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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Antigua & Barbuda

Historic Diet

There are a limited number of indigenous foods in Antigua & Barbuda, however there is enough for the earliest settlers to survive on. The black pineapple, sweet potatoes, plantains, maize (corn), cassava (yucca), bananas, coconuts, beans, and numerous other foods were all present on the islands of the Caribbean, especially after the earliest people arrived and began growing these foods. Although these fruits and vegetables, along with others, were the base of the historic diet, the waters around the islands also provided fish and other sea life as a food source, including conch, oysters, and snapper. However, there were few land animals present.

Culinary Influences

The Arawaks were the first people to greatly influence the cuisine in Antigua & Barbuda when they brought with them agricultural techniques and the first organized farming on the islands. Two of the most popular foods they grew and ate are still important aspects of the diet today: maize (corn) and sweet potatoes.

As the Europeans arrived so did greater transportation. This improvement of transportation and communication in the Caribbean led to the arrival of new foods and spices. These influences came from the Europeans as well as from the other islands and even from Africa as the slave trade brought many slaves to the islands. From Europe the addition of numerous spices and cattle, therefore cheeses, milk, and beef arrived. As Africans arrived so too did a simpler diet based partially on rice. The influence of these outside cuisines is even more apparent due to the lack of land and ability to grow various foods, forcing the people to import a large part of their diet, including cod, which is found in many local dishes.

In more recent times, particularly the 1900s and 2000s, international ethnic foods have arrived in larger numbers, as have foreigners. Today a huge number of ethnic foods can be found in grocery stores and restaurants as American, Italian, and Chinese are found everywhere. American fast food is also growing in popularity.

Staple Foods

Plantains: often a side dish or an ingredient in the main course
Rice: a common base to meals or simply a side dish

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Duccana (or Dukuna): sweet potatoes, pumpkin, coconut, and cornmeal served with fish in a tomato stew
Fungie & Pepperpot: the national dish consists of cornmeal, saltfish or lobster, and rice in a vegetable stew
Goat Water: spicy goat stew with few consistencies and many varieties

Dining Etiquette

Dining rules in Antigua & Barbuda are relaxed, very relaxed so there's little need to worry about making a wrong move. However, it is still nice to understand how the local people dine and how to behave in a restaurant or the home of a local. The first rule is that dining with friends or family is meant as a social occasion so take your time and get to know your fellow diners; meals can take hours and you should not make plans that force you to leave early.

Antigua & Barbuda is in the Caribbean and that means there is no hurry; arriving a few minutes late is never an issue, but dressing too casually can be. Try to dress in a relaxed, but slightly more formal manner than you otherwise would in Antigua & Barbuda, although a tie or a formal dress is a bit overboard on almost all occasions.

If eating in a local's home you will most likely be shown a seat, but don't sit until invited to do so. Meals may begin with drinks or just the food and as the guest you may be invited to take your food first. Try to eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and keep your hands within sight by resting your wrists on the edge of the table. Again, your host will likely not be offended if you eat in the incorrect manner, but do your best to follow their lead.

As you finish eating, place your fork and knife together on your plate to indicate you have finished. If eating in a restaurant, call the server over by making eye contact; don't wave or call his/her name. Most restaurants will include a service charge in the bill, but if not, add up to 10% for good service.

Celebrations & Events

The greatest celebration in Antigua & Barbuda is Carnival (not to be confused with Carnaval or Mardis Gras that takes place prior to Lent). This celebration takes place in late July and early August to celebrate the freeing of slaves. In addition to the great cultural experience that the festival offers, including music and dancing in the streets, it also offers numerous local street foods and food fairs throughout the country. Although no particular foods are associated with Carnival, eating with friends to celebrate is an essential part of the festival and it's a great way to try local foods.

Antigua & Barbuda also celebrates their independence day on November 1st with various food festivals and again this is a time when people get outside and celebrate with friends and neighbors, making it easy to join in the festivities.

Drinks

When it comes to drinks in Antigua & Barbuda it begins with the local fruit juices, which are ever present. Raspberry, mango, passion fruit, guava, tamarind, and lemonade are all popular and readily available. Soft drinks are also common with both international and local varieties on the islands. Other non-alcoholic drinks like coffee and tea are available, but not really popular.

On the alcoholic side, rum rules as it does for much of the Caribbean. If drinking in the country the best option is the local rums made by Cavalier which also form the base for numerous mixed drinks. Beer is also popular in Antigua & Barbuda and the local favorite is Wadadli, although international beers are offered as well. Wine and other alcoholic beverages are available in the country, but not as commonly consumed by the people.

The tap water is generally safe to drink in Antigua & Barbuda, however confirm this with your hotel or guesthouse, particularly during hurricane season as the water can be contaminated. If you do drink the water, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: September, 2012