As a shellfish, the large, edible sea snail, known as conch, has a mildly sweet, clam-like flavor and a chewy texture somewhat comparable to calamari. ambergristoday.com
Like so many other vacationers, I flew into Nassau, capital of The Bahamas, to board a cruise ship. To be on the safe side, I arrived a day before the sailing. Better to be on Nassau terra firma than in the air or stranded at some interflight airport in a snow storm when my ship is ready to cast off! Having no interest in baking on beaches or losing money in any of the city’s famous casinos, I decided instead to select a tour to teach me something about the cuisine and history of the country I was visiting … however briefly.
Johnny Cake (with or without lashings of butter and guava jelly) is a delicious staple of Bahamian cuisine. Sid’s Sea Palm Cooking
Conch fritters are a popular Bahamian dish, served with a tomato-mayo, lime juice and Tabasco dipping sauce. Alison Gardner
That’s how I found myself following in the footsteps of local guide, Alanna Rodgers, on one of her Tru Bahamian Food Tours with the descriptive name, “Bites of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour”. The stated goal of the three-hour culinary adventure is to connect some of the country’s annual 3.5 million visitors with authentic local foods, the stories and traditions behind these foods, and the Bahamian entrepreneurs who prepare and preserve them.
Alanna is the enthusiastic driving force behind Tru Bahamian Food Tours, launched in January 2013 with herself and four other guides leading the packed itinerary that Alanna guarantees will leave participants of all ages “entertained, educated and well fed.” A true Bahamian herself and a very well traveled one, she balances an equal passion for authentic food experiences with a hearty dose of Bahamian history, architecture and culture. Helping the city’s small-scale entrepreneurs to benefit from tourism is also a significant part of her mission.
The goal of Alanna Rodgers, the visionary behind Tru Bahamian Food Tours, is to offer an experience where guests are “entertained, educated and well fed.” Dwayne Tucker Photography
Take Bahamian Cookin’, serving authentic Bahamian dishes since 1986. After some walking and talking about the history and architecture, we crossed the threshold of one of Nassau’s oldest restaurants where three generations of family vow to “have your stomach smiling” in short order. Taste testing conch fritters with a spicy dipping sauce and Bahamian-style macaroni and cheese (very different from the North American dish and more delicious) definitely created eager anticipation in our small group for more local cuisine experiences to come.
This restaurant serves traditional Bahamian food. It is run by three generations of women who proudly showcase their local cuisine. Alison Gardner
In the early 1700s, pirates outnumbered settlers, with The Bahamas acknowledged as the pirate capital of the Caribbean. Alison Gardner
As reflected in our tour’s restaurant mix, I was surprised to discover how multi-cultural historic Nassau is, underscoring the fact that all Bahamians today are descendents of immigrants. For example, Jamaican immigration became prominent in the 1920s, with most Jamaicans coming from work in Cuba or from the construction camps of the Panama Canal Zone, completed in 1918. Today they form a 12,000-strong sub-culture, sharing much in common with Bahamian culture, while still remaining loyal to such classic Jamaican dishes as Jerk Chicken, rice and peas and fried plantain.
Another fascinating piece of immigrant history intertwined with Nassau’s cultural cuisine can be found at the Athena Café, the island’s oldest Greek restaurant and a venerable Nassau architectural landmark. It is proudly run by the Mousis family with a classic Greek menu. What is the Greek heritage connection with the Bahamas? In the 1860s, expert Greek sponge divers arrived in The Bahamas to begin an industry that lasted into the early 20th century and, for a time, was the biggest revenue earner in the country. At its peak, millions of pounds of live sponges were harvested annually. Staying on after the demise of the natural sponge industry, Greek Bahamians remain a dynamic element of The Bahamas today.
For each tour itinerary, Alanna and other guides select seven tastings that reflect a variety of cuisine experiences from which they hope to achieve a balance of down home comfort food dishes in cozy nooks along the back streets of old Nassau and some sweet, sour and downright HOT surprises with a Bahamian flavor. Take Pure Caribbean, a local merchant specializing in herbal bush teas, jams, spices and exotic pepper sauces sourced only from Bahamian artisans. Or the Tortuga Rum Cake Company, Nassau’s premier rum cake bake shop where sampling six cake flavors, each laced with a different rum, is a matter of detecting subtle differences.
At the Pure Caribbean shop, spices and exotic pepper sauces are sourced only from Bahamian artisans throughout the Bahamian islands. Alison Gardner
But our visit to the five-star boutique Graycliff Hotel, still imbued with the gracious colonial lifestyle of times past, elevated our tasting ritual to new heights. A stroll through the beautiful grounds and a tasting of local beer provides a cool oasis even on the hottest day in Old Nassau.
History has it that the Graycliff mansion was originally built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a famous pirate of the Caribbean who commanded the notorious schooner Graywolf, plundering treasure ships along the Spanish Main. Dwayne Tucker Photography
Chef Erika Dupree Davis’s handmade chocolates are like exquisite jewels … beautiful and delicious. Dwayne Tucker Photography
The Graycliff property is also home to the chocolate-making operations of award-winning chef and chocolatier, Erika Dupree Davis. We were first presented with a feast for the eyes … exquisite swirls and sculptured shapes in white or dark chocolate featuring guava, key lime, goat pepper and mango … and then encouraged to sample what was almost too beautiful to eat.
Alanna is clearly energized by the very positive feedback from these original, enthusiastically-delivered tours. “For more than 18 months, we’ve been hard at work launching and growing our small business. In the process, we’ve had the privilege of hosting hundreds of guests from around the world on our signature Bites of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour in historic down town Nassau. We’ve had a great time walking while sharing our delicious food, culture, history and architecture with curious visitors!”
Officially launched in January 2013, Tru Bahamian Food Tours, http://trubahamianfoodtours.com, can be justifiably proud of its #1 rank on TripAdvisor’s list for Nassau activities, and a designation in the 2014 Fodor’s Bahamas guidebook as a “Choice Activity”.
The company’s signature Bites of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour is available Monday to Saturday year round with multiple tour times daily. Private Group Tours and additional customised culinary events are also available.
The price of a three- to 3.5-hour culinary walking tour is US$69.00 ($49.00 for participants 12 and under), with advance tour bookings required and usually made online. Allowing a maximum of 12 people per tour, all ages and fitness levels are welcome, except that this tour is not wheelchair-friendly. Total walking distance covered is 1.3 miles or 2.2 kilometers … bring your comfortable walking shoes and an adventurous appetite!
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.