For years, Bermuda wasn't known for its cuisine; the food was too often bland and lacking in flavor. However, the culinary scene has notably changed. Chefs seem better trained, and many top-notch (albeit expensive) restaurants dot the archipelago. Italian food is in vogue, as is Chinese. (On the other side of the coin, fast food, including KFC, has arrived, too.)
In recent years, some Bermudians have shown an increased interest in their heritage. They've revived many traditional dishes and published the recipes in books devoted to Bermudian cooking (not a bad idea for a souvenir).
As the population grows, less and less farmland is available on the island, so Bermuda imports most of its food from the United States (which means you might want to focus on dishes made with the local ingredients noted below as much as possible; there's no telling how long that imported meat has been in storage). But lots of people still tend their own gardens; at one home, we were amazed at the variety of vegetables grown on a small plot of land, including sorrel, oyster plants, and Jerusalem artichokes.
Dress Up for Your Evening Out -- As most of the world dresses more and more casually, Bermuda's dress codes have loosened up a bit -- but this is still a more formal destination than many other islands. Most restaurants prefer that men wear a jacket and tie after 6pm; women usually wear casual, chic clothing in the evening. It's always wise to ask about required dress when you're reserving a table. And during the day, no matter what the establishment, be sure to wear a cover-up -- don't arrive for lunch sporting a bikini.
Local Dining Customs -- One of Bermuda's most delightful traditions is the English ritual of afternoon tea, which many local homes and hotels maintain.
In hotels, the typical afternoon tea is served daily from 3 to 5pm. Adding a contemporary touch, it's often served around a pool, with guests partaking in their bathing suits -- a tolerated lapse from the usual formal social and dress code.
At some places, more formal tea is served at a table laid with silver, crisp white linens, and fine china, often imported from Britain. The usual accompaniments include finger sandwiches made with thinly sliced cucumber or watercress, and scones served with strawberry jam.
Seafood -- Any local fisherman will be happy to tell you that more species of shore and ocean fish -- including grunt, angelfish, yellowtail, gray snapper, and the ubiquitous rockfish -- are found off Bermuda's coastline than in any other place.
Rockfish, which is similar to Bahamian grouper, appears on nearly every menu. From the ocean, it weighs anywhere from 15 to 135 pounds (or even more). Steamed, broiled, baked, fried, or grilled, rockfish is a challenge to any chef. There's even a dish known as "rockfish maw," which we understand only the most old-fashioned cooks (there is still a handful on St. David's Island) know how to prepare. It's the maw, or stomach, of a rockfish, stuffed with a dressing of forcemeat (seasoned chopped fish) and simmered slowly on the stove. If you view dining as an adventure, you may want to try it.
The most popular dish on the island is Bermuda fish chowder, made with a variety of white fish (often rockfish). Waiters usually pass around a bottle of sherry peppers and some black rum, which you add to your soup; these lend a distinctive Bermudian flavor.
Shark isn't as popular on Bermuda as it used to be, but many traditional dishes, including hash, are made from shark. Some people use shark-liver oil to forecast the weather; it's said to be more reliable than the nightly TV report. The oil is left in the sun in a small bottle. If it lies still, fair weather is ahead; if droplets form on the sides of the bottle, expect foul weather.
The great game fish in Bermuda is wahoo, a sweet fish that tastes like albacore. If it's on the menu, go for a wahoo steak. Properly prepared, it's superb.
The Bermuda lobster (or "guinea chick," as it's known locally) has been called a first cousin of the Maine lobster. It's in season from September to March. Its high price tag has led to overfishing, forcing the government to issue periodic bans on its harvesting. In those instances, lobster is imported.
You can occasionally get good conch stew at a local restaurant. Sea scallops, though still available, have become increasingly rare. Mussels are cherished in Bermuda; one of the most popular traditional dishes is Bermuda-style mussel pie, with a filling of papaya, onions, potatoes, bacon, curry powder, lemon juice, thyme, and, of course, steamed mussels.
Fruits & Vegetables -- In restaurants and homes, Portuguese red-bean soup -- the culinary contribution of the Portuguese farmers who were brought to the island to till the land -- precedes many a meal.
The Bermuda onion figures in many recipes, including onion pie. Bermuda-onion soup, an island favorite, is usually flavored with Outerbridge's Original Sherry Peppers.
Bermudians grow more potatoes than any other vegetable; the principal varieties are Pontiac red and Kennebec white. The traditional Sunday breakfast of codfish and bananas cooked with potatoes is still served in some homes.
"Peas and plenty" is a Bermudian tradition. Black-eyed peas are cooked with onions, salt pork, and sometimes rice. Dumplings or boiled sweet potatoes may also be added to the mix at the last minute. Another peas-and-rice dish, Hoppin' John, is eaten as a main dish or as a side dish with meat or poultry.
Both Bermudians and Bahamians share the tradition of Johnny Bread, or Johnnycake, a simple pan-cooked cornmeal bread. Fishermen would make it at sea over a fire in a box filled with sand to keep the flames from spreading to the boat.
The starchy cassava root, once an important food on Bermuda, is now used chiefly as an ingredient in the traditional Christmas cassava pie. Another dish with a festive holiday connection is sweet-potato pudding, traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Day (Nov 5).
Bermuda grows many fresh fruits, including strawberries, Surinam cherries, guavas, avocados, and, of course, bananas. Guavas are made into jelly, which in turn often goes into making the famous Bermuda syllabub, traditionally accompanied by Johnnycake.
What to Wash It All Down With
For some 300 years, rum has been the drink of Bermuda. Especially popular are Bacardi (formerly a Cuban company, their headquarters are now in Bermuda) and Demerara rum (also known as black rum). The rum swizzle (with rum, citrus juices, and club soda) is the most famous cocktail in Bermuda.
For decades, the true Bermudian has preferred a drink called "Dark and Stormy." Prepared with black rum and ginger beer (pronounced burr), it has been called the national drink of the island.
An intriguing drink is loquat liqueur. It can be made with loquats (a small plumlike local fruit), rock candy, and gin, or more elaborately with brandy instead of gin and the addition of such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice.
You'll find all the usual name-brand alcoholic beverages in Bermuda, but prices on mixed drinks can run high, depending on the brand.
Like the British, Bermudians often enjoy a sociable pub lunch. There are several pubs in the City of Hamilton, St. George, and elsewhere on the island. For the visitor, a pub lunch -- say, fish and chips or shepherd's pie, a pint or two of ale, and an animated discussion about politics, sports, or the most recent royal visit -- is an experience to be cherished as truly Bermudian.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.