Spicy Conch Chowder: Chunky, vibrant, and that full-blooded, make-your-nose-run Caribbean spice enliven this chowder. Celery, onions, peppers, carrots, and potatoes color and thicken it, but the conch, fresh and cleaned on-site, is the real star.
Heavy Cake: Also known as Cassava Cake, this thing is true to its name. Sugar and butter make up the base of this cake along with yucca and a whole bunch of smooth but hearty spices (cinnamon and nutmeg, for example).
Meat Pie: These light, crusty pastries are stuffed with lobster, chicken, or beef. The warm, gooey texture and the hearty fare are perfect for a hand-held breakfast.
Breadfruit: These prickly, green orbs that grow on a flowering tree are full nutrients and pack a heavy dose of energy, but they taste a little (or a lot) like barely-mashed Yukon potatoes if they aren’t doctored. Give them a shot, preferably as a side dish with butter and salt or a curry mixture.
Johnny Cake: An unleavened, flour-based, disc-like bread, these delicious little cakes are best dressed with butter or coconut oil for a warm snack (get them straight from the oven), but can also be sliced in the middle and stuffed with anything (lobster, salt fish, jerk chicken) for a heavier meal.
Oxtail: The tail of cattle, formerly only of ox or steer, is one of the staple foods in Grand Cayman. It is most often served in a soup or stewed with a serving of rice.
Sea Urchin: These spiky little buggers hurt something fierce if you step on them on the beach, and expectedly, their taste is just as salty as their personalities. Your best bet to find sea urchin is at one of the sushi restaurants where they’ll often provide the soft, red or orange ovaries even if they aren’t on the menu.
Ackee: This yellow-orange, pear-shaped fruit must ripen on the tree before picking due to its otherwise poisonous nature. When ready, the bulb splits open to reveal 3 black seeds (that cannot be eaten) and the fleshy, cream-colored edible portion of the fruit. It is typically boiled and then served alongside fish or as part of mixed dish.
Conch Steak: Fried, grilled, or raw, conch is lighter (more protein and no fat) than beef and makes the perfect evening meal. If made correctly, the white meat is fresh with no fishy taste and is most similar to clams or calamari, though still more mild and sweet. It shouldn’t be rubbery, tough, or chewy – if it is, then it wasn’t cooked properly. Conch is also served as fritters (breaded and fried) for fish and chips-like platters in the afternoon.
Jerk Chicken: Spicy dry rubbed or wet marinated chicken that is kick-you-in-the-pants hot (or it is for most people, anyway). It can be calmed with little lime juice or a creamy sauce when served.
Chicken Rundown: Coconut-based dishes are staples on the island as the coconuts are so plentiful. Chicken rundown, a traditional dish, is based on coconut flesh that has been chopped and boiled down to both oil and custard. Spiced chicken is then added to the coconut mixture for meal that has the consistency of a thick stew.
Turtle: Sea turtle, often served in a soup or stew, is considered a delicacy on the island as well as their national dish. Though endangered, turtles here are raised to be released into the wild and the numbers that are eaten (as part of a cultural identity) are strictly controlled – which has led less poaching. I wouldn’t suggest having turtle at every meal, but as long as you know the source of your turtle meat (it should only come from the Cayman Turtle Farm) then go ahead and have a taste. The stew is generally a bit spicy – and in respect for the use of every part of the turtle and its predicament, you should eat every last bite of whatever you order.
Lionfish: A white, meaty fish that has the potential to be both poisonous and delicious can be found on a few menus in the Cayman Islands. It is flaky, tender, a bit buttery, and similar to lobster in texture. If you see it, order it.
– M. Ray Hall