Gorgeous aquamarine waters
Beaches – miles and miles of them
Anguilla Welcome
Tasty’s signature seafood salad
A bounty of fresh seafood, grilled and ready to savour
Chef Dale with his daily special at Tasty’s Restaurant
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The island’s unique hospitality and bounty of fresh seafood provide ample reasons to visit again and again!

My friend told me, “Many people may not have heard of Anguilla, but it is well known.” He made this point after I told him about my transit through US Customs, where I was asked why I was going to “Angola”.

He has been inviting me to visit him in Anguilla for years. Every time he visits Hong Kong, he regales me with stories about the island’s unique hospitality and spearfishing for his dinner. Finally, I could not refuse his invitation any longer. I had to visit the place of numerous fantastic stories.

First, let me establish the geography. Anguilla is an island in the Eastern Caribbean. It is located south of Florida and east of Puerto Rico. The island is about sixteen miles long, from east to west, and three miles wide at its widest point. It is quite flat and is comprised of coral and limestone. The island’s most notable feature is the crystal-clear blue-green waters surrounding it.

To get there, travel by air to St. Maartin, a neighbouring island that is governed half by the Dutch and half by the French. Frequent daily flights to St. Maartin come via the US, Canada, and Europe.

From St. Maartin, the easiest way to get to Anguilla is by ferry. The ferry rides take only twenty minutes, and several operators provide frequent trips between the two islands.

It is best to reserve the trip in advance. At the airport, a greeter will wait for you with appropriate signage, take you to the ferry pier, help with the customs declarations and guide you to the port in Anguilla. As soon as I got on board the ferry, the captain asked who wanted a drink and then proceeded to hand out frosty bottles of wine or beer. Wow. This made the short trip jovial and fun. It certainly set the tone for my stay in Anguilla; the locals are fun-loving and easy-going people.

I thought my story about Anguilla would be about the green-blue seas, so clear that you can see the bottom even far from shore, and about the sand and the sun. That would have been the typical “Caribbean travel feature”. But with guidance from my foodie friend, my days were booked and filled with discovering Anguilla’s thriving food culture.

To my amazement, this small island, with a population of around 12,500, boasts hundreds of eateries. The exact number changes constantly. But from the roadside food vans and restaurant & bar shacks on any neighbourhood corner and on the small adjacent cays and islands, to owner-operated standalone restaurants and high-end restaurants operated by hotels and resorts, there is a multitude of places to grab a quick meal or to have an evening of fine dining.

There are bakeries with baked goods and places that sell single special menu items throughout Anguilla, and culinary talent that defies the smallness of the place. I met chefs that had trained overseas with grandmasters and apprenticed in the restaurant facilities of multi-starred hotels, who then took their knowledge and opened their own dining establishments. Private and kitchen gardens along with hydroponic produce providers supply these local chefs with locally grown vegetables. This combination of talent and produce has created a splendid atmosphere for food lovers.

My guide explained that the food culture in Anguilla is relatively young. He said, “I remember a time when there were no eateries here – it was mom’s home cooking and nothing else.”  Then years ago, a Chinese family came and set up the first restaurant in Anguilla.  “It was an event”. The food provided by that first Chinese restaurant was different, good, and most importantly affordable for a regular family on the island. “My father took us there, and we liked the food so much, that even my mother ordered take-out from time to time and brought it home for our dinner.”

Within a few years of this first restaurant, the first food vans were set up. The proprietors of these were local people who had lived in the US and were introduced to the concept there and brought it back to Anguilla with them. These vans would drive from place to place looking for customers; they served fried chicken, conch, whelk, curried goat, spareribs, pork chops, rice and beans and coleslaw. The vans then started to park in the same spot each night, developing a customer base that came regularly to get takeout or to dine sitting at a bench and a table set up near the van. The prices for the food were so good that customers could eat there all the time and not have to do their own cooking.

Then pizza was introduced. The unique feature of the first pizzeria was that it stayed open late after all the other eateries had closed. This was key to the pizzeria’s success.

The most important factor to the growth of this industry was that the menus and the prices catered to the local population. The prices were attractive, and the quantities were generous. Local people started to eat out more and more.

Now Anguillans dine out often and buy ready-made and prepared foods regularly.

“If a new restaurant or eating establishment opens up, we will all give it a try, help to support it,”

I had the pleasure of experiencing what the Anguillans benefit from daily – a plethora of choices and flavours and a bounty of fresh seafood!

A simple breakfast was a quick pick up of a stuffed roti with curried chicken and potatoes from Mary’s Bakery. A noontime lunch was a huge plate of barbecued ribs with beans and rice and macaroni & cheese from Lisa’s. 

Text & Photos Cammy Yiu