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 are better trained, and many top-notch (albeit expensive) restaurants dot the archipelago. They represent almost every major cooking tradition (Chinese food, pub grub, French bistros, etc.) except for the traditional foods of the island itself. You’ll find few places serving the staples the islanders lived on for centuries, which included shark hash, mussel pie and Hoppin’ John, a traditional side dish of black-eyed peas and rice.
The best choice at most restaurants is the catch of the day. Indeed, Bermuda’s waters have long been the inspiration of many a chef, since the surrounding Atlantic is rich with fresh tuna, wahoo, mahi, rockfish and, when in season, spiny Caribbean lobster. Of course, every good meal deserves an equally good drink and, in Bermuda, most of those contain rum. Specifically, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, which has been integrated into the fabric of the island since it was first created in 1806.
Dress Up for Your Evening Out
In years past, many of Bermuda’s fanciest restaurants—including the Waterlot Inn and Fourways Inn—required that men wear jackets to dinner. These days, dress codes have relaxed significantly, but that doesn’t mean you can show up in flip-flops. The dress code at most island restaurants is smart casual, meaning men should wear a collared shirt, shorts or slacks, and closed-toe shoes. Pretty much anything goes for ladies, but don’t even think about showing up for lunch in a bikini, since coverups are expected to be worn everywhere except public beaches.
SEAFOOD. Any local fisherman will be happy to tell you that more species of shore and ocean fish—including wahoo, tuna, mahi, snapper, and the ubiquitous rockfish—are found off Bermuda’s coastline than 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 delicious any which way that it’s prepared.
The most ubiquitous dish on the island is Bermuda fish chowder, a spicy seafood and vegetable stew traditionally served with a dash of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Outerbridge’s Sherry Peppers sauce.
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 spiny Caribbean lobster 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.
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 AND 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 bananas. Guavas are made into jelly, which in turn often goes into making the famous Bermuda syllabub, a sweet frothy drink traditionally accompanied by Johnnycake.
What to Wash It All Down With
For some 300 years, rum has been the drink of Bermuda and the Grand Dame of them all is none other than Gosling’s Black Seal, a rich, dark rum that’s been distilled on the island since the early 19th century. It’s the key ingredient in Bermuda’s two national drinks: the Dark n’ Stormy, made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and spicy ginger beer, and the Bermuda Rum Swizzle, a potent mix of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, Gosling’s Gold Seal Rum, orange and pineapple juices, a dash of Angustora bitters, and a local sweetener called Falernum (to try the original, head to the Swizzle Inn in Bailey’s Bay or Warwick Parish).
An intriguing drink is loquat liqueur, made with locally grown loquats (a small plumlike local fruit), sugar 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 (expect to pay up to $11 for a beer).
One of Bermuda’s most delightful traditions is the English ritual of partaking in afternoon tea, which many hotels and small inns typically serve from 3pm to 5pm. For one of the Bermuda’s best, head to the Crown & Anchor at the Hamilton Princess Hotel on Saturday and Sunday. There you’ll be served a selection of dainty finger sandwiches like smoked salmon with cream cheese and roast beef with mustard plus a selection of scones, doughnuts, and sweet petit fours. Since Crown & Anchor’s tea service is in collaboration with Lili Bermuda perfumes, your choice of tea is paired with a bottle of perfume that has similar floral notes, which you can take home as a gift. (www.thehamiltonprincess.com; 76 Pitts Bay Rd; tel. 441/295-3000; $55, with champagne $75).
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.