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The Essence Of Aruban Cuisine

Joanna Hall

Subheading: There’s something a little bit different about the cuisine of this Dutch-influenced Caribbean island - here’s why.

Ask anyone who spends time in Aruba and they’ll tell you it’s a bit different from the other Caribbean Islands. Located in the southwest of the archipelago off the coast of Venezuela, it was first discovered by Spanish explorers in 1499. It wasn't until 1636, however, that the Dutch acquired the island and became influential to its cuisine. It’s somewhat different from the rest of the Caribbean, which in culinary terms leans towards a fusion of African, European, East Indian, Arab and Chinese cuisines, all brought from travellers to the islands across the centuries, and leaving their mark.

Aruban cuisine has dishes which feature a wide variety of ingredients from goat, fish, beef and chicken, to maize, locally grown vegetables and rice - and of course plenty of that Dutch staple, cheese. A favourite served in many restaurants, but cooked with a difference, is Sopa di Pampuna; a hearty pumpkin soup with salted beef and potatoes giving it weight, and cinnamon and Tabasco adding a hint of sweetness and spice. Besides steaks and seafood, another dish you’ll see on Aruban menus is Stoba, a hot pot stew of fish or meat with vegetables and maize. A popular version is Stoba di Cabrito, mixing salted beef with young goat, onions, garlic, green pepper and tomatoes with spices. Keshi Yena is another option for a hearty appetite; it’s an Edam or Gouda cheese rind stuffed with beef, chicken, fish, or shrimp, and garnished with raisins, grated cheese, bread crumbs, olives, capers, and spices. It was believed to be created by frugal Dutch colonists who had to stretch their provisions between boat arrivals.

When it comes to snacks, Arubans love Bolita di Keshi, deep fried balls made of eggs, cornstarch, white cheese such as feta, and sharp yellow cheese such as oude boerenkaas. Other tasty snacks include Balchi di Pisca, deep fried balls of salmon or salted cod with garlic and a dash of nutmeg, and Pastechi, small deep fried turnovers stuffed with cheese, shrimp or beef. Finally, if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll likely satisfy it with Kesio, an eggy caramel custard with caramel sauce, or Pudin di Coco, a coconut pudding made with rum and served with lime sauce. Eet smakelijk!

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