Each Caribbean island is different with its own unique culture and cuisine. Antigua food is no different and has some unique dishes you will not find on other islands.
Antigua (pronounced an-tee-gah NOT an-tee-gwah) is an island in the Leeward Islands region of the Caribbean. Historically Antigua island was first settled by the Arawak people from South America.
They named the country Wadadli.
That quickly changed when Colombus landed and decided to give it the Spanish name “Santa Maria de la Antigua” in the fifteenth century.
Like much of the Caribbean, the French, English and Spanish fought over the land for years. By the 17th century the island was a hub of sugar production, with large sugar plantations made possible by a slave population.
It remained occupied until it gained independence in 1981. Today it is an independent Commonwealth country with Barbuda and a few smaller islands – so officially the name of the country is Antigua and Barbuda.
Influences on Antiguan Cuisine
Many people who have not visited the Caribbean often expect the entire region to have Jamaican food – mostly jerk chicken, patties and a lot of other spicy food.
And while Jamaican immigrants have influenced food throughout Central America and the Caribbean, each of the islands have their own unique take on Caribbean food.
The indigenous population of Arawak brought crops of corn, guava, sweet potatoes and chili peppers/ The arrival of the Spanish explorers and then the British have also played a role in the island’s cuisine and most Antigua food isn’t spicy at all. Similar to Anguilla, you won’t find hot sauce an automatic condiment on the table and you may have to ask for it.
You will also see a strong influence from West African cuisine as slaves were brought in to work the plantation.
And interestingly, Syrians have been coming to Antigua since the 1930s, along with Lebanese, Indian and Chinese immigrants. So don’t be surprised below when I share that you should try shawarma.
You can find a lot of other Caribbean food in Antigua because it’s one of the most diverse islands. There are also lots of people from Dominica, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and other islands working here, which I haven’t seen as much on the other islands.
What is the National Dish of Antigua?
One of my greatest regrets is that I wasn’t able to try Antigua’s national dish. I couldn’t find it anywhere because it’s often served for breakfast and I was usually at my resort.
Fungie is sometimes simplified as “Antiguan polenta” but essentially it is cornmeal cooked with water and pepper and stirred until it has the texture of mashed potatoes.
It’s often placed in a mould or a small bowl to serve on the plate. Fungie is a common accompaniment to many meals in Antigua, and is often served with saltfish or a beef stew.
Is Antigua Vegetarian Friendly?
When it comes to eating a vegetarian diet, Antigua is as friendly as you will find in the Caribbean.
Many of the indigenous dishes and side dishes such as fungie and ducana are naturally vegetarian friendly. As well, the local Rastafarian population eats a strictly vegan diet.
There is also a good range of fruits and vegetables included in the diet here including eggplant, plantains, okra, Antiguan black pineapple and plenty of others.
However, for most visitors it does come down to the restaurants available. Most of the restaurants will have a couple of vegetarian options available, which means you won’t be stuck eating rice and salad daily.
Delicious Antigua Food
Although I arrived on Antigua island armed with a list of things to drink I wasn’t able to get all 30+ Antiguan foods. My biggest error was that Verandah Resort had a Caribbean lunch at the buffet the day I decided to eat at their grill.
But I made a great dent in this list of Antigua food and was really impressed with how different it was from neighbouring islands. Like Anguilla most of the food isn’t spicy, unless it was brought over by the Jamaicans.
Ducana is something that many visitors to the island will never have heard of before arriving in Antigua.
This dish is made by making a dough of grated sweet potato, coconut and pumpkin, which is then seasoned with cinnamon.
Ducanas are then cooked in the same style as a Mexican tamale. The dough is wrapped in a banana leaf, and then boiled in water to solidify the dough into a nice dumpling texture. It is a great option to try for vegetarians, but is usually served with saltfish.
It has a completely unique flavour and texture and while it’s sweet it’s a really nice compliment to the briny saltfish.
This is usually a soft mash of different vegetables, likely callalo, eggplant, okra and pumpkin. On its own I can’t eat it as it’s mushy and a bit slimey but with some mashed cassava or a bit of saltfish it’s fantastic.
One of the staple foods of island life in the Caribbean, saltfish is usually made with white fish such as Mahi Mahi or cod which is salted to help preserve the fish. Unlike Jamaica which serves saltfish with ackee, Antiguan cuisine dictates that it’s flaked fish cooked with onions, tomatoes and garlic.
I much prefer the Antiguan saltfish as I’m not a huge fan of ackee.
Every Caribbean island seems to have its own take on a side dish that is some form of bread. Jamaica has bammy, Anguilla has pancake-like johnny cakes but Antigua serves them as small golf-sized balls.
Macaroni Pie is another of the Antiguan staple dishes, and is a side dish alongside many main meals. The two key ingredients are macaroni and cheese.
However, unlike the North American mac and cheese, this is served cold, and is sliced. The cheese sauce is usually a combination of mozzarella and cheddar, which is combined with evaporated milk, eggs and seasoning.
While it may be best known for the attractive shell, in Antigua its meat can be used in many ways. Not only do you see lots of conch shells around the island but it’s also one of the most common shellfish at the market on Saturdays.
One common way of serving conch is in fritters, where the meat is deep fried to make a tasty side dish or snack. Another option is in a chowder, where it can be just a conch chowder or combined with other seafood.
Conch water is also a very common breakfast meal on weekends and many roadside stands will sell it. I found it at Myra’s on the way to the market but instead opted for goat water.
Antigua Black Pineapple
The official fruit of Antigua and Barbuda! It is so important it is even on the island’s coat of arms. The black pineapple is surprisingly different to the usual pineapple. The Arawak first brought it to the island and today it’s considered one of the sweetest in the world.
Unlike other pineapples, the skin will remain greenish even when ripe, so you need to have experience to know when it’s ready to eat.
It also is less acidic than other pineapples, and the core is tender enough to eat.
I was most surprised to learn that one of the best things to eat in Antigua is shawarma. A reflection of the international influences on Antiguan food, immigrants from Syria and Lebanon have brought killer shawarma skills to this small Caribbean Island.
Similar to a doner kebab, meat is cooked on a rotating spit. Shawarma is made by layering numerous layers of lamb that has been marinated in a range of spices. This is then cooked on the spit, and when required slices of the shawarma are cut off.
This is generally served in a pita bread with salad and sauces. The rotisserie is often supplemented with some additional fat during cooking to keep the meat particularly juicy.
This is a photo of Anguillan lobster from a couple weeks ago because we just missed lobster season in Antigua. The Caribbean countries of Anguilla, St.Martin/St.Maarten, Dominica, St.Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and US Virgin Islands have lobster all year round.
Lobster season in Antigua is July 1 – April 30th. May 1st to June 30th is mating season and so it is illegal to sell lobster.
Lobster in Antigua is typical Caribbean or rock lobster, which means it has the tail but not the two large claws like we have in Canada.
The lobster is generally cooked on the grill, and cooked in a garlic and lemon butter.
Perhaps one of the most misleading names for an Antiguan food. It’s a simple rice made with celery, onion, garlic, pork and red kidney beans.
It is called seasoned because the pork fat seasons the rice giving it extra flavour. Frankly I’m not surprised that around the world everyone has learned that pork fat gives great flavour.
As there is an established history of immigrants from India over the years it’s not surprising they brought delicious food.
Over the years it’s been adapted. in Antigua roti is a flatbread that has been stuffed with a range of different ingredients. There are several different varieties from beef and pork through to seafood and vegetarian.
Essentially the fillings are cooked in a curried sauce, and then used to stuff the flatbread. In some places, the bread is more like a pastry casing rather than a flat bread. This is usually eaten as a snack or a light lunch.
This approach to preparing chicken originated in Jamaica, before spreading throughout the Caribbean islands.
You will find that jerk chicken is just as comfortable on a restaurant menu as it is on the chalkboard of a beach shack. The chicken is marinated in a blend of hot pepper, allspice, ginger, onions and brown sugar, which then spends a few hours marinating in the fridge.
Once ready, the chicken is tossed on the grill, and will cook in around 5-10 minutes on each side.
One of Antigua’s most common crops, corn is used in many of the dishes across the island. However, many of the locals and visitors don’t need to have the corn processed to make it tasty.
One of the best ways of eating the corn is straight off the grill without anything on it. There are plenty of stalls around the island that will take the freshly picked corn, and grill it there for you. These stalls will sometimes have certain butter or spiced marinades and sauces that they will use on the corn as well.
This Antigua food is for the adventurous. Personally I loved pickled pigs feet. I ate them first in Oaxaca Mexico and was delighted that they are a traditional Sunday food in Barbados.
Some people struggle with the idea of eating feet and I don’t push them to try it because it means more for me!
But not all souse is the same. In Antigua souse is a cold, spicy soup with a clear broth prepared with pickled pig feet and other pork offal.
The pork is cooked first, before it is added to a broth with hot pepper, onions, garlic and lime. It is then left of marinate in these spices and seasonings to pickle the meat.
Callaloo is not only the name of the dish but is also the plant that is the key ingredient of this soup.
This green is often called Caribbean spinach. It is a leafy green that makes the soup a great source of iron, and here they are roughly chopped before being fried with onion, garlic and herbs.
When I visited Olson at the Weekend Spot he explained that callaloo can also be called pepperpot because in Antigua pepperpot means you throw a bit of everything into the soup. This is very different from pepperpot in Jamaica, which is a meat-based stew.
This soup can either be chicken or pork based and there’s usually pumpkin and okra in the dish.
Goats are one of the more common animals husbanded in the Caribbean, and the meat is often less expensive than other options.
Although the name might indicate a soup, this is a hearty stew that is well worth seeking out on Saturday’s for breakfast.
It is often served in a cup. Goat meat on the bone is slow cooked for several hours with cinnamon and clove. I had initially planned to get goat meat at the Saturday market in St.John’s but my taxi driver thought we should get it at Myra’s where he was picking up conch water as Myra always gave a bigger portion with more meat for the same price.
Eggplant is a common ingredient in Antigua food. The Antigua eggplant has a purple skin streaked with white, but there are also larger traditional eggplants found on the island.
One of the most traditional ways of preparing eggplant is to cook it with spinach, eggplant and okra. This is then served with a portion of fungie for a traditional meal.
Although Antigua is now an independent country, it remains a popular holiday destination for people from the UK.
Perhaps they like the familiarity of getting their own food in warm destinations?
Black pudding is also known as ‘rice pudding’ in Antigua and is essentially a blood sausage, known as morcilla in Argentina, boudin noir in France and moronga in Mexico. It’s a combination of pork blood, offal and rice combined with some seasoning.
It may be my favourite food from the UK.
Great Drinks To Try In Antigua
There are so many roadside stands on Antigua on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings that it’s the perfect time for local food exploration. None are open on Sundays so make sure you set aside Saturday as a food day.
Many of these spots also have traditional Antigua drinks that are homemade and served in a water bottle. Antigua is one of many countries in the Caribbean trying to get rid of single use plastic – especially straws, which harm sea turtles. Many resorts offer paper straws, which are gross and get soggy quickly.
If you love straws with your frozen tropical drinks come prepared with these cute collapsible metal straws. They are so good you’ll never go back to plastic straws again.
Sea moss is available all over the Caribbean. I recently tried it in Anguilla and did not like it but learned a valuable lesson – don’t buy it commercial and try to find a homemade version.
It is a seaweed called agar, which is more commonly used as a natural thickening agent. It’s cooked to a natural gelatinous state and then water, vanilla, and other spices are added to make it similar to an egg nog flavour like Cuban crema de vie. This is traditionally considered to be an aphrodisiac, and is said to give men greater virility.
Wadadli is the indigenous name of the island, and is the only Antiguan beer on the island. It is a light and refreshing lager that is generally served very cold. You will spot the distinctive green grass bottles with the blue and green label in bars across the island.
The company that makes it also produces much of the soft drinks on the island.
This is a drink that is found across the world, and often used as a soft drink or in cocktails – such as the Moscow Mule.
One of the interesting aspects of Antiguan cuisine here is that many people make their own homemade ginger beer.
The homemade versions are especially worth seeking out, as they are made with ginger, water, sugar and some vanilla essence. Traditionally, this was prepared for weekend dinners and celebrations, as it can be quite time consuming to prepare.
I originally tried mauby in Barbados and was not a fan. But everyone tells me to keep trying as every recipe is different.
Mauby is a tree that is grown in Antigua and many of the islands of the Caribbean. Mauby fizz is a soft drink made with the bark and leaves of the tree. Some say Mauby Fizz is similar to root beer, with a bitter aftertaste.
Do you want a drink that tastes like melted ice cream? This refreshing Antiguan drink is a light and creamy drink with the pleasant flavour of peanut butter.
It is a very simple drink to make, and requires ice, peanut butter, milk and some sweetened condensed milk. This is then all placed into a blender, and whisked until smooth. Some recipes may also add honey, nutmeg, banana or some vanilla essence.
This grapefruit soft drink is from Jamaica but everyone loves it. Offering a balance of sweetness and the tart citrus of the grapefruit, it’s refreshing on hot days.
With the long history of sugar plantations on the island, it is no surprise that Antigua has a long history of rum production.
There are two main rum distilleries in Antigua today, being English Harbour and Cavalier. There are also a range of other rums that are imported from across the Caribbean.
The traditional way to enjoy rum is with a rum punch. The traditional rum punch recipe is with some lime, sugar syrup and bitters. However, you will find plenty of other rum cocktails to try here as well.
Ponche Kuba Cream Liqueur
This liqueur is one that has been made for decades, and is believed to have been created in the 1940s. This drink combines cream with rum and spices to give for a lovely smooth finish. Although it can be enjoyed throughout the year, locals will usually tend to crack this open for the festive season.
This one can be tough as bush tea usually involves locals taking herbs and spices from their backyard, such as lemongrass, ginger or mint and making a tea out of it.
The tea itself is quite simple as you simply pour hot water over the greens and let it steep a minute or two before drinking.
Some hotel gift shops also have dried versions of these teas.
These little delicacies are one of the typical desserts that you will find in Antigua.
Antiguans take advantage of some of the most common ingredients produced on the island, namely sugar and coconut.
For this cake the coconut is grated and then combined with the sugar, some water and a little ginger. They can also be quite colourful, with some using different food colourings to make them bright as well as sweet.
Another treat that shows off the history of sugar cultivation on the island is fudge. At a very basic level fudge is a mix of sugar, butter and milk that is cooked, before being beaten as it cools for a smooth texture.
In Antigua, it is often made with a little coconut milk as well. However, it is the different ingredients and flavours added to the fudge that can make it stand out.
Among the common distinctive flavours that you will find in Antiguan fudge include Ponche Kuba, pineapple, rum or tamarind.
This is one of the sweet treats that has long been a part of the culture of Antigua.
Peanut brittle is made by first heating a combination of sugar and water to the point where the sugar caramelizes. Then as it starts to cool the peanuts are added in to the mix before it is set in a pan to set. This is often sold in bar shapes or in chunks, and is a sweet and tasty treat.
This is another dish that originated in Jamaica where most tamarinds are grown in the Caribbean. The tamarind fruit is one that was imported from Africa, and has an edible pulp.
Essentially they are rolled tamarind pulp sprinkled sugar and can be quite sweet.
Antiguan Bread Pudding
Bread pudding is another dessert that shows the British influence on Antigua food. This is a traditional recipe with white bread cubed and cooked with and egg milk mixture and seasoned with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. It is often topped with a rum sauce.
Tax and Tipping in Antigua
It’s always a good idea to check your bill before paying. In the past I didn’t want to offend servers by inspecting their work but after owning a restaurant I realized many mistakes are made.
You should see on your bill that the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax is itemized as an additional charge. This may also show as ABST. It is 15 percent, which is added to the bill at the end.
Some restaurants, especially tourist restaurants will also include a 10 percent service charge, so check your receipt, or ask beforehand.
As with all tipping customs, generally the better the service that you get the more generous the tip.
Where to Stay in Antigua
I stayed at the Verandah Resort and Spa on Long Bay, which is a large family oriented all-inclusive that has an overwhelmingly large number of people from the UK.
I’m not a family resort kind of person. It is great if you have kids who want access to burgers all day or an English-style breakfast but it wasn’t a great match food-wise for me…although I don’t want to be too much of a food snob as I did eat the nachos a few times.
They did have a Caribbean lunch (which I missed) and different themed evenings (Indian, Italian, Pan-Asian etc) and lots of options for those who aren’t adventurous eaters. I can see how this would be great for a family, especially if their kids are going through a picky eating stage.
I also really liked the style of the resort as I stayed in a cottage like room with a verandah looking onto the water. The main beach at Verandah is like a little cove so it’s quite calm and has little water hammocks you can lay in all day with friends.
Pineapple Beach Club
What I really liked was that it was across from a sister property Pineapple Beach Club, which is adults only and I liked the vibe there much better. Drinks were served in real glass and the clientele seemed to be a mix of United Kingdom and United States
The beach was beautiful but the water was a bit more choppy. I didn’t see the rooms but the atmosphere here was a bit more of what I prefer…aka no kids.
They are also opening Hammock Cove in December which will be a small 5-star resort.
Private cottages will include a plunge pool and rumour has it that there will also be an a la carte fine dining Caribbean restaurant – now THIS is my kinda place. If I’m going to travel to the Caribbean I want local dishes.
Is Antigua Safe?
I spent most of my time at Verandah Resort and on day excursions and felt completely safe. The Verandah Resort and Spa arranged for a cab for a group of us to go into town to the market.I walked around the market and town and found everyone to be so lovely.
There were a few men who said hey beautiful and made some other comments but I’ve been in Cuba so long where men randomly do this as well I’ve just learned to smile and move on. I know it’s not appropriate in my culture, but I really don’t mind being called beautiful daily and I’ve never had it escalate.
But anything can happen on vacation. I’ve been robbed a few times and I’m glad I had insurance. Investing in insurance means if something happens it doesn’t ruin your holiday.
I’ve used World Nomads many times and insurance isn’t as expensive as you think. You can check rates below.
If you have any other questions about Antigua food or the island itself please let me know in the comments below!
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Disclosure: I visited Antigua as a guest of the tourism board to participate in an Mini Elite bloggers conference. We were specifically told there were no expectations to write about Antigua food or any of the trip. However, as always I wanted to share my experience with you.