When Bermuda cruises arrive, seafood lovers shout, “Wahoo!”
If Bermuda seafood were any fresher, it would leap right onto your plate. You can never go wrong with the Bermuda dining basics: fresh local fish, pan-seared simply, served with a citrus vinaigrette. “Wahoo” is more than just fun to say on your Bermuda cruise. It's also an athletic game fish, silvery blue with a sweet taste like albacore. For lunch, try a wahoo salad with pickled ginger, dried cranberries, carrots, arugula, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon and lime zest, and a dash of rice vinegar.
The islands also produce fresh snapper—red, gray, and yellowtail—plus a local rockfish, which appears on nearly every menu hereabouts, steamed, broiled, baked, fried, or grilled. Mussels are popular. Try the mussel pie, filled with steamed mussels, fresh papaya, onions, potatoes, and bacon, and spiced with curry, lemon, and thyme
Bermuda’s favorite food in a bowl would have to be fish chowder. One popular recipe calls for mixed white fishes like cod, grouper, tilefish, and snapper, plus shrimp and clams.
Bulk it up with carrots, garlic, onion, green pepper, leek, celery, and tomato. Spice it up with the local Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers sauce, made from sherry wine with 17 herbs and spices. The liquid is tomato paste in fish stock or clam juice, and flavorings include butter, bay leaf, allspice, thyme, Worcestershire, and dark rum. Simmer it all slowly.
Find exceptional chowders at Hog Penny, a classic English pub; the Lobster Pot, a fish eatery with a faithful following; and Harry's, a fine waterfront restaurant; all in Hamilton. Other standouts include the Frog and Onion Pub in Royal Naval Dockyard, Beau Rivage Restaurant in Paget Parish, and Wahoo's Bistro in St. George's.
Another favorite here is Portuguese red-bean soup, the spicy contribution of farmers who came in the 19th century. Comedian Bob Hope once quipped, “Every restaurant here has a smoking and a nonsmoking section. The smoking section’s for people eating the Portuguese red-bean soup.”
Bermudans do enjoy their pubs, both for the food and drink and for the sports and politics. A typical pub lunch might be fish and chips or shepherd’s pie with a pint (or two) of ale.
Island agriculture was built on onions—large, flat, yellow, mild Bermuda onions. Probably from Italy or the Canary islands, they came here with English settlers around 1616. By the 1830s, they were a major export. Bermudans call their islands the Onion Patch and call themselves Onions.
Local onions (the veggies) figure prominently in many recipes, including onion soup, onion pie, onion casserole, onion biscuit bread, onion sandwiches, onion soufflé, even glazed onion for dessert. Savory cassava pie dates to Bermuda’s earliest days. The cassava root, known elsewhere as yucca, was used by New World natives to make flour. The pie involves eggs, chicken, pork, sugar, nutmeg, mace, and more—not exactly lean cuisine.
Try the local “peas and plenty,” which is black-eyed peas cooked with onions, salt pork, and rice. Hoppin’ John is made from black-eyed peas, rice, and salt pork or bacon, eaten as a main dish or a side. Banana meatloaf is like regular meatloaf, except with a sweet banana thing.
Despite limited acreage, the islands grow fruits including strawberries, guavas, Surinam cherries, bay grapes, avocadoes, and bananas.
Guavas become jellies to complement johnnycakes, the cornmeal bread simple enough for fishermen to cook without burning down their boats. Bermudan sillabub is an indulgent dessert from the days of King Henry VIII, made of guava jelly, thick cream, and sherry.
Tasty jams, jellies, pies, sherbets, walnut breads, and wines are coaxed from the Surinam cherries, which look like miniature pumpkins. Flaming cherries are served with rum and vanilla ice cream.
People imported loquats to discourage birds from eating their expensive citrus fruits. Instead, the humans developed their own taste for the yellow-orange fruits, as liqueur, chutney, jam, pie, and straight from the tree.
The delightful British legacy of high tea, observed from 3 to 5 each afternoon, is still a high art in the colony, especially at the elegant Heritage Court, inside the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. Find black, green, herbal, fruit, and custom teas, plus the requisite finger sandwiches, rich pastries, and scones with Devonshire clotted cream.
In Royal Naval Dockyard, try Dockyard Pastry Shop & Bistro. In St. George's, Sweet P serves tea at the gardens of historic Stewart Hall.
By most accounts, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy is Bermuda’s national drink, but some would nominate the Rum Swizzle. Both are promoted by the hometown rum company, Gosling’s, which claims to be Bermuda’s oldest business and largest exporter.
The Dark ‘n’ Stormy is made with Gosling’s black rum and spicy ginger beer poured over cracked ice in a Collins glass, and garnished with a wedge of lime. The drink goes back at least a century and was thought to be named by an old sailor who thought the drink’s color was that of storm clouds.
The Rum Swizzle is made by mixing different rums and citrus juices with club soda, then finishing with grenadine and bitters. Swizzle Inn, at Baileys Bay, is named for the drink. Or, is it the other way around?
More indigenous drinks are the Bermudan, with gold rum, pineapple puree, Grand Marnier, muddled mint, and a squeeze of lime; the Ginger Gale, a mix of gold rum and ginger ale, garnished with lemon; and Bermuda coffee, made of black rum, Irish cream liqueur, and French-roasted coffee, with a dollop of whipped cream.
Microbrews, from blond to porter, come from Dockyard Brewing Co., housed in an 18th-century cooperage behind the Frog and Onion Pub at Royal Naval Dockyard, and On De Rock Craft Brewery, a brand sold in several bars and restaurants.
Other Bermuda dining favorites include shandy, popular with British expats, made from lager and either ginger beer or lemonade; and shrub, a drink made from sour oranges, lemons, and rum liqueur. Once upon a time, English ginger beer contained up to 11 percent alcohol, but today the name refers to a fizzy G-rated beverage.
Join the Hamilton business crowd for happy hour along Front Street and Bermudiana Road. You'll find Irish pubs, live entertainment, balconies overlooking the harbor, sports bars, thumping discos, a former whiskey warehouse, and a flood of specialty martinis.