Aruba expert Sue Campbell rounds up some of the best local flavors that will have the whole family clamoring for seconds.
Start with snacks
Ease into local fare with pastechis — deep-fried dough pockets stuffed with different things like ham, cheese, tuna and even chop suey. You’ll find them everywhere, but the best place to start is The Pastechi House in downtown Oranjestad. Right next door is Happy Spot, the perfect place to order batidos: Latin American-style fresh fruit milkshakes. Other ideal snacks include local Dutch-influenced fare like frikandel (minced meat hot dogs) and deep-fried balls of meat, fish or cheese called krokets. Everyone will be grabbing for bitterballen, aka little meatballs, which are perfect for tiny hands.
Even with its arid Southern Caribbean climate, Arubans love hot comfort food like soups (sopis) and stews (stobas). Ask for carni stoba, which is a rich stew (it can also be prepared with goat), or creamy Caribbean pumpkin soup known as sopi di pampuna. Fresh fish also abounds, but be forewarned that the catch of the day will arrive with its head and tail intact. It’s OK to ask the waiter ahead of time to fillet it before serving.
For main meals, local dishes are accompanied by rice and beans, and a green vegetable like okra. A third staple is a surefire winner: banana hasa, plantains that are fried to sweet, caramelized perfection. Funchi, another popular side dish, is a cornmeal polenta that is mild in flavor with a fun, bouncy texture. Funchi fries with cheese are also a popular side order. Another kid-friendly side is pan bati, a semi-sweet local flatbread that goes with every meal. And when it’s served deep-fried with melted cheese over it, it’s even better!
Keshi yena, the national dish made with ground meats, raisins, cashews, capers, olives and spices — served casserole-style covered in melted Dutch cheese — can also appeal to young taste buds. Think of it as shepherd’s pie with a twist.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with pancakes, and in the Netherlands, savory pancakes are also popular for lunch and dinner. The Dutch Pancake House has some 70 choices — including Dutch-style pancakes with ham and cheese, sweet pancakes such as apple cinnamon, and poffertjes, silver-dollar-sized pancakes topped with powdered sugar.
You’ll learn quickly that dushi is the local lingo for “sweet,” and that homemade confections are collectively known as cos dushi — like peanut cookies, cocada (coconut candy) and soenchis, which are pastel-colored meringue kisses. Locals are big on bolos, aka cakes; green-frosted pistachio cakes, luscious cashew-nut cakes and rich layered prune cakes are the ones to seek out. (Best to keep the kids away from bolo borracho, which is so rum-laden it literally translates as “tipsy cake.”) Naturally, the Dutch also brought their own favorite sweets to the island, like the ever-addictive stroopwafels, two paper-thin waffles glued together by a rich, gooey caramel syrup.
Familiar North American-style fare is everywhere on the island of Aruba, but why not go local where you can? With Caribbean, Dutch and an array of international influences, you’ll be surprised by how kid-friendly many Aruban specialties are.
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Sue Campbell is a multi-award-winning writer who has specialized in the Caribbean for over two decades. She is such an expert that there’s even an overwater villa in Aruba named after her.