Sunday, September 16, 2007

Food review from my trips to St Maarten/Martin and Saba - Part I

Fidel and I were eating dinner one night this last trip, at

(more to come) and we (me) were trying to come up with a really great job for me to do while he was in the Carribean. Food critic came to mind.... eat my way through the Islands and write about it. YESSS!!!!

We laughed as it sounded a bit far fetched. But DeathSweeper commented on life's plans and I firmly believe that sometimes a tiny seed is enough to direct a path later in life. This may very well be one of them - experience has told me that.

Anyhow, I think I will do a trilogy (more or less) of blogs about food in St Maarten/Martin.
(this link is good too.) and Saba (the site is a bit out dated).

The St Maarten/Martin link above has a pretty good list of all the major restaurants on the island. We've eaten at a few, driven by most or at least seen reviews and/or menus in the plentiful tourist magazines that abound on the island.

Its just amazing the number and variety of eating establishments (not including the numerous corner stands, tiny two seat eateries like :

or homes that will likely cook meals for take-out to supplement meager incomes, and American or American-imitated fast-food places.) for an island that has one set of stop lights (I'm not counting the warning lights on the two lift bridges) and 3 movie theatres (one is only open on Wednesday and is one of those "repertoir" movie theaters).

Maho & Cupecoy (Dutch and French):

The American Med School on St Maarten is in this area. The area is also marketed to attract those young adults who like to "beach party", as well as a mini"Las Vegas":

One area that is popular to party sits right at the end of the island's runway:

This area also has condos that were destroyed in the 1995 hurricane. The shells have been left standing as apparently the law suites haven't been settled yet. It makes me think of what an overgrown war stricken area might look like:

Anyhow - as this whole sector is at the absolute opposite end of where we usually stay on the island, and for many various reasons we were never enticed to eat here. My sum total experience of the the Maho & Cupecoy area is just from driving around, while touring the island (or flying over as the plane is landing).

Nettle Bay, Grand Case, Sandy Ground, Terre Bas, Franc Bay and Orient Beach (French):

All these areas are on the French side of the island. Reading the magazines, again, you would swear that the only decent places to eat are on the French side. Lots of fabulous reviews that may be real, or restaurant paid PR. We've driven or walked by many on the above link's list list. I've seen menus for some and the food looks good, although a lot of the restaurant from the outside look a little questionable (read "dumpish"). There are suppose to be great beaches, but we never went to them. However the scenery and real estate in much of the areas, like the rest of the island is a varied mix, many times in the same area, of various socio-economic classes... poor to very rich.

Question - why do all (most) of the island's French restaurants think that Muscovy Duck is such a rare treat as to charge a zillion dollars ? Almost ALL of the French restaurants serve it in one form or other.

Marigot (French):

Beautiful marina and boardwalk area, but after that - not so great. The French side of the island seems so much more run down than the Dutch side. Again, a lot of what appeared to be fabulous restaurants, but again location made it too hard to have dinner. We did have breakfast a couple of times tho'. Forget the "Breakfast Americana". Things only really get going at 10 am. Breakfast is very French - pastries, bread.. you know, the "Continental" type. But yummmy. I've had the best Crocque Monsieur ever, in Marigot:

This time around, the "market" wasn't in full mode, but August & September are the big "down" times for the island. However, it was lovely seeing the mounds of fresh spices. I had hoped to get some guavaberries* , but I think the season is September, so I was a month off:

Oh yeah - Margot is a great place to buy Lancome makeup as well as Cuban cigars *lol* (Phillipesburg has the identical stores with the same price - double *lol*).

We've bought fresh baguettes from various places on the French side of the island, as well as at the big supermarket at Cole Bay and at Oyster Bay (Dutch side), and you know what, the French baguettes weren't any better than those on the Dutch side.

That's about it for now. In another blog, I'll talk more about the Dutch side and our eating experiences there (hmmmmm.... gouda).

Finally ~

My beloved goats:

(the Dutch side has goats & chickens roaming the streets and hillsides; the French side has horses and bovine animals).

An aside

Last trip in December, I started to think that the guavaberry "thing" was a joke played on tourists, until I talked to an elderly woman. That same trip, Fidel's landlady gave me a Saban recipe for the drink, as well as some stewed guavaberries (which I forgot when I left for home). They are no joke - they are real and the liqueur is is pretty tasty ( yummyyy... guavaberry daiquiris).


Guavaberry Liqueur
By Karen Joslin

Throughout history, people all over the world have made alcoholic beverages out of indigenous ingredients. Guavaberry liqueur is one of the most unique examples of this universal endeavor. Made in a number of places in the Caribbean, the concoction is usually associated with St. Maarten, where it's considered the national drink.

The Plant

Contrary to its name, the guavaberry isn't related to guava at all. It's actually a closer relative to clove and eucalyptus. Guavaberry trees grow wild in the Caribbean islands and a few areas of South and Central America. The fruits, sometimes called rumberries, have also been introduced to Florida, Hawaii, Bermuda, and the Philippines.

Because the trees grow best in rocky, difficult terrain, and their fruit grows out of reach, harvesting the berries is challenging. High winds and insects can lessen the amount of fruit the trees produce; in fact, the trees are so susceptible that some years they don't yield any berries at all. The berries themselves ripen to either yellow-orange or dark red verging on black, and are about half the size of cherries. On St. Maarten, the trees bear fruit at different times from year to year, but only when conditions are just right.

The Drink

p>For centuries, people in the Caribbean made their own guavaberry liqueurs from a combination of guavaberries, rum, and sugar cane. A profitable business even sprang up in the Virgin Islands in the late 1800s, exporting guavaberry wines and rums to Denmark. But its market never broadened, and currently it is hard to find outside of the Caribbean.

The Sint Maarten Guavaberry Company is the main producer of guavaberry liqueur these days, keeping the legendary beverage alive. Their Guavaberry Emporium in Phillipsburg offers free samples of their wide assortment of liqueurs. With their vintage varieties and hand painted bottles, they've perfected the guavaberry liqueur like no one else. They also sell rums, barbeque sauces, guavaberry honey, and similar items. Located in a quaint old house on Front Street, the Emporium is a popular stop for tourists to the island.

While travelers are most likely to encounter the Sint Maarten's brand, handmade guavaberry liqueurs still exist. In the Virgin Islands, Ashley Nibbs (also known as "the Bush Tea Doctor") brews his own small brand, A. Nibbs Sons & Daughters, according to family tradition. And in the Dominican Republic, people often make their own guavaberry liqueur by filling a jar with guavaberries, pouring in rum to cover, and then burying the jar for a year.


A treasured Christmas drink, guavaberry liqueur inspired holiday traditions. On St. Maarten, carolers would go from door to door, singing "Good morning, good morning, I come for me guavaberry." At each house, they'd receive a small sample from the owner's bottle. But this is not reserved for St. Maarten; residents of the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic likewise associate the spirit with Christmas festivities.

Many people prefer to mix guavaberry liqueur in drinks rather than drinking it straight because of its sweet, fruity taste. It's considered especially delicious as a colada, made by mixing guavaberry liqueur, coconut cream, and pineapple juice. A small amount of the liqueur added to sauces or desserts lends a special flavor to the dish.

Historically, guavaberries were used to make jams, juices, tarts, and cakes on various Caribbean islands. Those tasty treats can still occasionally be found by lucky travelers. Cubans savor the juicy, bittersweet fruits, eating them plain or making juice. They also make a guavaberry syrup, which is used medicinally for liver problems.

Because of its rarity and uniquely pleasant taste, those who encounter guavaberry liqueur should be sure to give it a try. You might even be inspired to bring home a bottle to add to your own Christmas traditions.

Karen Joslin writes for Segisys travel Web sites, such as To learn more about St. Maarten's cuisine, take a look at this culinary page at

© 2006, Interactive Internet Websites, Inc.

Article may only be reprinted if it is not modified in any way, and if all links remain live.

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jmb said...

I didn't realize that Fidel was on St Maarten/Martin.

We were there for the day (from a cruise) last November and took a bus trip all around the island. It was a holiday and the French side was closed. It did indeed look rather seedy, without any life around.
Interesting post MSW.

MedStudentWife said...

Thank you jmb - I plan to do more on the food :)

Fidel is actually on Saba (he's home at the moment having a break this semester). We were going to St Maarten to give him a break and see a bit of the bigger world.

Interesting to be in parts of the world that actually close for holidays & Sundays. Its really strange after years here in Paradise, being used to everything being open all the time.