The soup looked most unappetizing. I had to rotate my spoon in circles on the viscous surface, slowly raising it to break the bonds of the slimy, clingy liquid. Still, strings like melted mozzarella on a pizza slice stretched with the spoon to my mouth in a sticky web bursting with flavor. If the okra soup wasn’t so good I wouldn’t have worked so messily hard to finish it. What is it about Curacao and its unusually tasty cuisine?
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When my foodie friends learned I was going to Curacao they had two things to tell me. One was “eat the Iguana” and the other “you must try the cactus soup.” It turns out that those and a wide range of other extremely local foods are available in Willemstad at the Plaza Bieu near the flea market and the floating market – two things you must see when you come to eat.
Plaza Bieu is a restaurant that grew from local vendors cooking their own meals as they tended their booths. Now it’s a huge lattice-sided pavilion filled with picnic tables. Down one side is a line of stone and concrete cooking stations with 8-10 “burners”, each filled with live coals heating huge pots and pans, all releasing wonderful aromas into the open-air space. Each station is a different eatery with specialty and over-lapping dishes.
Walking down the line you’ll find frying pans of fish and plantains, pots of dirty rice, others of chicken, beef, and goat stew, soups, funchi (think polenta), mashed potatoes, and some things that look like pancakes you’ll have to taste to identify. It is a cornucopia of inviting ethnic dishes just waiting to be eaten. Add a salad and a soft drink (try the lemonade) for a well-balanced meal at a reasonable price.
The ingredients of the dishes below tell you they have their roots in slavery. All can be traced back to the slave trade, with slaves forced to eat whatever was cheap, wild or leftover.
Guiambo or Jambo (Okra Soup) – is the typical combination of pork and beef broth served locally, with shrimp and some fish added, then thickened to an almost mucous consistency with lots of okra.
Sopi Yuana (Iguana Soup) and Yuana Stoba (Iguana Stew) – Iguanas are abundantly wild on Curacao so naturally found their way to the cooking pots – especially as a healing soup and aphrodisiac. The bony meat, often with the eggs, is served in the delicious local broth, or served as a stew, tasting somewhat like chicken combined with an elusive “other-white-meat” flavor.
Kadushi (Cactus Soup) – is very much like okra soup only it isn’t as slimy. The main ingredient is the pulp of the candle cactus that grows wild on Curacao.
Kabritu Stoba (Goat Stew) – sautéed goat meat and soffrito simmered in water with merlot, tomato, garlic and cumin for a dark, rich-tasting stew. I had three slightly different versions on my last visit. They were delicious.
Peanut Soup – This really great vegan soup from Trio Penotti was so good I had it twice! It’s a pureed vegetable broth with tropical spices, hot peppers, and smooth peanut butter served over sliced bananas and chopped green onion.
In addition to the soups, there’s the National Dish of Curacao – Keshi Yena – (baked stuffed cheese). It’s a hearty dish that has roots back to when kitchen slaves filled leftover cheese rinds with table scraps to create this stuffed cheese dish. Modern versions are made with cheese slices around a mixture of meat, vegetables, raisins, olives and pickles, all held together with eggs. It is most popular with the locals on the island, and very tasty.
All-in-all, the Curacao dishes of Dutch/Indonesian origins, such as Rijsttafel (rice table) and Bitterballen (deep fried meatballs) can be had elsewhere in the world, but the dishes whose roots go back to when Curacao was the center of the Caribbean slave trade are unique to the island and have to be tasted to be appreciated.
Plaza Bieu Sha Caprileskade, Willemstad, Curacao +599 9 524 8529
Curacao Tourism https://www.curacao.com/en/
Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa http://www.kurahulanda.com/
Go West Diving http://www.gowestdiving.com
Oasis Coral Estate Beach, Dive and Wellness Resort https://www.oasisparcs.com
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Also Read: Swimming and Diving in Curacao