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If you’d like to live like a local during your Aruban stay, you’ll also have to eat like a local.
Luckily, eating like an Aruban local is a true feast. Traditional Aruban food is a tasty mix of flavours, spices and herbs – featuring sugary delights, traditional stews (known as stobas) and plenty of seafood. Keshi Yena, a hearthy and cheesy casserole, is often considered Aruba’s national dish. But the diversity of authentic aruban food is rich – also including Cashew Cake and Dutch Split Pea Soup. Curious? Enjoy our introduction to some of the most iconic aruba food recipes.
There’s much to be learned about the island through traditional Aruban food. Its rich local cuisine is heavily influenced by its national history (including rich Indiginous dishes as well as those influenced by Spanish and Dutch colonialism), its geographic location (think Latin American influences) and its natural resources (including plenty of seafood, rich herbs and spices and lots of corn). All of this makes for an abundancy of tasty authentic Aruban food and plenty of mouthwatering Aruban national dishes. Let’s explore them all!
Also known as the national dish of Aruba, Keshi Yena is essentially a large round ball of cheese, stuffed with spicy meat (usally chicken or beef) and melted into perfection. Although Keshi Yena as a somewhat dark past and was born out of necessity (as it used to utilze leftover cheese rinds and meat table scraps) it’s nonetheless a testament to Aruban resourcefulness and creative cooking. It’s richness makes it the perfect dish after you’ve gone for a long hike on the island (or whenever you’re just really hungry). And the sensation of melted cheese is often unparalleled. Sounds delicious, right?
Pastechi can best be described as an empanada – and is a popular breakfast or snack item in Aruba. The common denominator of Pastechi is its deep-fried, cresent-shaped dough that can be filled with a variety of stuffings – including cheese, seafood (often tuna, but other fish or shellfish will do too), vegetables (like leek, onion, celery or peper) or meat (mostly chicken meat, but occasionally pork or other meats are used). When cooking it yourself, you can combine this main ingredient with chopped onions, peppers, celery and nutmeg. But don’t worry, you can also find Pastechi at plenty Aruban roadside bars.
Aruba’s ‘Dutch Split Pea Soup’ is another result of the island’s colonial past. Nevertheless, Aruban’s have made this Dutch dish their own. Since it’s as filling as it is warm, Dutch Split Pea Soup is best eaten on cooler evenings – or whenever you’re in need of some comfort food. The thick soup includes split peas, smoked ham, plenty of onions and garlic as well as celery and bay leaves. The trick is to let the soup simmer for a solid amount of time (at least three hours), so a patient chef is required for this one. But trust us, it’s worth the wait.
Floating somewhere between a pancake and flatbread, Pan Bati is a traditional Aruban dish that can be eaten all day long. During breakfast or for dessert, the pancake-like bread is topped with sugar (or another sugary topping) whereas it can also accompany savory dishes – balancing out the strong flavours in your more hearthy Aruban meal. Literally meaning “beaten bread” Pan Bati is made from a combination of corn flour and wheat flour – which is key in giving the dish its fluffy consistency. Next to the two types of flour, you’ll also need baking powder, a bit of sugar, milk and oil.
Stobas is Aruba’s traditional stew – and often found in the homes of the locals. You prepare it by marinating chunks of meet (like beef, goat or fish) in pepper and garlic, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, chili peppers, stock, cumin and nutmeg. Next up, some patience is required. As you’ll have to slowly cook the stew on a low fire for several hours. Do this until the meat becomes tender and your Stobas has a thicker consistency. Whenever you’re ready, serve this thick and heartwarming Stobas with steamed white rice and top with fresh cilantro. Not the patient type? Don’t worry. You can also find Stobas at plenty Aurban dining spots.
Funchi Fries are Aruba's answer to traditional French fries. Aptly titled, Funchi Fries are made from Funchi. This is a polenta-like cornmeal. The cornmeal is cooled, moulded and then the fries are cut into thick strips and then fried until crispy, often served with a spicy sauce. Funchi Fries are often served as a side dish (and you can find plenty of them at fast food and normal restaurants). Are you ready for this perfect snack or side dish?
Let’s finish this post with something for your sweet tooth. Because no exploration of traditional Aruban food would be complete without mentioning the delicious Cashew Cake from Aruba. The cake itself takes quite some skill to make and includes several layers such as a butter cake and cashew filling. Some people prefer to cover their Cashew Cake with sweet syrup or liquor – as well as decorations like candied cherries and (of course) cashews. Despite its challenging baking techniques, you can very easily freeze Aruban Cashew Cake, both as a whole or in slices. This means you might have to work hard for a few hours, but will enjoy your cake for plenty more days to come.
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