The Turks and Caicos Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean to the east of the Bahamas, and about forty minutes by plane from Miami and the North American mainland.
The climate is warm and dry for most of the year, and this climate has influenced the kinds of foods people enjoy in the Turks and Caicos.
Being surrounded by ocean, the main focus of Turks and Caicos Islands food culture is seafood. The country’s status as a crossroads between the Caribbean and Europe far to the northeast has also contributed to the national cuisine.
More recently the Turks and Caicos’ relatively prosperous economy has attracted people from all over the Caribbean who have also brought their food culture with them.
The History of the Turks and Caicos
The Turks and Caicos Islands have been inhabited for almost a thousand years.
The first inhabitants were the Lucayan, the original inhabitants of the Bahamas, and related other indigenous people who inhabited other parts of the Caribbean.
While the Lucayan are longer present in the islands, a glimpse of their way of life be found in the famous caves found on Middle Caicos.
Maize, Sweet Potato and Salt
Besides fishing, the Lucayan people of Turks and Caicos subsisted on many foods traditionally associated with the New World including beans and sweet potato, as well as manioc and cassava.
The Lucayan’s presence can still be seen by the presence of salt pans around the islands. Salt has always been an important commodity since ancient times. It is used not only for seasoning, but also for preserving food such as fish for long periods of time.
The Lucayan, like of the Caribbean’s other original inhabitants preserved salt, and some of the locations of these salt pans still exist today.
The Europeans Arrive
Columbus first reached the Caribbean in 1492, reaching what is now San Salvador in the Bahamas, to the northwest of the Turks and Caicos.
Following Columbus began five hundred years of change in the Caribbean. Europeans arrived to grow sugar and other crops, and to establish outputs in competition with other European nations.
They also brought the practice of slavery with them, including thousands of people from Africa whose ancestors still live in the Caribbean today.
In the Turks and Caicos various European occupiers such as the French and later the British focused on producing salt.
Salt production was so closely associated with it was once featured on the flag of the territory:
While the Turks and Caicos is known for Bambarra Rum today, distilling rum, the tipple that is characteristic of the Caribbean has never really been practiced on the islands.
This is because the islands are generally too dry to grow sugar cane, the chief ingredient when making rum.
Cuisine of Turks and Caicos Today
If you travel to the Turks and Caicos today you’ll be able to choose from almost every cuisine on earth.
This is because, as the islands have become more popular as a tourist destination people have been attracted from all over the world to live and work here.
The island of Providenciales in particular offers everything from sushi and high-end fusion cuisine to Indian and Chinese food.
Of course, everyone who travels to the Turks and Caicos will want to eat seafood, which includes local delicacies such as mahi mahi, tuna, rock lobster and the ever-present conch.
Drought-resistant maize (a kind of corn) does well in the semi-arid conditions of the Turks and Caicos. As a result, hominy grits are a popular part of traditional local cuisine.
The Unique Food Culture of Turks and Caicos
While the Turks and Caicos is a modern international crossroads of cultures, the islands are also a melting pot of Caribbean culture.
For example, many people travel back and forth between the Turks and Caicos and the neighbouring country of Bahamas for work or to visit family.
Other people from countries around the Caribbean will also travel to the Turks and Caicos for work, and all bring their food culture with them.
Traditional Foods… Brought From Somewhere Else
Since the arrival of Europeans and people from Africa, local food has been based on the sea and on maize.
Two traditional dishes, grits and johnnycake, are distinctive Turks and Caicos specialties. As the travel blog Caribya notes:
Islanders love “boil fish and grits” for breakfast, and “boil fish and johnnycake” for lunch. For supper, fresh seafood alongside peas and hominy is a staple. In fact, once upon a time, when an island wife was asked what she was serving for dinner, her typical response would be “peas and hominy and penn on.” “Penn on,” was slang for “Depends on,” meaning that dinner would be peas and hominy, and the meat would depend upon whatever fish or game her husband had caught that day.
These days such traditional foods are harder to find in Providenciales, the tourist hub of the Turks and Caicos.
However, should you venture to Middle Caicos you’ll have the chance to encounter an older way of life, and this included food.
Other traditional dishes include conch and hominy, cod fish cakes and corn bread. Steamed conch, stewed conch, and stewed fish and grits.
Crab and rice, which features the blue crab common to the islands, is also a local comfort food.
These foods are a real taste of the Caribbean, so it is worth seeking them out.
If you want to get an in-depth look at the cuisine of Turks of Caicos, be sure to check out the @TCIFoodandCulture Instagram feed. The photos are mouth-watering and verge on “food porn.”
Conch Fritters and Deep Fried Fish
While conch fritters are said to be the characteristic food of the Turks and Caicos, this dish is said to be a relatively new arrival to the islands.
The Caribbean Queen conch is the native mollusk and number one export for the Turks & Caicos Islands. It’s said that each of the islands in Turks and Caicos produces its own unique flavour of conch meat.
CONCH KNOCKING Conch (pronounced ‘konk’) is a common name for certain large marine snails..they are gastropod mollusk. Conch is a local delicacy from which many dishes such as Crack Conch, Conch Chowder, Conch Fritters, Stew Conch, Conch & Rice etc are made. #island360 #turksandcaicos #caribbean #turksandcaicosislands #tcifood #tciculture #tcifoodporn #turksislander #caribbeanfood A video posted by TURKS & CAICOS FOOD & CULTURE (@tcifoodandculture) on
Conch can be served in a variety of ways, including fresh conch salad and conch fritters.
Fritters are a relatively new addition to the cuisine of the Turks and Caicos because in the past in the past, cooking oil was very hard to come by.
So pan frying, poaching, stewing or roasting was typically how people prepared this delicious Turks and Caicos treat.
Festivals and Events: the Best Way to Experience the Cuisine of Turks and Caicos
The best way to encounter the traditional cooking styles of Turks and Caicos is to visit one of the many festivals that are held throughout the year. It’s a way to meet new friends and create long-lasting memories.
Thursday Night Fish Fry
Fried fish is also a new addition to the cuisine of Turks and Caicos, but it has grown to become a cornerstone of community life in Providenciales.
Every week Provo hosts the Thursday Night Fish Fry near the Bight Park.
— Grace Bay Cottages (@TurksCottages) September 11, 2014
It’s a great way to taste local cuisine and also meet the local residents of Providenciales. Conch Festival The Conch Festival is held on the last weekend of November every year in Turks and Caicos.
This event kicks off the Christmas season on Providenciales. It’s a lot of great food and fun for the whole family.
Traditional Caribbean Restaurants on Providenciales
Da Conch Shack
Da Conch Shack is local legend in Turks and Caicos.
This traditional Caribbean beach bar serves up delicious local foods, including curried conch, cracked conch, fried conch, conch fritters and conch creole. That’s a lot of conch!
The restaurant is also located across the road from a beautiful beach.
Bugaloos is another local favorite on the island of Providenciales.
Located south of Five Cays Settlement, about twenty minutes by car from Grace Bay Beach, Bugaloos serves comfort food, with a beautiful view of the ocean added for free.
You have GOT to check out Bugaloos on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. Fresh, local TCI food. Heres buffalo Conch! pic.twitter.com/O4hVKnz1gg
— Caribbean Clint (@CaribbeanClint) August 28, 2015
Bugaloos is also located next to a wholesale fish market, so the seafood will always be fresh.
Experience Turks and Caicos Cuisines at Hemingway’s
However if you’re a guest at the Sands and you want to experience authentic local cuisine, you just have to head over to Hemingway’s, right on beautiful Grace Bay Beach.
The local Caribbean Queen conch is served in many Turks & Caicos restaurants including our very own Hemingway’s beachside restaurant at The Sands at Grace Bay.
The “Conch Served The Way You Like It” menu option offered at Hemingway’s is a great way to experience the taste of our Caicos conch in a variety of ways, as you can choose amongst conch fritters, conch fingers or a fresh conch salad.
These are all delicious and refreshing after a full day of fun under the sun. Another restaurant specialty is the chef’s conch chowder, which is a traditional spicy island recipe that is also made with fresh local conch.
What’s Your Favorite Food When You Visit Us?
Do you have a favorite food or place to eat when you visit Turks and Caicos? If you do, let us know in the comments!