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Food, Dining, & Drinks in the Bahamas

Historic Diet

Bahamian Food - Conch fritters
Conch fritters

The islands of the Bahamas are home to a number of fruits and vegetables and many of these foods made up the historic diet as they were readily available on some islands, although many of the islands are too dry to grow any foods. The black pineapple, sweet potatoes, plantains, maize (corn), cassava (yucca), bananas, coconuts, beans, and numerous other foods were all present on the islands of the Caribbean, especially after the earliest people arrived and began growing these foods. The Bahamas though had a more impressive list of local seafood as conch, grouper, snapper, and crawfish are all present off the shores in abundance.

Culinary Influences

The earliest influences in the diet of the people in the Bahamas came with agriculture; the local people began growing their favored fruits and vegetables to make the base of the diet, including the cultivation of plantains.

Bahamian Food - Rum Cake
Rum cake

The next great influence arrived with the Europeans, who actually destroyed the entire region as the people were removed for slavery and the islands were empty for over a hundred years. In the late 1600s people began settling the islands once more, but as in the past, the islands are fairly dry and few fruits or vegetables grow well. This led to a diet based heavily on the importation of foods. The diet truly arrived from other parts of the Caribbean or North America with influences from the United States, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Spain, Africa, and more. It was these people who made rice and grits a staple, and it was them who introduced new spices and meats from elsewhere as today's Bahamian diet is truly a combination of other foods and cultures.

In more recent times this diet that is a reflection of other cultures has continued in some ways and diminished in others. The people have truly taken these past influences and altered them with the local ingredients, particularly the local seafood, to make unique dishes that are now authentically Bahamian. However with the growth of transportation, numerous international ethnic foods have arrived in larger numbers. Today a huge number of ethnic foods can be found in grocery stores and restaurants as American, Jamaican, Italian, and Chinese foods can be found nearly anywhere.

Staple Foods

Grits: this starch is common with breakfast, but not with other meals
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

Boiled Fish & Grits: as simple as the name sounds, usually served for breakfast
Conch: the national dish of conch served with rice and peas

Dining Etiquette

Dining in the Bahamas is generally a very relaxed event in which etiquette and appearance take a back seat to enjoyment, but if you're dining in someone's home you must be a little more formal. If meeting a local for a meal, whether that's in their home or in public arrive on time and if dining in their home dress in nice clothes, even so much as wearing a tie or a dress.

Your host will show you a seat and your host will also indicate when you may begin eating, at which point the formality sinks quite a bit as dining is meant to be enjoyed and conversation should take over. Many times meals are served family style so try everything possible, but the Bahamians are more forgiving than most if you have an aversion to a particular food. Eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and keep your hands in sight by resting your wrists on the table.

As you are done eating, finish all the food on your plate and thank your hosts. Dinner may be followed with dessert or coffee, but this is not standard so don't expect it or be surprised if it is offered.

If you dine in a restaurant, check the bill to see if a gratuity has already been added. If it has there is no need to add a tip above that amount, if not a tip of about 15% is considered appropriate based on the service.

Celebrations & Events

To get a good feel of traditional Bahamian foods, the best time to visit is during Junkanoo, which is a celebration in honor of a local chief. Every year this festival takes place from December 26 to January 1 to celebration the time when slaves were allowed to return home to their families. The food served during this time is very traditional food as conch, fish, rice, fruit, and of course rum are essential elements for every meal. Bimini is the best place to experience this festival.

For Christmas most families serve ham or turkey as the main course. There are also numerous side dishes with Christmas, including rice, potatoes, yams, and numerous other side dishes. However Christmas tends to be an intimate family affair and rarely will a foreigner be invited to a family's dinner

Most other holidays in the Bahamas, including personal celebrations, generally serve similar foods as are served during Junkanoo, although many individuals will alter the menu to suit their particular tastes.

Drinks

Bahamian Food - Coconut drink
Coconut drink

Drinks in the Bahamas are varied, but not unique. Any popular drinks that can be found elsewhere can be found in the Bahamas from juices and colas to coffee and tea. Perhaps the most popular drinks are their juices, which come in numerous flavors including pineapple, guava, passion fruit, and more.

As far as alcoholic drinks are concerned, the Bahamas is known for its rum, much as the rest of the Caribbean is. While the Bahamas makes their own rums, including the vanilla-flavored Nassau Royale, they are more known for the specific mixed drinks that use rum. The "Bahama Mama" is rum mixed with grenadine, orange juice, pineapple juice and ice, while the "Bahama Breeze" is rum and other liquors mixed with lemon, orange, and pineapple juices. Other alcoholic drinks are also popular like beer and wine, although neither holds a place in the hearts or stomachs of the people like rum does.

The tap water is generally safe to drink in the Bahamas, 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