Aruba’s cuisine is a true melting pot. Although the Dutch settled on the island in 1634, some 90 different nationalities call Aruba home. Each brought their own culture and foods. African, Dutch, South African, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, and South American traditions, techniques, and spices blend to produce Aruban food. This flavorful cuisine has thousands of different tastes and nuances.
Fresh seafood abounds. Try it grilled, fried, covered with a creole sauce, or as the main ingredient in a soup. Fill up on hearty beef, goat, and pumpkin stews. Bite into keshi yena. One of Aruba’s best-known traditional foods, this is a mix of meat, vegetables, and dried fruits baked in a cheese rind.
For sweet treats, taste Aruba’s cocada, a coconut candy, quesillo, a flan-like dessert, and Dutch chocolate. Don’t forget about Dutch pancakes. Locals devour them with different fillings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
In Papiamento, Aruba’s local language, you’ll find Aruban food to be “dushi,” which means “sweet” as in “very tasty” when applied to food. Here are 19 Aruba food treats to try.
Order soup or stew, and you’ll want plenty of pan bati to soak up the delicious broth. Pan bati translates to “beaten bread,” a reference to its flat shape. Made from corn flour typically mixed with some all-purpose flour, pan bati is traditionally cooked in a cazuela, a clay baking dish of Spanish origin.
You don’t have to wait for lunch or dinner to eat this Aruban food. Locals also fry the pancake and top it with jam for a sweet breakfast dish.
Hungry from sightseeing or sunning on one of Aruba’s beautiful beaches? Try a pastechi. Affectionately known as Aruba’s national snack, pastechis are Aruba’s version of a Latin American empanada.
Instead of a cornmeal crust, Aruba’s popular finger food has a crescent-shaped pastry shell. It’s stuffed with beef, chicken, tuna, cheese, ham, or vegetables, often mixed with raisins, cumin, nutmeg, and sometimes hot peppers.
With a diversity of fillings to please everyone in the family, pastechis are among the best snack foods in Aruba. Look for them at vendor stalls, grocery stores, and snack bars.
Every culture has a signature soup. With its mix of nationalities, the island ladles out a tasty variety of sopis, making them one of the best foods in Aruba. Cool island soup, a fruit soup, quenches your thirst with a light touch on a hot day when a heavy meal seems daunting. This cold blend of pineapple, cantaloupe, apricot, and papaya often has a dash of lime juice.
Locals like plenty of hearty soups too. Erwtensoep, a traditional Dutch pea soup, is especially thick. Along with split peas, erwtensoep contains smoked sausage and ham hocks.
Sopi mondongo, or tripe soup, makes the most of items that don’t always make it to a plate as an entrée—cow’s stomach and cow’s heel. Cooks up the flavor by adding onion, sweet potato, plantains, and West Indian pumpkin.
Two more substantial soups are yambo, a gumbo made with pureed okra, salted beef, and snapper fillets, as well as sopi di pampuna, a pumpkin soup. Potatoes and cream thicken the base. Islanders deepen the orange color of the soup by heating ruku, the seeds of the annatto tree, in hot oil, which is added to the mix.
Of course, an island dishes up sopi di pisca, fish soups. These, too, are some of the best foods in Aruba. In addition to versions made from the catch of the day, popular bowls are sopi oester, oyster soup with a light, cream base, and lobster bisque, a French legacy that’s made with sherry or cognac and cream.
Arroz moro, also known as “arros moro,” is a rice and beans side dish. On several Caribbean islands, the item is known as “rice ‘n’ peas.” Aruba’s version mixes fried rice with red kidney beans and a red sauce made from tomato paste and soy sauce.
Culinary historians trace the dish to the Moors’ invasion of Spain. From there, the satisfying side dish made its way to the Caribbean.
A popular, polenta-like side dish, funchi is served with stews and fish dishes. The trick to cooking funchi is to stir the mush mix vigorously in a pan.
Local lore has it that long-ago homemakers kept the rhythm by whisking to the beat of “un pa mi, un pa bo, un pe”— one for me, one for you, one for him. When the mix morphed into a pudding-like texture with no lumps, the cook traditionally scooped the mixture onto a plate with a calabash.
Nowadays, a spoon is fine. Cooled funchi is often cut into slices and also served with stews and fish.
Funchi fries make great snacks. The mush is poured into a baking tray, cooled in the refrigerator, cut into French fry-like pieces, coated with olive oil, and baked. You can order funchi fries from street vendors or as sides in restaurants. Ask for dipping sauce or a topping of melted cheese.
Cocada is an Aruban grated coconut and sugar candy. Some recipes add a bit of condensed milk to keep the consistency more fudge-like than hard. Often served on pieces of coconut shell, the confection will satisfy your “boka dushi”, or sweet tooth. You can find cocada in grocery stores.
Aruba is an especially “happy island” for seafood lovers 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.
Join locals for lunch at the unpretentious wharfside eatery Zeerover, in Savaneta, about nine miles outside of Oranjestad. You choose from two daily catches with sides of banana hasa, or plantains, as well as funchi, and pan bati.
An island recipe for swordfish or shark starts by marinating the fish in a pineapple and lime juice mix and then grilling it. Some consider keri keri, a.k.a. karikari, a delicacy. The shredded shark is boiled, flaked, and cooked with celery, pepper, and onions.
If you crave fried fish, look for pisca hasa. Pisca hasa creole, a traditional Aruban entrée, comes with an onion, tomato, pepper, and garlic sauce. Among the many seafood dishes at The West Deck, a popular waterfront grill at Governors Bay, are pan-fried grouper filet and grilled red snapper with a creole sauce.
A universal comfort food, stews have likely been around since fire was discovered and bowls invented. Both cabrito soba, goat stew, and carni stoba, beef stew, consist of boiled-until-tender meat in a tomato-based sauce, or gravy.
Calco stoba, conch stew, typically has a white wine vinegar stock with onions and peppers. Another version uses tomatoes to create the base. Among the many island restaurants serving tasty stews are Pika’s Corner Aruban Cuisine in the Palm Beach area, Peanuts, in Oranjestad, also known for its peanut sauce and local Aruban food, and Kamini’s Kitchen in San Nicolas, about 14 miles from Oranjestad.
Don’t forget to mop up the sauce with pan bati.
Keshi yena is a savory mix of meats, onions, peppers, and raisins cooked inside a hollowed-out gouda or edam cheese rind. The dish is attributed to 17th-century slaves brought to Aruba by the Dutch.
The slaves retrieved the edam or gouda rinds the Dutch discarded, filled them with meat and vegetable scraps, then baked everything together. Contemporary versions add onions, raisins, capers, and olives to a filling of beef, chicken, or seafood. Done well, keshi yena is some of the best food in Aruba.
Arubans love their pancakes. Different from the American version, Dutch pannenkoeken are dinner plate-sized and thin, like crepes.
For breakfast, locals eat pannenkoeken filled with apple, bananas, or pineapples, and for lunch or dinner, islanders dine on heartier versions with salami, ham, cheese, or tuna. For in-between and late-night snacks, Arubans munch poffertjes, small, bite-sized pancakes covered with sugar.
How to eat the plate-sized staple? Dig into it with a fork and knife, or roll up a section, then cut it into small pieces. Well-known pancake places include The Dutch Pancakehouse in Oranjestad, and Linda’s Dutch Pancakes, in Palm Beach.
For chocoholics, all chocolate is good, but the Dutch sweet treat has its own allure. Dutch chocolate gets its smooth, mellow flavor from Dutch cocoa, which is processed with an alkali that neutralizes the natural acidity of the cocoa beans.
Look for Verkade and Droste chocolate bars, boxes, and cookies in grocery stores and specialty shops.
Bolita di Keshi
Kids—and adults—love to snack on bolita di keshi. These deep-fried cheese balls consist of a mix of cheddar or other yellow cheese and a white cheese such as ricotta or feta, along with eggs and cornstarch. The fried balls are served hot. Look for them from street vendors and food trucks.
Pica di Papaya
Some like it hot. Very hot. If you do, try pica di papaya, an Aruban hot sauce. Key ingredients are the locally farmed Madame Jeanette peppers and papayas. The fruit adds a sweet note to the heat.
Legend has it that Madame Jeanette peppers, native to Suriname, got their name from a Brazilian courtesan with a flaming beauty. You can sample pica di papaya at most restaurants since there’s always a bottle on the table. Pica di papaya makes a mouthwatering gift for any friends who like their food spicy.
Ayacas came to Aruba from South America. Each family has a special recipe for the traditional Christmas dish.
The basics include smearing plantains or banana leaves with funchi, a cornmeal dough. The cook places a mixture of chicken or pork, spices, olives, raisins, prunes, and cashews on top of the leaf, then folds the leaf around the mix, and ties the little package with a string to hold the filling before boiling it in water.
Ayacas typically appear in homes and restaurants from Christmas through New Years, although a few island restaurants serve ayacas outside of the holidays.
Arubans serve bolo preto, a black fruit cake, at anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions. Locals soak prunes, currants, raisins, dates, and figs in a mixture of cognac, port wine, and cherry cordial for two days, two weeks, or in some recipes, two months.
Flour, sugar, cinnamon, and molasses are added to the fruit mix and baked together. Tasty as bolo preto is, you don’t get a slice. Your host typically gives you a small, individually wrapped piece of the cake.
My Way Sauce
If you’re relaxing near Eagle Beach, take a food break at Mama’s Food Truck. The Aruban steak, pork chops, chicken, and fish entrees pop with flavor when paired with My Way Sauce, Mama’s special lemon butter mixture.
Entrees come with either rice, plantains, or fries. Also tasty is the chicken satay with peanut sauce.
Tia Rosa Snack in Savanata won first prize in one of Aruba’s annual food truck competitions for its patacon. The many-layered Venezuelan sandwich is a mouth-stuffing combination of ingredients.
Instead of bread, fried plantains bracket the enticing beef, chicken, cheese, ham, and fried egg concoction.
Burgers, Aruba style
It’s okay to crave a burger. After all, American fare is part of the island’s melting pot. But some of the best burgers on the island are not American or Aruban, but actually Colombian versions of the U.S. classic served by Chalo Burgers, a food truck in Palm Beach.
Along with Colombian spices, the patties come with lots of toppings and choices for sauce. Locals especially like the pineapple sauce. Chalo Burgers also gets rave reviews for its BBQ, hot dogs, steak, and cheese platters.
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