by Chrystal Parker
Inviting, cheery, low-key. In many ways, Anguilla is still the same place it was when I visited for the ï¬rst time in 2004. Certainly, itâ€™s a more popular destination than before, in part thanks to The Bachelor fame; resorts like the Viceroy and Cap Juluca, where A-listers converge, also helped to put the island on the map. There are the requisite new developments, 18- hole golf, and lazing on the beach, but shoppers and party hounds would probably do better elsewhere.
However, if you are the type who “will travel for food”– get thee to Anguilla.
When there, expect to have an epiphany of some sort. For me, it was rejoining the ranks of ï¬sh and poultry eaters after a 12-year stint as a vegetarian. There was no way I could leave without â€œbeen there, ate thatâ€ bragging rights; as a city girl, I couldnâ€™t pass up the chance to sample fare that went from ocean to table in 60 seconds.
Back in ’04, I made the rounds to E’s Oven, Straw Hat, and Santorini. But this time around I wanted to take a deeper dive and really get familiar with Anguilla. After all, the best way to get to know a country is through its food. Not unlike the history of African-American food, Anguillan cuisine tells a story of perseverance and new beginnings.
To quote historian Colville Petty, “Life in Anguilla was very harsh for a long time.” The British government considered evacuating the island in the 1840s because of drought and famine, and an unsteady economy persisted throughout the 20th century. Survival meant making do with whatever was on hand– especially in the kitchen. Rice was paired with grow-anywhere pigeon peas to become the national dish of rice and peas. Another national staple, fish and fungi, was created by matching abundant local seafood with humble cornmeal mush.
No electricity, running water, or paved roads existed in Anguilla until the 1970s. The first trickle of monied tourists started in the mid-’80s, and since then, the country has become a playground for the well traveled.
Where luxury resorts are found, talented chefs will follow. Anguillaâ€™s homegrown chefs might have done stints abroad, but they hurried back to help the country stake its claim as a culinary superstar. The islandâ€™s food offerings are still true to its rootsâ€”but the basics have been remixed into traditional dishes that sparkle: Carib- Euro-Asian fusion, plus a new world of tastes from expats who now call the island home.