While most were still sipping their coffee or slathering on sunscreen for a laid-back day on the idyllic beaches of Grenada, I was already wandering the many stalls of the Spice Market in downtown St. George’s, the island’s capital. The daily market is at its prime on Saturday mornings, when bins and baskets spill over with vibrant fruits and vegetables and the robust smell of spices drifts through the air. Chefs arrive first, plucking ingredients for the day’s menu, while locals are there to sell, haggle or simply hang out. Appropriately nicknamed the “Spice of the Caribbean,” Grenada is one of the world’s largest producers of nutmeg and a top producer of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, bay leaves and turmeric—and this bustling market is alive with vendors peddling it all. (There are still proud whisperings about Martha Stewart making a special visit for spices years ago.) Overwhelmed by all the choices—especially nutmeg sold in all forms, from syrup to essential oils—my guide, Roger, directs me toward bags of sugar-coated tamarind balls, bay leaves far more aromatic than the lifeless versions that languish in my pantry, fiery hot sauces and varieties of bananas that I never knew existed. “Everyone here farms,” Roger says, as he waves to vendors. “You’re likely to see your dentist, or maybe your lawyer, selling their extra produce at the market. There’s a strong appreciation for the richness of the land.”
The importance of land is most evident as we leave the market and begin inching up the island’s winding roads dotted with cocoa and nutmeg trees. Stopping at Destiny Spice Shop, a roadside stand showcasing spices and plants in their natural state, Roger pries open a nutmeg and begins reciting a rhyme about “a woman in a boat in a red petticoat.” “Do you see it?” he asks, explaining that the outer shell is the boat, the nutmeg is the woman, and a bright red spice called mace that grows web-like around the nutmeg is the petticoat. (That mental picture will stay with me every time I use nutmeg.) Moments later, he’s digging under unassuming plants to reveal prized turmeric and ginger, shaving off cinnamon bark from a tree, and then eagerly presenting a cocoa pod with seeds covered in milky white pulp. “In Grenada, this is a child’s first candy,” he says, as we pop the sweet, creamy seeds into our mouths.
Although you’ll be tempted to treat Grenada like a typical beach vacation, digging your toes into the silky white sands of famous Grand Anse Beach and diving the clear blue waters abundant with marine life, the island is also bursting with rich culinary delights.
A Taste of the Island
Eavesdrop on conversations around the island, and you might hear locals chatting about the island’s national dish, “oil down.” The hearty, one-pot wonder is created with salted meats (usually local chicken), flour dumplings, breadfruit, veggies, and aromatic herbs and spices, which are all packed into a pot, covered with callaloo (a leafy green vegetable), and simmered over an open fire. Head to BB’s Crabback Restaurant situated along the picturesque harbor, where oil down is on the menu every Friday night. BB’s is a staple on the island, known for owner Brian Benjamin’s special take on crabback —a creamy stuffing of local land crab, wine, cheese, herbs and other magic ingredients that will leave you craving the dish. Much of the restaurant’s produce comes from Benjamin’s farm, and boats dock daily to deliver their fresh catches from barracuda to lobster. The restaurant also serves some of the best rum punch on the island, which arrives sprinkled with nutmeg and beautifully topped with starfruit.
Another fresh-from-the-sea meal can be found at Sails Restaurant & Bar, tucked away in Spice Island Marina, where standouts are a velvety fish broth, shrimp dusted with fresh coconut, lightly fried cracked conch and all of the fish dishes. Plus, you can’t beat the breeze and those water views.
One of the most special meals on the island isn’t found at a traditional restaurant, but at Dexter’s, the home of Dexter Burris, a former chef at the posh Calabash Luxury resort. Upon arrival, you’re led upstairs to an intimate, open-air room fitted with a few tables, where his sons play host for the evening. The chef will run through the evening’s five-course menu, which could include tender risotto with chunks of butternut squash, pumpkin soup touched with ginger, shrimp perfumed with a Cajun garlic cream sauce, and a finale of nutmeg ice cream. (Reservations are required, and the prix-fixe menu includes wine.)
Chocolate and Rum. Need We Say More?
Grenada is quickly putting itself on the map for its chocolate, and you’ll want to binge your way through the House of Chocolate, a museum/cafe selling chocolates bursting with Grenadian ginger, nutmeg and passion fruit, and over-the-top desserts like a spongy chocolate cheesecake served with coconut ice cream. To see the entire bean-to-bar process, take a trip to Belmont Estate, an authentic plantation about an hour’s drive from St. George’s; or pamper yourself at True Blue Bay Resort, where they offer treatments centered around the island’s chocolate. Choose the Chocolate Exfoliating & Moisturizing Body Scrub, and the attendant will whip up a fresh scrub made of chocolate and spices for a vigorous rubdown, and then lather on a coconut oil cream for hydrated and (temporarily) tighter skin.
Why does all that rum punch on the island taste so good? If you make a trip to Belmont Estate, stop at neighboring River Antoine Rum Distillery to see the oldest functioning water-powered distillery in the Caribbean. The island is garnering worldwide attention for its rum, with Clarke’s Court producing award-winning rums such as their potent #37 Blend, and Black Gold, which is infused with nutmeg and aged for five years. When it comes to a must-try experience, Mount Cinnamon Resort offers a one-hour rum tasting ($45 per person) with their uber-knowledgeable head bartender where you’re able to truly compare all of Grenada’s best rums.
Those Views, Tho
One of the island’s most stunning properties is Mount Cinnamon Resort (mountcinnamongrenadahotel.com), a luxury boutique resort perched on a hillside above Grand Anse Beach and surrounded by colorful bougainvillea and hibiscus. After a quick 15-minute ride from the airport, you’re greeted with a glass of rum punch, and a long, oleander-lined path that dramatically leads to the beach where you’ll lounge all day at their beach club. The resort has a mix of spacious villas and suites, many with balconies presenting mind-blowing views of the sparkling sea. Families may want to stay in the hacienda suites which offer the feeling of a home, while the new Cinnamon Suites are for the modern vacationer, boasting plush king beds and contemporary furnishings in the sitting room. It was one of the most comfortable stays I’ve ever had in the Caribbean.
The bounty of the island is also a big focus at the resort. On Friday nights, a huge bonfire is constructed on the beach in front of Savvy’s Beach Cabana, and guests feast on fish topped with local fruits and barbeque ribs richly flavored with cinnamon and bay leaves, along with sides like sweet corn and fresh greens from nearby farmers; at “Creole night,” expect cinnamon-rubbed chicken wings and a curried goat stew that will set your taste buds on fire. A daily routine at Mount Cinnamon, though, includes a dip in the ocean, then kicking back at Savvy’s with gazpacho and fish tacos.
Grenada is a culinary journey worth taking — just remember to stock up on spices so you can bring a taste of the island to your table.