Happy New Year guys! I’d start off by saying 2016 was a great year, but instead I’ll keep it real. After a year where we lost Prince, gained Trump, and ended with the passing of Mariah Carey’s career, we’ve all been forced to turn to our happy place to find peace. My happy place is elbows deep in a trough of oxtail. Curry goat is my spirit animal, and nothing cures a bad day more than an ignorant-sized bucket of chicken and biscuits.
Indulging in a delicious meal brings me so much joy! So to spread the love, I’ve decided kick off 2017 by sharing this list of some of my favorite dishes that will have your belly singing hallelujah on your next trip.
1. HAVANA, CUBA: Paladar Ivan Chef Justo
The paella at Ivan Chef Justo was by far the best I’ve ever had. Which is surprising, considering much of the food I ate in Havana wasn’t impressive at all. With the exception of one or two places, most meals were decent, but certainly nothing to write home about. But this paella? Bay Bay. Our group literally scraped this huge pan down to the bottom, shamelessly fighting for the last few grains of rice. Home training be damned.
I don’t think paella is even Cuban, but whatever country owns it can consider this joint officially Kardashianed. Because they’ve snatched up the recipe and made it their own for sure. If you’re one of the many people headed there this January, definitely add a reservation to your itinerary.
2. NEGRIL, JAMAICA: Rockhouse Hotel
Man, listen. My bougie side wants to be ashamed that I ordered this same breakfast every single morning during my solo retreat at Rockhouse Hotel. Because where they do that at? One should explore the full range of culinary delights offered at a 5-star establishment such as this.
But my country side was like, “BRING ME ONE MORE OF THEM THERE PLATES WITH THE LITTLE YELLUH ACKEY STUFF. AND SOME HOT SAUCE.”
My Grandmother was surely clutching her pearls from above as I shoveled this plate into my face in front of strangers for three days in a row. The fried dumplings were so buttery and fresh, and the ackee had no trace of bitterness, which can be off-putting if it’s not prepared well. Add to that some perfectly-seasoned callaloo, crisp plantains, local coffee and an AMAZING view, and you’ll definitely find yourself repeating your order daily, just like I did.
3. SALVADOR, BAHIA: Axego
When they brought this orange situation out to the table, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Outside of an orange push up popsicle (shout out to my 80’s crew), I couldn’t recall any food this odd neon color. But over the course of the week, I learned that many dishes in Bahia, including this shrimp Moqueca, are made with palm oil, which gives it this distinct shade of Trump. On my trip with Nomadness Travel Tribe, we indulged in this dish several times throughout the week, and even took a private class to learn how to make it! But of all the restaurants, Axego, was the best, and I still wish I had gone back at least once more before we left.
If you’re visiting Salvador this year, try to eat in Pelhourino on a Tuesday night. The city’s infamous drummers hit the streets after sunset, turning the cobble-stoned roads into a block party procession that marches right by this restaurant! Following the rhythms down the streets under the Brazilian moonlight was such a fun ending to our dinner, and a great way to help burn off those 3 plates of Moqueca!
4. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
All my seafood lovers gather around. You in the back. Come closer.
Alright ya’ll. I know this spot ain’t even international. You don’t need a passport to get there. But believe me when I tell you, if you’ve never had the charbroiled oysters at Dragos, you are not living the abundant life Jesus spoke of in the bible. Sure, there’s enough butter in each shell to give you a heart attack, but that’s why there’s bread to soak it up and delay the ambulance just a bit.
I see a hand in the back…..Wait, what? You don’t like oysters? I used to say the same thing, girl! It’s a bit of an acquired taste, especially when served raw. But these oysters are essentially a mini-casserole in a shell, with a hint of oyster buried somewhere between Country Crock and Crisco, so you don’t really notice.
Whether you’re there for Essence Festival, Bayou Classic, Mardi Gras, or a “just because” getaway, make your way over to the Dragos to get your entire gastrointestinal life handed to you on a plate.
5. JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: Pata Pata Restaurant
Go ahead and say it. I already know. This looks like an Instagram #struggleplate that makes you question the intentions of the cook, and the well being of the person eating it. But you also know that some of the best food on the planet (especially in Black culture) looks TURRIBLE. Until you put a forkful in your mouth and your tastebuds start breakdancing all up and down your tongue.
That’s precisely what happened when I took my first bite of lamb shank at Pata Pata. First of all, the meat was so juicy it almost slid off the fork, and the amount of flavor they packed into the sauce took it to a whole new level. I was so into the lamb, don’t remember much about the sides, but oh well. Everybody can’t be Beyonce on the plate. If you venture out to the Maboneng District in Jozi, Pata Pata is right below the 12 Decades hotel, and has live jazz on weekends!
6. WHITEHOUSE, JAMAICA: Scott’s Cove
The day we drove out to eat at Scott’s Cove I actually had no clue where we were going or why. I just knew one of my girls said fried fish was involved, so I hopped in the car to see what this fine establishment they were raving about had to offer. So imagine my surprise, when after a 45-minute drive from Negril, we arrived not at a restaurant, but at some random food shacks on the side of the road. Before I even unbuckled my seatbelt, at least three Jamaican women had already rolled up on our van with plates full of fish, trying to convince us why theirs was the one to buy.
Even though I’m the “honorary West Indian”of my crew, I knew I couldn’t fool these ladies when it came time to negotiate the price. So I stood on the sidelines and let my patois-speaking friends handle our transaction. They chose 2 of the women, who fried up plenty of fish for us, along with some fresh festivals. Since there was no seating out there, we stopped along the road on our way back, and devoured our lunches overlooking the blue-green waters of the Caribbean sea. In the words of Queen Mariah, “It just don’t get any better.”
7. ACCRA, GHANA: Coconut Grove Hotel
This fisherman’s stew looks all innocent, but it punked me SO bad on my first night in Ghana. I expected something mildly spicy like Manhattan Clam Chowder. But this joint was so hot my lips were on fire for at least 30 minutes, and my stomach was singing negro spirituals all night long. If you think I’m being dramatic, read this excerpt my “Mayday” Post from the night I tried it:
Last night I thought I was going to die. Literally, as in “up in the middle of the night googling ‘Heart attack vs. Heartburn’ and trying to diagnose myself on a spotty internet connection” going to die. I have emailed my family who hasn’t left the states yet, begging for Tums, Rolaids, Mylanta, Holy Water and blessings from Baby Jesus so that I can keep eating without feeling like people are palancing on my chest in my sleep.
Now here’s the kicker. I went back for more the next day. It was that good. I believe they served it with fufu, which I still haven’t acquired a taste for, but the soup itself was so flavorful that I risked the lining of my stomach to eat it. Luckily, after the first day my belly became accustomed to Ghanaian spices, and the day party in my chest calmed down. Please believe I’m going back on my next trip to Accra!
8. MARACAS BEACH, TRINIDAD: Richard’s Bake & Shark
So before I start raving about this sandwich, I’ll acknowledge the fact that Bake and Shark at Richard’s is sometimes the first uninterrupted meal many Carnival travelers have after a week of partying. After eating soggy doubles to soak up liquor on the way out of the fetes, and falling asleep in buckets of cold KFC, any fresh fish sandwich would seem pretty damn good!
That said, even on a sober day, Richard’s is by far the best bake and shark I’ve had in Trinidad or elsewhere. The fish is well seasoned, the bake is nice and fresh, and the toppings are what really sets it off. Pineapple chow, garlic sauce, tamarind sauce, cilantro chutney, and a host of fresh veggies make this sandwich enough to fill you up for the rest of your day at the beach.
9. COCKLESHELL BEACH, ST. KITTS: Reggae Beach Bar & Grill
Since we are only a few days into “New Year, New You” season, I figured I’d end this post with a healthy option! Normally at the beach, I have zero interest in anybody’s arrangement of leafy greens. But my trip to St. Kitts last December was less than 2 months before Trinidad Carnival. The way my 30-something metabolism is set up, I couldn’t afford to blow my carnival regimen at every meal, so I opted for the Reggae Beach Salad with grilled fish.
Surprisingly, it was super filling and very flavorful. The fish is one of the heartier ones like Mahi Mahi, and the root veggies were a sweet complement its the savory spices. I’ve actually started making this salad back home, and it’s a great way to stay full on those low-carb diets that normally leave you hangry. While Reggae Beach Bar has plenty of standard bar food like conch fritters and french fries, this salad will keep your “New You” waistline happy and Spanx-free when you get back home!