
Bonaire and its food are distinctly different from what you’ll find in the rest of the Caribbean. That, and the near-guaranteed sunshine, make it a worthy destination whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned cruise veteran.