There are so many Caribbean islands, one starts to wonder how different one sunny paradise could possible be from another. But not all islands are created equal. Take the island of Aruba, for example. There’s a lot more to the vivacious, little island than just surf and sand. This island is full of surprises, in fact, especially when it comes to food. I had the luck of being invited there to experience this year’s Carnival the last weekend in February. It was an explosion of color and music and pure joy.
Locals prepare for the event all year round and the entire island was buzzing as the big weekend, the culmination of a serious of smaller events, grew closer and closer. Carnival music was playing everywhere we went, and people excitedly shared details about their costumes and floats and parties and music and meet-up spots.
When I wasn’t busy taking in the Carnival parades and parties, swimming in Aruba’s famed Natural Pool, sailing across the clearest, bluest waters on an afternoon catamaran cruise; or soaking in the heavenly quiet at the Aruba Marriott’s adults only pool, I was eating my way across the island. I was blown away at the variety of dining this relatively small island has to offer. Here are some of my favorites.
For local fare:
Zeerover. Hands down. If you want local, you want Zeerover (which loosely translates to pirate). The menu is nothing more than a short list of what the fisherman have just reeled in. You walk up to the window, tell them which seafood you want and how you want it cooked, and then you pull up a seat and wait. The fishing boats were docked and the fish and shrimp were being unloaded just moments before they were being prepared and served. Nothing fancy about Zeerover. But I have to say, it doesn’t get any fresher or more local than this.
Whatever comes to mind when you think pancakes, forget about it. Linda’s Dutch Pancakes and Pizzas is a whole new pancake paradigm. The pancakes are super-thin and enormous with deliciously crisp edges. They’re offered with a plethora of toppings from sweet to savory – candy, cheese, fruit, bacon, you name it. You can’t go wrong with a custom creation. But they have lots of tried and true combos too if you want to play it safe. I’m a big fan of the fresh strawberries and chocolate chips, myself.
For Cuban food:
Cuba’s Cookin’ is as much about dining as it is about dancing. If you want to dance, that is. There is live music and, the night I was there, there was a lovely, older gentleman, a friend of the musicians playing there (in his late 70s for sure) who showed me the ropes. The menu is full of Cuban favorites, including ropa vieja (shredded beef in a tomato based sauce) and empanadas, and a jam-packed bar menu with all classics and a few fresh surprises too.
For Chinese food (Yes, Chinese food):
I wasn’t expecting good Chinese food in Aruba. I wasn’t really expecting any Chinese food in Aruba, really. But it was within walking distance of my hotel and it’s my favorite genre. So, I took a chance on Hung’s Paradise and I was so glad I did. I ordered simply — wonton soup, egg rolls, and their house fried rice — and I was impressed all around.