Aruba, known for its idyllic beaches and near perfect weather, is also a cultural melting pot with people from over 100 different nations co-existing on island and cooking up a diverse range of signature dishes. Seafood lovers feast here since fresh-caught fish is abundant. Fishermen haul in wahoo, snapper, shrimp, lobster, oysters, mahi-mahi, grouper, conch and more. The delicious seafood comes grilled, fried and served in soups and stews. However, Aruban cooking is not confined to just seafood.
In honor of National Cooking Day on Sept. 25, skilled chefs throughout the “One happy island” will be preparing the following traditional dishes that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.
Keshi Yena, which translates to “filled cheese shell,” is one of Aruba’s best-known traditional foods and features a combination of meat, vegetables and dried fruits all baked together in a cheese rind, served steamed or baked. Originating in the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao), the dish was born in these islands during the time of slave trading and Dutch rule of the islands. In this classic recipe the shell of a scooped Edam (the thin rind remaining after people had consumed the four pounds of cheese) is filled with spiced meat, then baked in the oven or steamed in the top of a double boiler.
This delicious cornmeal mush is a beautiful simplistic Aruban staple made with cornmeal, salt and butter that is often served as a compliment to stews soups but works great with a zesty hot sauce as well. Funchi, the Antillean staple, is a simple corn-meal preparation. It must be vigorously stirred while cooking and to the rhytm of these rotations old-time cooks repeated. Un pa mi, un pa bo, un pe. Funchi was then scooped from the kettle with a little round calabash, and the “funchi ball” was placed on each individual plate. “One for me, one for you, one for him.”
A traditional breakfast pastry found throughout the One happy island, Pastechi is a savory snack consisting of crescent-shaped deep-fried dough and a variety of ingredients ranging from chicken to tuna, vegetables or cheese. The key ingredient is usually combined with finely chopped onions, green peppers, celery stalks, raisins, cumin, nutmeg and hot peppers. Fried until golden brown, pastechis can be found throughout the island, especially in roadside snack-bars.
Popular among vegan and vegetarian visitors, Beregein Hasa is a traditional dish, which translates to “fried eggplant.” It is a simple and quick recipe featuring eggplant cut lengthwise into slices that is sprinkled with salt and pepper before it is fried in hot butter to get a nice light brown. To round out the dish, pair it with a medley of fried tomatoes and onions.
Aruban Fried Fish
Surrounded by a thriving marine environment and a large variety of local fish, fresh fish is caught and prepared daily throughout the island and local restaurants have put their own spin on preparing a fish fry. Conch, tuna, wahoo, mahi-mahi, grouper, snapper and other fish are often served with Pan Bati which is a thin corn flour pancake that’s ideal to soak up sauces or dip in soups.
One of their most popular seafood soups is Sopi Oester, an oyster soup made with a light, cream base and bacon providing a thick, smooth consistency and flavorful finish. As the local oyster soup, each restaurant and household claims bragging rights to the best recipe on the Island. Some versions of Sopi cabrito is a bouillon-based soup made with goat meat, garlic, tomato, celery, bell pepper and vermicelli.