The shelves of Curaçao's large supermarkets and specialty food shops are well stocked
with a variety of goods from around the world. Because of its prosperity and its role as a
major Caribbean transshipment center, Curaçao imports virtually all the food that is
consumed locally. Enter any island supermarket and you will notice products from the
United States, Europe and South America. The typical Curaçaoan homemaker has to be
multilingual just to do the weekly shopping!
But traditional fare was another matter. Because of its poor soil and scant rain Curaçao
was never a major agricultural center. Only a handful of food crops were grown locally,
forming the basis of a somewhat monotonous diet for the majority of the people. Small
plantations produced grains like sorghum and corn; robust vegetables such as okra,
pumpkin, cucumbers, Swiss chard, and peppers; and fruits like plantains, watermelon,
papaya and mango. Goat, iguana, chicken, rabbit, pork and salted beef were the most common
Today, some small-scale agriculture is still carried out on the island, mostly by
Portuguese farmers. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are sold at the large round market
in Punda and at small corner groceries known as tokos (some of which have small gardens
right in their backyards), as well as some supermarkets.
Immigrant groups have brought their own culinary traditions. The numerous Chinese
restaurants, in particular, have adapted to local conditions; Chinese dishes, for example,
probably have fewer vegetables than you might expect. (You may also be surprised to see
pork chops and home fries sharing the menu with chow mein!)
The Indonesian influence is everywhere, with nasi goreng (bean sprouts sauteed with chunks
of meat and chicken), bami (long noodles with vegetables and meat) and saté (skewered
meat with peanut sauce) among the most popular dishes here. Indonesian peanut sauce also
tops French fries and grilled meat. The most impressive Indonesian culinary influence is
rijsttafel, a spectacular twenty course meal that shouldn't be missed.
Kuminda Krioyo (Creole Food)
Local food is heavy and hearty. Main dishes such as fried fish, stewed goat (kabritu),
chicken and beef are served with peas and rice (aros moro), potatoes or funchi, a boiled
cornmeal paste that resembles polenta. Mixed with beans and sugar, funchi becomes tutu.
For the really adventuresome there is stewed iguana (yuana), with a taste remarkably like
Vegetables usually play a secondary role in traditional Curaçao cuisine, with some
notable exceptions. Green papaya, nubbly local cucumbers (konkomber) or cabbage are stewed
with corned beef. Okra (yambó) and cactus (kadushi) are made into slimy soups, definitely
an acquired taste. Fried plantains are a popular side dish; a sweet soup is also made from
plantains and vegetables, seasoned with peppers and cinnamon (see recipe). Small colorful hot peppers
(promèntè) and pickled onions add spice to local dishes.
To sample krioyo food at its best, lunch at the covered food market (Marshe) in Punda
during the week. The atmosphere is crowded and noisy (mostly local office workers on lunch
break) but you can't beat it for local color, price and portion size. Hygiene is
excellent. Great fresh seafood, including kark4 (conch), can be had at rustic seaside
restaurants at Piscadera, and Playa Kanoa (weekends only). For a less casual atmosphere,
consult the restaurant listings at the back of the book.
For late night takeout, local style, don't miss the roadside snack trucks (truk'i pan) and
snack bars. If you just want a snack, grab a pastechi (fried meat pastry) lumpia (fried
vegetable roll) or empantá (fried white cornmeal pastry filled with meat).
Curaçaoans take major holidays such as Christmas seriously, with a big emphasis on family
and food. If you're lucky enough to accompany a local family during a baptism, first
communion or other traditional event, you're apt to sample a true cornucopia of culinary
No Curaçaoan Christmas is complete without ayakas, savory meat tamales wrapped in banana
leaves. Although they are originally from Venezuela, many local families pride themselves
on their own recipes. Another Christrnas favorite is keshi yená, a stuffed cheese that is
very likely Curaçao's most famous dish. If the accompanying recipe seems too complicated,
follow the example of one overworked Curaçaoan who still yearned to create traditional
memories: line a casserole dish (or individual cups) with thick slices of Dutch cheese,
spoon in stewed meat or chicken (add raisins, olives and capers for a touch of
authenticity), and top with more cheese slices. Bake until the cheese melts.
Pickled fish, is a New Year's staple. Salted, dried herring (pékele), salmon (salmou) or
mackerel (makrel), are marinated with onions, hot peppers and spices. A local variation is
sult, pickled pigs' ears and feet cut into thin strips, soaked in brine and flavored with
onion and spicy peppers.
Major extravaganzas are not complete without boto pretu (black cake), quite possibly the
world's best fruitcake. One family's recipe calls for ten pounds of assorted dried fruits
and nuts drenched in eight liters of alcohol and exotic liqueurs, and held together with
two dozen eggs and just one cup of flour! The dense, fragrant cake is cut into small
individual squares and wrapped in foil for a take home remembrance. More modest
celebrations are marked with later ("letter"), "s" shaped cookies made
with fresh ground peanuts and nutmeg.
Kos Dushi (Sweets)
Curaçaoans love their sweets year round. Sugar, coconut and peanuts predominate in
traditional sweets, which can be purchased on Punda street corners, at bakeries and at
tokos. Most keep a week or longer unrefrigerated, and make an interesting-although
temporary souvenir. Why not give your friends back home a real taste of Curaçao?
Some Curaçao sweets are local variations of international favorites. Sunchi are meringue
"kisses," made of sugar, egg whites and food coloring, fragile and highly
perishable. Panseiku is a kind of praline: toasted peanuts and almond essence, cooked in a
brittle glaze of dark brown sugar. Chewy local taffy, kakifia, is still painstakingly
pulled by hand using a metal taffy hook.
Other sweets are purely local. The vividly named djente kachó ("dog's tooth")
has thick, irregularly shaped chunks of coconut cooked in a sugar syrup. Freshly grated
coconut patties, kokada, are also held together in a sugar syrup (see recipe), tinted with food coloring for a
festive look. Milk-based koi lechi ("milk things") are flavored with vanilla or
almond extract and formed into neat squares or circles.
If you hanker for nuts try tentalaria: ground peanuts or cashews in a sugar cream, or
zjozjoli, chewy sesame seed bars. Children young and old will love chupabèbè ("suck
and drink"), homemade sugar syrup lollipops made in fanciful animal-shaped molds;
somehow they seem to have much more flavor than store bought ones.