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Food, Dining, & Drinks in St. Vincent & the Grenadines

Historic Diet

St. Vincentian Food - Kingfish
Kingfish

St. Vincent & the Grenadines' historic diet was based on what the islands naturally grew, but as small islands the diversity of foods is somewhat limited, although larger than one would think for an island nation of its size. Most of the island's oldest foods actually arrived with the earliest settlers; these native and early imports included plantains, pineapples, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), cassava (yucca), bananas, coconuts, beans, and numerous other foods.

On the small islands that make up St. Vincent & the Grenadines the land life was limited and viable food options were sparse as few local animals truly provided food for the people. This differed greatly from the surrounding waters though as there is a huge number of seafood in the area, including angelfish, barracudas, grouper, lobsters, snapper, and crabs.

Culinary Influences

St. Vincentian Food - Beef stew
Beef stew

The first influence to the diet of St. Vincent & the Grenadines came with the first people to arrive who brought with them new foods and cultivated these foods. This led to the introduction of new ingredients as well as organized agriculture.

The next significant influence to the local diet of St. Vincent & the Grenadines came with the Europeans. As the Europeans arrived they brought with them new spices, animals such as cattle, fruits including breadfruit, and vegetables. The French were perhaps the most influence of these people in the early days as they introduced numerous changes, including the introduction of cattle, but also brought new cooking techniques to the island.

The British continued to influence the diet. Like the French, the British brought with them new spices, animals, fruits, and vegetables. The English were perhaps the most influence of these Europeans, but today the food has little semblance to either French or British cuisine.

During this time of colonization came slaves from Africa and the movement of people throughout the Caribbean. Slave owners sought to feed their slaves as inexpensively as possible, giving a rise to the popularity and heavy use of rice in the diet. Maize, beans, and potatoes were also important foods for the people of the island from this point forward.

In the past century or so, international ethnic foods have arrived in larger numbers, but almost wholly on the island of St. Vincent. Today a fair number of ethnic restaurants can be found on St. Vincent including American, French, Italian, and Chinese restaurants. None of these outside influences have truly altered the local diet though; they have only been added as supplemental foods.

Staple Foods

Breadfruit: not as common as rice, but more culturally important and an ingredient in most traditional dishes
Plantains: often a side dish or an ingredient in the main course
Rice: a common base to meals or simply a side dish

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Roast Breadfruit & Jackfish: just as it implies, the national dish is breadfruit with jackfish
Souse: animal feet (pig, chicken, or beef) cooked with onions, garlic, and spices

Dining Etiquette

Dining rules in St. Vincent & the Grenadines are relaxed, very relaxed so there's little need to worry about making a wrong move. However, it is still nice to understand how the local people dine and how to behave in a restaurant or the home of a local. The first rule is that dining with friends or family is meant as a social occasion so take your time and get to know your fellow diners; meals can take hours and you should not make plans that force you to leave early.

St. Vincent & the Grenadines is in the Caribbean and that means there is no hurry; arriving a few minutes late is never an issue, but dressing too casually can be. Try to dress in a relaxed, but slightly more formal manner than you otherwise would in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, although a tie or dress is a bit overboard on almost all occasions.

If eating in a local's home you will most likely be shown a seat, but don't sit until invited to do so. Meals may begin with drinks or just the food and as the guest you may be invited to take your food first. Try to eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and keep your hands within sight by resting your wrists on the edge of the table. Again, your host will likely not be offended if you eat in the incorrect manner, but do your best to follow their lead.

As you finish eating, place your fork and knife together on your plate to indicate you have finished. If eating in a restaurant, call the server over by making eye contact; don't wave or call his/her name. Most restaurants will include a service charge in the bill, but if not, add up to 10-15% for good service.

Celebrations & Events

The most widely celebrated holiday in St. Vincent & the Grenadines is Carnival, which takes place from the end of June into July. Like Carnival in many other locations, this festival is focused on music, dancing, and partying, but is also a great time to try local foods. Everyone seems to be out celebrating during this time and if you want to try any of the local alcohols, there will be plenty of opportunities.

Drinks

St. Vincent & the Grenadines will offer the visitor any non-alcoholic drinks they are used to from home, including teas, coffees, soft drinks, milk, and juices. Sadly, there is little variation from these standard drinks, although the local juice selection is quite large and impressive. The national drink is also worth a try and available at most beach-side locations: sea moss drink, which is a mixture of sea moss, limes, water, milk, and spices.

On the alcoholic side St. Vincent & the Grenadines, like most of the Caribbean prefers rum and beer over other alcohols (although others are available). Rum is usually served as a mixed drink as hundreds of options exist. Most of the beers you'll find are popular international brands.

The tap water is generally safe to drink in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, however confirm this with your hotel or guesthouse, particularly during hurricane season as the water can be contaminated. If you do drink the water, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: March, 2013