Contemporary island supermarkets are the best place to stock up on paper goods, liquors and favorite international brands of grocery, deli and dairy foods. However, to really experience the local food culture is to browse through an old-time open-air market. Here, there’s the delicious sight of plump papayas, sounds of fresh coconuts being cracked open, heady smell of stick cinnamon and so much more. Here are the top ten traditional Caribbean markets.
Antigua & Barbuda:
The red-roofed new Public Market Complex on Valley Road, in St. John’s, Antigua, is the size of a modern supermarket. Inside, it’s a step back to a simpler time where vendors display an enormous array of freshly harvested foods from overflowing stalls. There are coconuts, black pineapples, mangoes, sugar cane, fresh herbs and more. Have your produce weighed on an old-fashioned copper scale, for that true market experience.
Venezuelan fishermen and farmers moor their brightly colored wooden schooners next to St. Anna Bay in Punda, Williamstad, to sell fresh fish and produce. The Floating Market is an age-old tradition on this arid island that would be hard pressed to grow enough to meet its needs. Early birds get the freshest fish; however, you can find good fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, bananas, christophine, eggplant and sometimes local honey throughout the day. The Punda, or ‘Point’ in Dutch, is in one of the oldest parts of the city and dates back to 1634.
Roseau’s New Market, located along the Roseau River in Dominica’s capital city, is the best place to shop for fresh produce. The bustling market is especially busy on Friday nights and Saturday mornings when local vendors set up in stalls and pickup trucks to sell their products. Underneath a sea of multicolour umbrellas there are fruits and vegetables just as vibrant in hue. There’s also spices such as cinnamon and bay oil and fresh catch of the day that might include tuna and snapper.
The St. George’s Market is in the heart of town. It’s easy to find if you look and listen for a colourful cacophony of people hawking their produce from stalls, make shift tables and blankets spread on the ground. Bartering is a way of life here. Be sure to bring plenty of small bills in Grenadian currency. Best buys include tomatoes, soursop, callaloo leaves, cashew fruit, limes, guavas and of course fresh spices for which the island is known such as nutmeg, mace and cinnamon.
There are three great markets on this French island. The Sainte-Anne Market is located in the town center along the beach. It’s open every day from 9am to 7pm. Farmers sell spices, vegetables, fish (very early in the morning) and local rum punch. The Pointe-a-Pitre Market, which is by the harbor next to ‘Place de la Victoire’, is open daily from sunrise to late afternoon. Tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, fish and shell fish are staples. The Gosier Night Market, between the beach and church in the town center, is only open on Friday nights from 4pm to 9pm. Farmers sell fruits, vegetables and creole delicacies like passion fruit, cinnamon, or guava-flavoured bread, bokit (local sandwich), coconut cake and sorbet.
Saint Kitts & Nevis:
The tin-roofed Public Market sits in the heart of Basseterre, where there are also more modern shops like the Anima Craft Market and upscale Pelican Mall. Breadfruit, mangoes, papayas, sweet and hot peppers and light purple eggplant are available as are locally-raised meats. There’s a wonderful market in Charleston, Nevis, which was recently renovated. On Saturday whole families will man their tables ready with a scale for per pound purchases.
Look for the big orange roof in Castries and under it you will find a colossal selection of fruits, vegetables, spices, meats, fish, and value-added products like hot pepper sauces and prepared foods such as stewed pork, green figs and saltfish and conch roti. This century-plus old market is such a wonderful example of local market that National Geographic named it one of the ten best in the world.
Saturday is the busiest and best time to visit the open-air market in Marigot, although it is open daily. There’s fruits, vegetables, fresh fish sold by Anguillan fishermen, local meats and prepared foods like hot sauces and preserves sold in Creole-style huts along the waterfront beneath Fort Saint Louis. You can also purchase local alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks such as rums blended with fruits and spices and an effervescent drink called Mauby, made from the bark of a local tree.
Saint Thomas, USVI:
Market Square on Main Street in Charlotte Amalie has received a big face lift, but it doesn’t have nearly the amount of fresh produce as at the Bordeaux Market on the far west of the island. Rastafarian farmers sell herbs, tomatoes, tropical fruits and prepared fruit drinks like sorrel, tamarind and soursop, and hot vegan meals here each weekend.
Trinidad & Tobago:
Buy a variety of fresh produce such as cassava, green fig bananas, yam and plantains, plus plenty of leafy herbs and greens at the farmer’s market on Wilson Street, two blocks north of the bay where ferries arrive from Trinidad. Saturday is the big day, but because this market sells a variety of prepared foods such as curried crab and dumplings and aloo pies (like samosas) it also does a big weekday lunch trade. There’s fish, eggs, fresh and salted meats for sale too.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.