French St. Martin’s Year of Gastronomy
French St. Martin is Every Foodie’s Caribbean Dream Destination
French St. Martin is famous for its picturesque stretches of sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Still, the cuisine is what sets it apart. It is the Mecca of Caribbean food; this singular haven draws foodies, gourmands, and adventurers.
The tiny French island nation offers a delicious fusion of creole flavors and the great traditions of French cuisine against a stunning backdrop.
Without crossing the ocean, Francophiles can still enjoy flaky croissants and parlez francais with the locals.
French St. Martin has declared 2022 to be the Year of Gastronomy. The cuisine reflects the cultural tastes from all over the world.
Culinary Capital of the Caribbean
With its Creole, French, and African influences, it lives up to its reputation as the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.”
The good news—There are many fantastic eateries to pick from.
The bad news—You must choose.
I spent a week on French St. Martin with three other travel writers, savoring the flavors, spices, traditions, and cultural influences that set St. Martin apart.
It’s a destination that lends itself equally to culinary pursuits and relaxing beneath swaying palms on a picture-perfect beach. We sampled delights from many restaurants that won awards at last year’s inaugural Le Festival de la Gastronomie—they certainly got my approval.
The Island’s History
It’s the smallest island in the world to be divided by two countries, France and the Netherlands—a division that has held firm for more than 300 years.
Marigot was a fishing village located on the edge of a swamp for which it was named. With a long, rich history, it was made capital during the reign of King Louis XVI of France. He built Fort St. Louis on a hill near Marigot Bay—a must-visit for history buffs.
The Fort was built in the 18th century to protect the warehouses of the port and to defend Marigot from the English and buccaneers. It’s easy to feel transported back in time as you stand within the ruins.
Plus, it has a breathtaking view of Marigot, Anguilla, and the Bay. Climbing the steps to the top of the hill is worth the effort.
The Market of Marigot
The Marigot local market is the largest outdoor market in the Caribbean, where you go to soak up the local atmosphere. The Market Woman is honored by the statue in the center of the open-air space, greeting visitors.
It’s a vibrant, lively place to feel the pulse of French St. Martin with spices, fresh seafood, souvenirs, and more.
On the seafront, not far from Fort Louis, the open-air Creole huts open onto the street and set the scene for this colorful Market. Stalls overflow with locally grown fruits and vegetables, spices, and traditional specialties.
You’ll discover all the ingredients that have built the island’s culinary reputation. Every Wednesday and Saturday morning, fish, lobster, shrimp, and conch snails from the day’s catch can be found at the market stalls.
The fascinating Franco-Caribbean food scene – Wait until you taste this place.
Located northwest of the island, the old fishing village of Grand Case has retained its authenticity and preserved its colonial architecture.
Take a stroll down the narrow Grand Case Boulevard, and you’ll be surrounded by world-class French restaurants.
Have you ever savored Dover Sole de-boned and filled table-side? L’Auberge Gourmande is that place—they serve the finest French cuisine in one of the oldest traditional restored Creole cottages.
Meticulously prepared French classics include onion soup, garlicky escargots, and flaming desserts.
Sandy’s creole is a traditional Lolo near Marigot Market. It won last year’s culinary Festival as the best authentic restaurant.
What is a lolos? Lolos is local slang for an open-air local restaurant with prices that won’t break the bank.
They are the best place to experience the community spirit and hospitality that defines St. Martin.
We had breakfast at Sandy’s, where I had the traditional breakfast of Johnny cakes and shredded salt cod.
Johnny Cakes are a Caribbean staple; a corneal flatbread that is deep fried.
Sandy’s serves traditional creole recipes like codfish balls, stuffed crab, oxtail stew, and other Caribbean specialties.
Meeting people is the best part of travel.
The people are what bring a place to life. I met some friendly and genuine locals in St. Martin who were proud to show off the cuisine that makes St. Martin unique.
The Spice Lady
The Spice Lady, or Spicy to her customers, has operated her stall in the Marigot Market for 8 years. She gathers spices from several Caribbean islands to create blends of enticing mixtures.
Her biggest seller is the custom Magic Spice Blend, an assortment of the six most prevalent spices in Caribbean cooking.
Spicy shared, “I only work with love – I can tell you every spice in every mix of my spices and how to use them. The love of me in the spices makes the difference.”
Daily Breakfast by Chef Kenila of Heritage Kitchen
Chef Kenila Hyman is the owner and head chef of Heritage Kitchen. This company is based on her family’s legacy that aims to highlight French St. Martin’s culture through culinary art.
Inspired by her father, who was also a chef, she brought us breakfast daily with a smile and time for a chat about food.
The first morning included a traditional breakfast of johnny cakes, shredded salt fish, fresh mango juice, and bush tea–another specialty was pumpkin pancakes.
Chef Kenila played a part in last year’s Gastronomy de la Festival, teaching cooking classes to kids and guiding them on the secrets of good food.
Boiled Fish – the One Pot Wonder
Mother Daughter team Augustine “TaTine” Bany and Laticha Stephen have a thriving home catering business called T’s Delicacy, cooking local favorites.
They also teach cooking classes on the island. Laticha and TaTine came to our Villa to teach us how to prepare Blaff, a style of cooking fish in water and spices.
She called this one-pot wonder ‘boiled fish’.
Under their watchful guidance, we chopped and sautéed vegetables, added plantains and green bananas to the water, adding a whole red snapper in the 10 minutes of cooking. Turned cornmeal and cucumber salad accompanied our tasty feast.
TaTine said, “It was always tradition on Saturday mornings to go to the Marigot Market early to get the freshest fish. Then we go home and prepare boiled fish for lunch with the whole family.”
Tatine also said, “be positive–never let the negative hold you back.”
Tamarind Martini is a prize-winning cocktail.
The Hot Spot was named Best Cocktail Bar, and Bartender Daryl Brooks’ Tamarind Martini was the winner of the best cocktail at the 2021 Festival de la Gastronomie.
Tamarind was the required ingredient of the award-winning elixir. We stopped at Hot Spot, where self-taught mixologist Daryl explained how he worked with the flavors, balancing the tamarind’s sour with the melon liquor sweetness, creating the smooth concoction.
It was yummy, and my favorite part? The sugared tamarind ball garnishes on top.
Guavaberry Liquor, take a sip of history.
A drink you can’t leave French St. Martin without trying is the legendary guavaberry liquor–the national drink of St. Martin and a cherished symbol of the bygone days. Served at Christmas time, folk songs and stories are reminiscing of this liqueur.
The Guavaberry fruit has never been commercially cultivated. The aged liqueur has a woody, fruity, spicy, bitter-sweet flavor.
Many bars and restaurants use the wild guavaberry liqueur in their signature drinks since it is an integral part of the local culture and tradition.
We visited with Louis Maccow of Colombier Guavaberry Tradition. It has been family-owned and operated since the 1900s.
Mr. Maccow showed us how he uses the berries grown on his own property and mixes them with rum, sugar, and other flavors, aging in oak barrels, taking up to five years.
French St. Martin Spotlights French Caribbean Heritage Through Food
With a rich culinary and destination history, St. Martin is the perfect Caribbean location to bring together world-renown chefs, restaurants, and up-and-coming talent.
As French St. Martin is celebrating 2022 as the Year of Gastronomy, preparations for the 2nd edition of the Le Festival de la Gastronomie are in full swing. The dates are November 11-22nd.
Like last year’s inaugural event, a secret ingredient that must be used in the dishes and drinks at the Festival will be announced soon.
Cooking demonstrations for adults and children and a mixology competition open to bartenders that work in the establishments are just a few of the activities.
Come for the island life; stay for the food.
Suppose you are planning a Caribbean Island vacation where fantastic food is a vital piece of your itinerary. In that case, St. Martin is the place to come.
Schedule your vacay to coincide with the Festival de la Gastronomie this November. Your taste buds will thank you.