Ask any local what makes St. Croix stand apart from its sister U.S. Virgin Islands and they’ll tell you: our food. Here on the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, our culinary traditions were influenced not only by Africa and Denmark during the colonial era, but also by our Caribbean neighbors, who immigrated here steadily throughout the 20th century.
As I tell guests on my Virgin Islands Food Tours, we consider our island to be the culinary gateway to the Caribbean, and firmly believe that “when belly full, bahna glad.” Translation: When you’ve eaten a good meal, you’re happy. Sample these essential Crucian eats the next time you’re here, and I guarantee you’ll be happy, too.
Fraco (pronounced fray-ko) is the Virgin Island version of a snow cone, and nothing beats the heat better than this frozen treat. A heaping cup of crushed ice is topped with a generous pour of syrup in a variety of flavors, such as banana, almond, tamarind, coconut, and passion fruit. Visit Ms. Charlene’s stall, next to the post office in downtown Christiansted, for the best fraco in town.
Gooseberry Ice Cream
You can’t visit St. Croix without trying gooseberry ice cream, and Armstrong’s Homemade Ice Cream is the place to get it. The company dates back to 1900 and still produces its ice cream using an original Danish recipe, which the family adapted and made their own. One of their most popular flavors is gooseberry, crafted from the small, yellow, and incredibly tart fruit that we like to boil with sugar into a “stew” and enjoy as a snack. Incorporating this whole-fruit stew into ice cream makes for a decadent dessert, but be careful of the tiny seeds.
This fried bread is a traditional island favorite, enjoyed any time of day. It was originally known as “journey cake” because people would eat it on their way to work. Over time, “journey” became “Johnny,” but the flavor remained the same. Crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, this unleavened bread is carefully kneaded and then fried to golden perfection. It’s best paired with a fried chicken leg or chicken roasted on an open grill from La Reine Chicken Shack.
Not to be confused with a Jamaican patty, this delicious handheld favorite — similar to an empanada — has a crispy, crunchy pastry crust. Stuffed with spiced beef, saltfish (salted cod), chicken, conch, lobster, or veggies, it’s the perfect island snack when paired with fresh local juice, such as passion fruit or tamarind. Rosa’s Booth in Frederiksted is a good place to try one.
Pot Fish and Fungi
This unofficial dish of the U.S. Virgin Islands dates back to the days of slavery. The fish is typically red snapper, fried to a crisp and then cooked down in a rich tomato-based gravy. Fungi (pronounced foon-ji) is similar in texture to polenta. Prepared with cornmeal, okra, salt, and butter, its mildness is a perfect complement to the flavorful fish. Dig in at Gertrude’s Restaurant in Christiansted.
Anquanette Gaspard is a food and travel entrepreneur, freelance writer, and social media influencer who uses her platforms to share the beauty of the Caribbean. Born and raised in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, she shares her experiences on her blog, CruzanFoodie.com.