Food in the Virgin Islands

The holiday season is upon us. Many of you are deeply involved in preparations, as are we, such as making the traditional Christmas cookies.

First Christmas cookies with Anya

First Christmas cookies with Anya

As we enjoy the bounty of foods in the Northwest, my thoughts again turn to St Thomas and our food experience there. We imagined we’d be eating wonderful, fresh foods from the islands; fruits, veggies and fresh caught fish. So, we were a bit surprised to learn the islands don’t really produce much of the food eaten there. Oh, there are the few small farms and items you can find at the twice monthly Farmers Market and roadside stands. The roadside stands mostly have fruits naturally available on the island, for example mango, papaya, avocado, and genips (Nate refers to these as Natures Sweet Tarts). You can also find fresh fish being sold in roadside stands. However, we were warned not to buy fish from a vendor we didn’t know personally.

Reef fish in the Caribbean may be contaminated with a toxin called Ciguatera. Therefore, it’s recommended you not buy fish at roadside stands. There is no way to tell if a fish is contaminated and eating contaminated fish could have extremely devastating results. There is no anti-toxin. If you’re interested in reading a bit more about Ciguatera Toxin, here is a link, http://www.emedicinehealth.com/wilderness_ciguatera_toxin/article_em.htm#ciguatera_fish_poisoning_toxin_definition. Fresh fish is available, it’s simply not recommended you buy large reef fish such as grouper, red snapper, seabass, amberjack, barracuda and Spanish mackerel among others.

In addition to not having much locally raised food. The US Virgin Islands have no chain grocery stores. There are 2 Pueblo stores that are part of a chain from Puerto Rico. The other stores are local. All food, and other items, must be shipped in. So, when you think of how long foods may have been in transit getting to the islands, you begin to realize the foods you believe are “fresh” are probably not all that fresh. In other words, if you buy a box of mixed greens, plan to eat it within a couple of days. Literally! Since everything is shipped in, the prices reflect this also.

There were three main stores where we shopped while in St T. I’ve mentioned Pueblo. Inside it was most like the grocerystores we’re accustomed to frequenting. Nicely arranged produce, freezer sections, and the usual other items. There were also familiar brands such as Western Family, S&W, Bush’s, Barilla, etc. The parking lot was a mess, no lines marking spaces, small, very lumpy blacktop. It was a challenge to maneuver!

Pueblo Supermarket

Pueblo Supermarket

I had to take the picture of the Pueblo in Frenchtown which we only went to once. The Pueblo we went to had such a mess of a parking lot I couldn’t get a good shot of the store for fear of being hit by a car.

Plaza Extra was a grocery we went to fairly regularly especially if there was something special  we were after. It’s a bit of a mix between a regular grocery and a box store, meaning you can buy items in large quantities. One of the major brands at Plaza Extra was Goya. This store had tons of different spices and items I was unfamiliar with. They also had a section with Indian foods. I could get frozen shelled edamame here as well as some Washington wines. It is a very old and not well-kept market. The aisles are narrow and the check-out belts don’t move. The check-out stations are so small you load your groceries onto the belt but your cart can’t fit through. Then, since the belts don’t move, you slide your items down toward the checker as you move closer. Just another little adventure!

Plaza Extra

It doesn’t show in the picture, but again the parking lot was a bit of a mess. You can see the cars aren’t parked in the usual straight rows.

The store where we shopped the most was CostULess. This was a Costco knock-off, really! They carry Kirkland brands and it’s a big box store where most things are sold in large quantities. Like Costco, they have a little bit of a lot of things, some clothing, shoes, linens, etc. They also have rotisserie chickens (little ones though) and a small bakery. Membership is not required, however if you’re a member, they mail out rebates every so often based on how much money you spend. There’s no cost for membership.

CostULess

CostULess

The parking lot at CostULess was more organized and in much better condition than the other stores. If you go to the store at the wrong time, you may be quite disappointed. This is what Alisa found one day she went to CostULess.

Bad day at CostULess

Bad day at CostULess

It’s interesting, most every store, not just grocery, has the Costco policy of checking your receipt as you exit. This goes for K-Mart, Walgreens, etc. Every store takes a debit card for credit only which means you’re signing your receipt when you pay. All the stores were very well stocked for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving seemed to be a very big day in the US Virgin Islands as it is in the upper 48.

Although getting good, fresh food wasn’t what we expected, we didn’t go hungry. Restaurants do a fair job, not great, but good. We went to a couple well respected restaurants and paid handsomely for it. The food was good, the ambience great and price high even compared to Seattle. So, until we didn’t have a useable kitchen, we preferred staying home. Nate grills a great mahi mahi (frozen) among other things.

The food situation was a surprise at first but one that is easily overcome. Overall, don’t plan on getting great food in the Virgin Islands. It’s not the food that most people are coming for but the weather and the water and that can’t be beat. Everything else is icing on the cake.

Enjoy your Christmas goodies.

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