Before I spent a week in St. Martin this past June, I thought it was pretty much the same as the rest of the Caribbean. I expected to just be eating seafood all week, like on the other islands I’ve been to (which is certainly nothing to complain about).
However, I was completely wrong. St. Martin’s food scene is so much richer and more exciting than your average island fare. Here’s why:
1. It’s the French culinary capital of the Caribbean.
While there are many islands in the Caribbean that were or still are owned by the French, St. Martin certainly has the best French food, as it’s been named the French culinary capital of the Caribbean many times. The escargot is just as good as what you would get in France itself, and I was even able to track down a late night crepe stand.
Seriously, I didn’t think an authentic croque monsieur or salad niçoise could get any better until I ate one on the beach.
With all the beautiful views, St. Martin is also ideal for picnicking. Buy yourself a baguette, some cheese and wine (which can all be found for cheap in any of the convenience stores), and find a good spot to watch the sunset. Best happy hour ever.
2. There are so many different cultures.
Though St. Martin is still owned by the French and the Dutch (they each own half the island), there’s a very rich Caribbean culture as well. For authentic Caribbean food, go to one of the local restaurants, called “lolos,” for dinner. You’ll see them grilling up fresh shrimp, fish and ribs right in front of you.
With all the homemade sides to choose from, like fried plantains, rice and potato salad, these restaurants feel like you’re eating dinner in someone’s home.
St. Martin also has strong Creole influences, and you’ll see many restaurants boasting authentic Creole cuisine as you walk through the streets. If you’ve never had Creole food before, definitely give it a try. I tried traditional stewed goat and it was so flavorful and tender.
3. It’s ideal for island-hopping.
St. Martin is close to two other islands: St. Bart’s (also French) and Anguilla (British). It’s super easy to take day trips to either of them via ferry. I spent a day in St. Bart’s and stopped for a cheeseburger at the famous Le Select, which is rumored to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
Be warned: This was also probably the cheapest meal you could get on the island (I mean, the Kardashians vacation there for a reason).
4. It’s basically a tropical version of Europe.
St. Martin not only offers amazing French food, but food from other European cultures as well. Many European chefs have relocated to the island to start their own restaurants (retirement goals?), so whatever type of food you’re eating, you know it will always be good.
If you get tired of eating French food everyday (is that even possible?), you can find authentic Spanish tapas (sangria included) or really great Italian food as well. I had the best tortellini I’ve ever had in my life while in St. Martin (although I admit I haven’t been to Italy yet). The pizzas and panini were also as good as any you’ll get in Europe.
If you’re really into the whole coffee ritual that Europe does, never fear. You can still have the European café experience on St. Martin, with the added bonus of sitting on the beach. Definitely order an iced coffee though, as a hot espresso really isn’t enjoyable in the island heat.
5. Caribbean drank.
Like Europe, there’s plenty of cheap alcohol in St. Martin, if you know what to order. The Caribbean has plenty of its own beer brands, such as Carib, Presidente, and Red Stripe, of course.
The best alcohol in St. Martin, however, is hands down the Guavaberry Rum, manufactured right there on the Dutch side of the island. Try it in a daiquiri and you’ll never go back to basic strawberry again.