Bermuda’s culinary scene is as diverse as its population. Foods and recipes came from Britain, Portugal, the Caribbean, and from the enslaved people of West Africa.
Seafood abounds. Try delicious tacos, fish chowder, codfish cakes, spiny lobster, and grilled grouper. And don’t forget about Bermuda’s famous cocktails—the dark ‘n’ stormy and the rum swizzle.
Here are 13 Bermuda food and drink specialties to try.
From September through March, Bermuda’s spiny lobster season, be sure to try the popular island delicacy.
Unlike Maine lobsters, spiny lobsters, also known as rock lobsters, lack claws. Their tail contains most of the meat, eliminating much of the work of cracking, digging, and picking.
Although foodies debate the virtues of Maine versus spiny lobster, most agree that spiny lobster, a sought-after food in Bermuda, tastes more subtle than sweet.
To enhance the lobster’s flavor, some chefs serve spiny lobster with a sauce more complex than melted butter, adding bread crumbs, fish stock, and other ingredients.
Some cooks top the lobster with a stuffing of curried shrimp. You can also find spiny lobster in tacos, fish cakes, and soups.
During spiny lobster season, you can find the tasty crustacean on the menu at many restaurants. Good bets include the Lobster Pot and Boat House and Bar in Hamilton and Wahoo’s Bistro & Patio in St. George’s.
For Bermudians, Sundays and holidays start with a codfish breakfast, a traditional food in Bermuda.
A codfish plate consists of salted codfish served with onions in butter or with a sauce of stewed tomatoes, plus boiled potatoes, a banana, a hard-boiled egg, and avocado slices. Like any treasured dish, recipes vary between families.
Salted cod came to Bermuda as part of the flourishing Atlantic maritime trade. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, Bermudians settled on Turks and Caicos’ Grand Turk and Salt Cay, a part of Bermuda at that time, using enslaved people to rake salt, a crucial preservative in the era before refrigeration.
Traders sold the salt along North America’s east coast, including Newfoundland, a prime source for coldwater codfish. Before being transported, the fish was salted and dried.
The shiploads of salted cod weren’t for the Bermudians, who could catch their own fresh fish. But as sugar cane plantations grew in Bermuda and the Caribbean, so did the trade in salt cod.
Plantation owners, unwilling to usurp cropland to raise animals to feed their slaves, used the much less costly salted cod as a cheap source of protein.
How did the remainder of the items find a place on the codfish plate? Theories vary. Many Portuguese came to Bermuda in the mid-1800s, bringing their tradition of codfish and potatoes.
A banana, locally grown or imported from the Caribbean, adds sweetness to the salty dish, and the avocado adds color to an otherwise bland-looking entrée.
Paraquet, a diner-like restaurant on the South Shore Road near Hamilton, serves its award-winning codfish breakfast on weekends, along with other breakfast items, and is a good place to try this local specialty.
A beloved island liquor, Goslings rum has been blended and aged in Bermuda since 1857 when the Gosling brothers received the first batch of rum distillate.
After experimenting with different blends, they produced Old Rum. Patrons brought their own bottles to be filled directly from barrels.
In 1914, the Goslings repurposed champagne bottles from the British officers’ mess, filled them with rum, and sealed them with black wax around the corks. So many customers requested the rum by asking for the “black seal” that the company eventually renamed their product.
Gosling Brothers Limited also produces the premium-aged Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum, winner of the 2021 Bartenders Brand Awards gold medal for taste.
A popular Bermuda food, codfish cakes consist of salted cod combined with potatoes, thyme, onions, and sometimes bacon, then pan-fried. The delicious patties are served with mayonnaise or hot sauce.
In Hamilton, try them at lunch at Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy, Generosa’s Cuisine, and the Lobster Pot and Boat House and Bar.
Black Rum Cake
Everyone likes a treat, and from about 1650 to 1970, sailors in the British Royal Navy looked forward to their daily tot, 2.4 ounces of rum. The purser typically dispensed the liquor at noon.
After raising a toast to the King, the crew drank, often dipping their hardtack biscuits into the liquor to soften and sweeten them. Legend has it that black rum cake evolved from that tradition.
Cooked in a Bundt pan, Bermuda’s black rum cake contains rum in the batter and the glaze. Many islanders use Goslings Bermuda Black Seal Rum, made from a 150-year-old recipe, and blended, barrel-aged, and bottled in Bermuda.
Bermuda’s black rum cake is sold in some grocery stores. The Bermuda Rum Cake Company, in Royal Naval Dockyard, sells traditional, chocolate, and a swizzle version of the delectable dessert that contains bits of cherries, apricots, and pineapples.
Bermudians take pride in their fish chowder, considered a national dish. Although recipes vary from family to family, locals always use two island products: Goslings Bermuda Black Seal Rum and Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers. The result is a smoky-flavored, reddish-brown chowder with a fiery kick.
Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, spices, fish stock, and fish constitute the rest of the ingredients. Some cooks insist that the most flavorful chowder results from boiling grouper fish heads. That releases the gelatin that binds the chowder. Other recipes call for cod, sea bass, or haddock fillets.
Legend has it that the survivors of the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture, a British supply ship, cooked the first fish chowder in Bermuda on St. George’s beach. Ever since, Bermudians have been tweaking the recipe.
Fish chowder is one of the best Bermuda foods to sample. Among the restaurants serving noteworthy versions of fish chowder in Hamilton are Harry’s Restaurant and Bar, as well as Lobster Pot and Boat House and Bar. In St. George’s, try Wahoo’s Bistro and Patio.
Hoppin’ John, a mix of black-eyed peas, ham hocks, and rice, often mixed with collard greens, likely migrated to Bermuda from the southern United States.
Although tales of the dish’s origins vary, all stories associate the plate with the tradition of eating hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day to ensure prosperity and peace.
Plantation owners in South Carolina’s Low Country cultivated rice and black-eyed peas, crops that enslaved people from West Africa were skilled in growing.
The association with good fortune and the name derivation are hard to pin down. One origin story dates the good luck association to the Civil War era.
Union soldiers considered black-eyed peas as animal feed not fit for human consumption, so when the Northerners retreated, they left the legume behind. Defeated Southerners felt lucky to have something to eat.
Food historians list three possibilities for the name. The dish might be named after a disabled man, nicknamed “Hoppin’ John,” who sold rice and peas on Charleston’s streets. Another version indicates the name derived from happy, excited slave children who hopped around waiting for the dish to be served.
Dark ‘n’ Stormy
“It was a dark and stormy night,” the iconic opening of many thrillers, means something special in Bermuda as the famous dark ‘n’ stormy cocktail was invented on the island.
Origin stories vary. Some date the mix of ginger beer and Goslings Black Seal Rum over ice to after WWI, others to post WWII, but all versions agree that the name came from a sailor who likened the murky color of the drink to a storm cloud “only a fool or a dead man would sail under.”
In 1991, Gosling Brothers Limited trademarked the name, ensuring that only Goslings’ products could be used in a cocktail served under that name.
Sometimes referred to as Bermuda’s national drink, the rum swizzle dates to the mid-1700s when the drink consisted of watered-down rum.
Bartenders fashioned the drink from Goslings Black Seal Rum, Barbados rum (later replaced by Goslings Gold Rum), orange, pineapple, and lime juice, plus falernum, a syrupy liqueur, and bitters.
A stick with small branches cut from what came to be called the swizzle stick tree, Quaraibea turbinate, was initially used to mix the ingredients. After twirling the stick, the outside of the iced glass turned frosty.
Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Pepper Sauce
An essential ingredient in Bermuda’s fish chowder and other dishes, sherry peppers have been used to spice food since the 17th century. In that era, sailors soaked hot peppers in sherry, tossing them into rations to make their uninspiring meals palatable.
Smokey and flavorful but not too hot, Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Pepper Sauce rates a moderate 146 on the Scoville heat rating scale. You can purchase the original product and the enhanced Outerbridge’s Devilishly Hot Sherry Pepper Sauce in grocery stores and some gift shops.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about Bermuda’s classic fish sandwich. The comfort food in Bermuda starts with homemade raisin bread.
Island cooks quickly fry fresh-caught snapper, grouper, or wahoo, adding coleslaw, hot sauce, or tartar sauce to fashion the tasty sandwich.
Among the popular eateries serving the island staple in Hamilton are Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy, and Café Ole, both known for thick slices of raisin bread and tasty overstuffed sandwiches. Locals like to wash down the treat with non-alcoholic ginger beer.
Malasadas are the Portuguese version of a donut. Instead of a hole in the center, the sugar-coated sweet has an indentation.
The pastry arrived with the influx of Portuguese agricultural laborers, mostly from the Azores, in the mid-1800s. Associated with Shrove Tuesday, the pastry can be found most days in supermarkets and at some cafés such as Café Acoreano, a Portuguese eatery in Hamilton.
You can’t go wrong with the day’s catch on an island. The just off-the-boat fish, one of the best Bermuda foods to eat, includes mahi mahi, wahoo, rockfish (black grouper), and in spring and fall, yellowfin tuna.
Sample fresh fish in sandwiches and tacos, as well as grilled or pan-fried entrees in many eateries. For lunch, consider Harbourfront in Pembroke, or Lost in the Triangle, in Warwick.
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