Caymanian cuisine evolved from whatever could be coaxed from the sea and eked out from the poor, porous soil. Farmers cultivated carb-rich crops that could remain fresh without refrigeration and furnish energy for the heavy labor typical of the islanders’ hardscrabble existence. Hence pumpkins, coconuts, plantains, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yams, and other “provisions” (root vegetables) became staple ingredients. Turtle (now farm-raised), the traditional specialty, can be served in soup or stew and as a steak. Conch, the meat of a large pink mollusk, is prepared in stews, chowders, and fritters and panfried (cracked). Fish—including snapper, tuna, wahoo, grouper, and marlin—is served baked, broiled, steamed, or “Cayman-style” (as an escovitchwith peppers, onions, and tomatoes).
“Rundown” is another classic: Fish (marinated with fresh lime juice, scallions, and fiery Scotch bonnet peppers) is steamed in coconut milk with breadfruit, pumpkin dumplings, and/or cassava. Fish tea boils and bubbles similar ingredients for hours—even days—until it thickens into gravy. The traditional dessert, heavy cake, earned its name because excluding scarce flour and eggs made it incredibly dense: Coconut, sugar, spices, and butter are boiled, mixed with seasonal binders (cassava, yam, pumpkin), and baked.
Jamaican influence is seen in oxtail, goat stew, jerk chicken and pork, salt cod, and ackee (a red tree fruit resembling scrambled eggs in flavor and texture when cooked), and manish water (a lusty goat-head stew with garlic, thyme, scallion, green banana [i.e., plaintain], yam, potato, and other tubers).
Grand Cayman dining is casual (even shorts are okay, at least for lunch, but not beachwear and tank tops). More upscale restaurants usually require slacks for dinner. Mosquitoes can be pesky when you dine outdoors, especially at sunset, so plan ahead or ask for repellent. Winter can be chilly enough to warrant a light sweater. You should make reservations at all but the most casual places, particularly during the high season.
Since nearly everything must be imported, prices average about 25% higher than those in a major U.S. city. Many restaurants add a 10%–15% service charge to the bill; be sure to check before leaving a tip (waiters usually receive only a small portion of any included gratuities, so leave something extra at your discretion for good service). Alcohol can send your meal tab skyrocketing. Buy liquor duty-free, either at the airport before your flight to the Cayman Islands or in one of the duty-free liquor stores that can be found in almost every strip mall on Grand Cayman, and enjoy a cocktail or nightcap from the comfort of your room or balcony. Cayman customs limits you to two bottles per person. Lunch often offers the same or similar dishes at a considerable discount. Finally, when you are figuring your dining budget, remember that the Cayman dollar is worth 25% more than the U.S. dollar, and virtually all menus are priced in Cayman dollars.
Agua, Blue by Eric Ripert, Grand Old House, Luca, Michael’s Genuine, Mizu, Ortanique, Ragazzi
Cracked Conch, Grand Old House, Luca, Morgan’s Harbour, Osetra Bay, Over the Edge, Reef Grill at Royal Palms
Best for Romance
Beach House, Blue by Eric Ripert, Grand Old House, Mizu, Reef Grill at Royal Palms
Best for Families
Al La Kebab, Chicken! Chicken!, Cimboco, Eats Café
Best for Local Cuisine
Chicken! Chicken!, Cimboco, Over the Edge, Vivine’s Kitchen
Agua, Al La Kebab, Eats Café, Guy Harvey’s Island Grill, Morgan’s Harbour, Ragazzi, The Waterfront, Yoshi Sushi