If you are lucky to visit the happiest island in the Caribbean, you are one step closer to an exciting food adventure. The Dutch island of Aruba is not only a pristine beach destination, but a place full of culinary delights! This is your tasty guide to Aruba: local food you must try, restaurant recommendations and how to experience the best of the local cuisine. If you are wondering what to eat in Aruba and where to eat, read ahead.
I was incredibly lucky to be part of a culinary press trip on the island, organised by the Aruba Tourism Authority. A delicious journey that allowed me to experience authentic Aruban food, as recommended by our local expert Paula. So make sure you’ve had something to eat before you read this, because you will be hungry by the end of this post!
Aruba local food: 10 things you must try
The Aruban cuisine is a wonderful blend of Caribbean, Latin American and Dutch influenced meals, with its own Aruban twist. Lots of fresh fish and seafood, fried delicious goodies, light fish soups and hearty stews. Here are the most popular traditional foods that you must try while holidaying in Aruba.
1. Pan Bati
Let’s start with the bread. On the side of your Aruban meal you have to have a Pan Bati. A fluffy, slightly sweet flat bread that just melts in your mouth. It’s cooked similarly to the way you would make a pancake, but despite this bread’s strong resemblance to a pancake, it’s always eaten with a savoury meal or in soup and not covered with anything sweet. That’s how the locals eat it.
We got a live cooking demonstration as part of our Aruba Walking Tour. Roberto from the Coco Plum Restaurant made a Pan Bati right in front of us! The bread mixture is poured over a hot plate and then flipped when one side turns brown. It’s made with simple ingredients as you can see on the picture below, but interestingly no oil, except for the one used to grease the plate. Roberto also adds a special ingredient, but he keeps that secret to himself! :)
2. Fish & Seafood
As an island in the Caribbean Sea, Aruba has access to fresh fish and seafood daily. In many restaurants you are going to see a menu item “Catch of the day” and sometimes the fish is literally caught on the day, it’s that fresh. The most common fish that can be found in Aruba are mahi-mahi, red snapper and grouper. Further below you are going to find some really interesting fish meals from the restaurants we visited.
You might also see lionfish on the menus around the island. Lionfish is actually a predator of groupers and red snappers and they are considered a threat to the reefs. However locals have discovered that they are also really tasty!
Prawn (shrimp) starters and mains are also a must while eating your way through Aruba. All prawn meals I tried were tender, fresh and I was amazed by the variety of options. How would you like to try Island Coconut prawns dipped in local beer? I am not normally a fan of deep-fried prawns, but these were a delicious exception.
3. Soups and stews
For a truly traditional Aruban meal, make sure to try some of the soups and stews prepared by local restaurants. Fish soups and seafood chowders are a common home-cooked food across the island, as well as meaty tender stews. Goat meat and chicken are often used in traditional stews, but you will still find beef and lamb meal options. Cabrito stoba is a common goat stew, while Keri keri is well known fish stew.
I was surprised to find that this paradise destination, which enjoys a never ending summer has such a strong love for these warm, comfort food meals, which I always associate with winter destinations for some reason. I guess I am wrong to assume that and I have to say that the fish soup I tried while in Aruba was truly the best one I have ever had.
4. Keshi yena
Keshi yena is a very traditional Aruban meal, which is a must-try while on the island. Imagine a large round ball of cheese, stuffed with spicy meat (normally chicken). This meal was influenced by the Dutch so it’s often covered in Gouda. “Keshi” stands for cheese. Each restaurant seems to have their own take on this dish so definitely try to taste different variations of it. Everyone around me loved it.
Ayaca is another meal that deserves some special attention. Steamed meat in a banana leaf, with cashews and different dried fruits. This impressive dish has Venezuelan roots as many Venezuelans call Aruba their home and over the years the island adopted its own version of it. The meal is prepared with a large number of ingredients, resulting in a very unique blend of flavours and it typically brings together families at Christmas, but you can find it in restaurants all year around.
6. Funchi & Banana Hasa (Polenta and Fried Plantain)
I loved this delicious combo that was served across the restaurants on the side of meals or simply in large sharing platters.
It turns out that Italy is not the only country that has developed a strong bond with the cornmeal mush or as it is called in Aruba – Funchi. It comes in all shapes and sizes, sometimes sliced in soft pieces and sometimes crispy and fried, covered in Gouda cheese!
While Plantain is often used in different meals in the Aruban cuisine, it’s most often eaten fried on the side of your main meal. The sweetness of the plantain was somehow the perfect companion for every fish and seafood meal I tried. I am going to try to prepare plantain at home soon, it will be a first for me!
7. Aruban desserts
One of the most popular traditional desserts in Aruba is Pan Bollo, which is a bread pudding with Ponche Crema or rum, served with ice cream. As soon as you taste it, you will be reminded of the traditional Christmas pudding we know in the UK. You might also want to try Bolo di Banana (Plantain Pudding), which is another traditional dessert for Aruba. If none of these attract you then you can simply finish your dinner with a Caribbean coffee!
The star of the Aruban street food scene is Pastechi! Shops around the island are fighting over who makes the best pastechi. Most places serve a similar version of the same thing so you are unlikely to be disappointed. It’s basically a fried Gouda cheese-filled pastry! Yep, it’s a super treat that people on the island have as breakfast on the go. The most common filling is cheese, but you will also find pastechi filled with ham, chicken and mushrooms for example (as well as cheese).
9. Hot Papaya sauce
You will inevitably try this sauce eventually as many restaurants serve it on the side of meals. You can actually buy the Hot Papaya sauce and it’s a good food souvenir to take home to friends and family. Home Delight is the name of the brand that makes this mild sauce, which combines papaya with hot peppers and it’s the perfect addition to many meals if you want to spice things up.
10. Local Beer and Aruba Ariba
Ok, technically this isn’t food, but you have to have a drink while you enjoy all these delicious foods. The most popular local beer in Aruba is Balashi, with a 5% alcohol content. Another local beer, brewed by the same company is Chill. It is considered a “lighter” beer, even though it has the same alcohol percentage. One of the waiters told me that it’s a “beer for women”, which I found really funny. It’s served in a similar way as the Corona, with a lime.
Personally I preferred the Balashi, but both were good, especially considering that I was enjoying most of them while admiring a beautiful beach!
If you are into cocktails then all you need to say is “Aruba Ariba” and you will be served a glass of a very exotic-looking cocktail. It’s a sweet drink prepared with Coecoei, a local red Aruban liquor. The other main ingredient of the cocktail is Creme de Banana (banana liquor), followed by local rum and vodka.
Restaurants to try while in Aruba
Well now that you know what local food to look for in Aruba, here are some restaurants that serve these amazing meals and offer a great atmosphere that will ensure you feel like you are on a holiday!
Eat Local in October
If you happen to be visiting Aruba in October, look out for the special “Eat Local” menu that over 70 restaurants offer this month. This initiative is a collaboration between farmers, restaurants and the Aruban government, showcasing the best of the local food. Each restaurant creates a unique menu that combines local ingredients in authentic and delicious meals. There is an abundance of seafood, but as an island with a desert flora, it’s incredibly challenging for locals to grow crops and develop agriculture. However Aruba is making the most of its land and it is truly impressive!
1. Hadicurari (Palm Beach)
2017 Eat local menu? Yes.
It’s hard to go wrong with a restaurant on the beach and when the food is actually good, you are in for an amazing lunch or dinner. Hadicurari is located right on Palm Beach and has a great selection of seafood treats.
2. Papiamento restaurant
2017 Eat local menu? Yes.
Papiamento is the official language of Aruba, besides Dutch, and this restaurant caries the same name. It’s a place that everyone knows as it’s simply one of the best restaurants on the island. The tables are situated around a pool, right next to a 126 year-old traditional “cunucu” house, owned by the family that has been running the restaurant for years. The house is now part of the restaurant as well and once you go inside you will notice that it’s full of antiques and family memories. It has a warm, inviting feeling, just as if you are entering someone’s home and in this case you are.
Their menu features some of Aruba’s classics like Keshi Yena and other international dishes, but their most impressive meals were the ones arriving on a hot stone. Your food is literally still being cooked when it gets to your table. Make sure to try some wine, it comes straight out of their wine room!
3. Barefoot restaurant
Guess why this restaurant is called barefoot? Yep, it’s located right on the beach and you can feel the sand with your bare feet while having an amazing meal, admiring the views of Surfside beach. Try to get there before sunset! Watching the sun go down here made this dinner truly special, we were rewarded with some stunning views.
At Barefoot we tried some exotic mains with grouper fish. The Caribbean grouper, topped with mango cream cheese was on of my favourite finds during this culinary trip.
4. The West Deck restaurant
2017 Eat local menu? Yes.
I already showed you a few pictures of this restaurant’s delicious meals, but what I didn’t show is its cool beach atmosphere. The West Deck is located on a tiny beach, close to the Renaissance. While you enjoy your meal you can watch some of the famous pelicans of Aruba, they seem to occupy the boats right in front of the restaurant.
The best way to approach your visit to this restaurant is to order many starters and small dishes and simply share, rather than big main meals. Try a bit of everything, you will not be disappointed. The menu is full of delicious Caribbean treats, but with the restaurant’s own twist.
5. Windows on Aruba restaurant
Windows on Aruba is part of the Divi Golf resort and it’s a very elegant restaurant, serving artfully created dishes that are so beautiful, you don’t want to ruin by eating them!
The restaurant is popular with its 360° view of their golf resort and other parts of Aruba. A violinist contributed to the sophisticated atmosphere with some modern music, that somehow sounded classical. They host a killer brunch, which offers more international dishes rather than traditional Aruban food, but you still get to try some local seafood.
6. Driftwood restaurant
2017 Eat local menu? Yes.
This restaurant doesn’t have a beach or an amazing view, but what it does have is a variety of authentic Aruban seafood. It’s also just a 2 minute walk away from the Renaissance so it’s quite convenient if you are staying there as well. This is where I tried the most delicious fish soup, as well as a grilled to perfection mahi-mahi. The atmosphere is very cosy and I think it’s a place that lots of locals visit regularly so it’s definitely worth visiting during your stay in Aruba.
As a pescatarian, this island was the perfect food destination for me. Although I didn’t try the other meat dishes, I can tell you that the comments around me were all very positive. The fish and seafood creations were always at the centre of my meals and they were so different from others I have had across Europe. It was my first time discovering the new flavours of Caribbean fish and I loved it.
I would love to go back and experience more of the colourful Aruban cuisine. What were your favourite local foods during your visit to Aruba? Tell me in the comments below! Looking for something exciting to do in Aruba as a couple? Check out the top 8 things to do in Aruba as an active couple!
This post was created in collaboration with the Aruba Tourism Authority, aruba.com. All opinions are my own.