Food: What do you eat in Aruba?

Let’s begin this article with a spoiler alert. You are in for a treat if you are a foodie when traveling to Aruba. The Aruba travel veterans know that food on this island is top-notch. First-timers are sometimes a bit apprehensive, but you shouldn’t be. Let’s explore.

Do you like exploring local flavors? You should. Are you vegan? No problem. Food truck lover? Yes, please. Kosher? Check. Meat? Fish? Poultry? Yes, yes, and yes. Aruba has something to offer you.

Throughout history many people have passed by this island. Each nationality, brought their flavors whilst in Aruba and all these different tastes was happily adopted by locals. Don’t be surprised if you see one of our dishes look familiar to yours.

In this article I feature three specific aspects of food in Aruba: the production, retail and restaurants/eateries. The last part is about restaurants where I focus on types and varieties.

Introduction

The southern Caribbean is one of the driest areas of the whole western hemisphere. Aruba in particular, is windy, sunny, rocky, and dry. Especially the latter complicates it for prospective farms.

Aruba is tiny by all measures and metrics and is only 69 square miles (179 square meter) and this means that space for farming is a big problem. Our island is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Due to the shortcomings Aruba has a robust import infrastructure with a steady and secure delivery at our shipping ports of food products arriving from all over the world.

Harvest, Livestock, Fisheries

The logistics (import, raise, feed) required for animals farms at the scale needed to supply this island’s permanent and floating population of tourists, is practically impossible.

Having said that, there are tiny farms that have minor production that supply local companies. Some companies are artisan while others are boutique producers. I do want to highlight some producers/farmers that do a terrific job with all the limitations in Aruba. There is even a winery trying!

There are local producers of mushrooms, lettuce, hot sauce, hydroponic farmers. Below you find two examples.

In terms of fisheries and local seafood production, this too, is not commercially organized. Institutionally, it is even not allowed to fish commercially via fishing trawlers.

The local production of local fish is by way of local fishermen going out daily and fish in local waters and whatever they catch, sell it to restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and individuals. This means that there aren’t any fish markets in Aruba.

Retail

Aruba offers world-class quality products and variety. Depending on the business model (see list below), main local supermarket mimic either a US or European style layout.

In Aruba there are 5 type of supermarkets:

  • Premium supermarkets
  • Discount markets
  • Membership clubs
  • Neighborhood supermarkets
  • 24-hour convenience stores

Note: above classification is done by me, not a branch organization or statistical office.

The food distribution and retail has come a long way on this island. Aruba also suffered from the processed-meat-in-a-can-for-islands syndrome, that many islands in the Caribbean and Pacific endured.

Ever since tourism and millennials came onto the scene, the offerings and variety of products went up, arguably to world-class standards.

Nowadays you can expect to find the most A-brand products and niche variety at the major supermarkets, allowing for a much more varied and healthy cuisine across the board.

Premium Supermarket

At the time of writing there are 3 premium supermarkets in Aruba. Other than brand products they offer other services such as bakery, buffet catering, flowers etc. These superstores are open daily from early morning to late evening and close only on select national holidays.

  1. Ling & Sons IGA Super Center
  2. Super Food Plaza
  3. SUPER Do It Center

The first two have a larger variety of products, while the latter has full hardware store addition as well, although, if you are visiting Aruba, why would you need a hardware store.

Discount Markets

SaveMore Food Stores is build after in the model European discount supermarkets. It offers quality fruit, vegetables, produce, meat and bread. They offer mostly quality off-brand CPG products, which help maintain their cost low. Some products are also vertically integrated, which means they produce (in other countries) or import their own products, this way cutting the middle-man, thus keeping their cost in check.

Membership Clubs

Currently there is one paid membership warehouse shopping club in Aruba: PriceSmart. This store is a nearly identical copy of US-based Costco Wholesale. The yearly membership cost is nearly US$70.

PriceSmart is a San Diego, California, US-based public company with locations mostly in the Caribbean and Central America.

PriceSmart Aruba is nearly two decades old and it has proven to be one of the best overall performers among the locations.

When I’m there, I rarely see visitors, if ever, from North America or Europe, which totally makes sense.

Neighborhood Supermarkets and 24-hour Convenience Stores

Neighborhood stores are the primary place for locals to get their day-to-day or last minute groceries. Mind you, these stores most of the time are more expensive than the other type of stores, as mentioned above, but the convenience is worth the extra money for most customers.

This form of food retail has proliferated so much in the last decade, that the government has put new rules in place, in order prevent more neighborhood stores to pop-up. Most of the time, business owners buy one or two houses within the neighborhood and convert them into supermarkets, without looking at negative aspects that may arise such as traffic issues and noise.

24-hour convenience store was restricted to a few operators in the 90s and before, but in the present you may find more stores that are allowed to remain open 24-hours a day. Also, some 24-hours gasoline stations offer around-the-clock option to buy quick groceries.

Restaurants – Eateries – Food trucks

According to TripAdvisor there are 431 restaurants in Aruba travelers are currently currently reviewing. This represents an Aruban restaurant density of 1 in each 6 mi2 or 23.6 restaurants per 10,000 inhabitants.

Aruba would belong in the Top 10 of most restaurant-dense US cities, place it among places as San Fransisco, New York City, Seattle and Boston.

In terms of variety, you will find European food options such as Italian (of course), Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, German and Dutch.

Regionally you will find the following cuisines: Venezuelan, Caribbean, American, Colombian, Peruvian, Surinamese and Mexican.

Farther away is also represented. Think about Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine.

In terms variety you won’t be disappointed. Apart from vegetarian and vegan, you find that all food groups are royally represented. Seafood, beef, pork and poultry.

If you are looking for familiar brands of US-based restaurants, you won’t be disappointed. My suggestion, however, try the local restaurants that offer top quality meal and service.

Food trucks

The food truck scene started in Aruba early on, together with the rise of casinos. When more casino started opening in the 80s more people started working at the casino.

Casino dealers worked until the early hours, but couldn’t find places to eat. Food trucks saw their way clear to meet this demand and one truck after another popped up.

In the present food trucks have proliferated and has become a world on its own. Additional to the typical food truck menu, now there are themed food trucks, such as burger trucks, arepa and empanada trucks, Italian trucks etc.

Caveat

Lastly, I couldn’t finish this article without mentioning that food in Aruba is expensive. Especially if you live in North America or Europe you will notice this whilst here. Remember I mentioned above, that the production in Aruba is deficient, which means that everything is shipped in, causing food prices to be significantly elevated.

Additionally, real estate prices in prime hotel areas are high, which means that restaurants are paying steep rental fees or mortgages.

Questions

If you have questions or you think I missed something, please feel free to email me, leave a comment below, or contact me on social media.

Aruba Vineyard: Wine Tastes Better By The Sea

That fact that Aruba is somewhat of a tourism center is known. Our island continuously receives accolades from travelers worldwide and experts alike. Currently, in Aruba, there is a push to try to promote its culture and gastronomy, with the latter having arguably improved considerably in the last decade or so.

Today’s topic is for the oenophiles among us, or at least for the ones with a moderate curiosity about wines.

Due to a private initiative, Aruba is carefully taking its first steps into the world of winemaking with the introduction of “Adore Wines” by Mr. Luiz Videira Melatti, with locally grown grapes.

Continue reading Aruba Vineyard: Wine Tastes Better By The Sea

Quick Hits: Alhambra Casino, Tropicana Resort, Linear Park, Oasis Condo, Acqua Condo, Costa Linda, Taste of Belgium, Ritz Carlton, La Cabana

In terms of tourism development at lot went on during my 6 month absence, as you can image. This post is especially interesting for the repeat visitors to Aruba or just for the one who are curious by nature. I’m touching each project briefly just to get you up to speed. At a later time I will elaborate on the individual projects, including several pictures. Let’s get to it.

Alhambra Casino

The construction at Alhambra Casino has been ongoing for the better part of the year. Currently work is being done at the main entrance which is on the east end. On top of the main entrance a dome is being build to give the casino entrance a grand appearance.

Ritz Carlton Aruba Construction
Construction at Ritz Carlton Aruba

On the eastern part a new section is being constructed, which seems to going to function as a storage room or staff area. The parking area is completely finished, including new asphalt pavement, desert landscaping and LED parking lights.

The shopping area that use to be there was razed to make place for a new, better organized shopping area. The retail section still needs months of construction. Only food retail business to remain open during construction is Subway restaurant.

Tropicana Resort

Renovation at Tropicana Resort is ongoing, at a slow pace it seems. The old temporary banners with the resort titles made place for more permanent titles. Tropicana chose for a retro design using white letters on top circles with green background and gold trim for the second part of the resort name. The casino’s name is now Trop Casino. As of today the casino hasn’t resume business. The restaurant there is open for business. By the way I saw a couple of juicy deals on their website for the coming months. Have at it.

Linear Park

The island government has pushed for the construction of a linear park across the street from Talk of the Town Resort (this resort is located on the way to Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, just after the airport). The linear park is an open and accessible park for locals and visitors alike.

The first contours of the park are becoming visible and I must say that I’m actually pleasantly surprised at the first shapes of this park. I could see myself hanging out there with the family. The complete plan entails the largest linear park of the Caribbean connecting the park from Talk of the Town to the hotel area by the beaches.

Oasis Condo

Oasis is practically finished, with only a few more minor details that need some work. The way things are going I believe guests could be arriving weeks before year’s end. It really looks nice. I’ll have to tour the place to see the quality in the detail and finish.

Acqua Condo

Construction at Acqua Condo continues to be ongoing, but not without the well documented issues. This time the issue isn’t the construction itself, rather the fact that some buyers are complaining about getting a different unit than initially was agreed upon. Sigh… By the way, I read that on a forum.

Costa Linda

This is the first major renovation of the 90s build resort, Costa Linda. Construction is full ahead and ongoing. Nothing else to report here.

Taste of Belgium

Taste of Belgium Restaurant (same owners as Cilo City Lounge, Papillon Restaurant, Taste of Belgium Bistro and a catering business) is under construction at Palm Beach Plaza Mall. This ambitious group is expanding rapidly and are now competing with another fast expanding group of restaurants Aruba Wind and Dine.

I have always been a fan of Taste of Belgium and related restaurants. You should check them out. They have a great Facebook page with up to date pictures of the construction at Taste of Belgium Restaurant.

Ritz Carlton

North of Marriott Resort, construction of Ritz Carlton continues without novelties. This luxury resort is expected to be delivered somewhere in 2013.

La Cabana

Construction at La Cabana continues. Big parts of the resort has been delivered, including the front facade and lobby. I think the renovation should help La Cabana fix issues it had recently due to the previous lack of maintenance.

These are just a couple of developments I covered, many more to come in the coming time. I’ve added some links for your convenience. Have a great week.

Zissles Dinner Show D’Licious Well Received

When Paseo Herencia commercial center opened three years ago in Palm Beach, club Mr. Jazz opened. This place was supposed to be become the go to place for people in their twenties, thirties and forties to go and have a good time. It never really took off, despite ownership changes.

A Dutch entrepreneur acquired the failed Mr Jazz project and vowed to change it into something this island has never seen before: Zissles. This is restaurant features the Dinner Show D’Licious.


Zissles Dinner Show D’Licious [image by aruba.com/Aruba Today]

D’Liscious has been well received thus far. From what I understand from the reviews and customer response, people love it. Maybe I should invite my wife to this show. Congratulations to the crew at Zissles.

New: Starbucks Renaissance Marina Aruba

Starbucks Coffee opened its second location in Aruba. It is in the downstairs lobby area of Renaissance Marina Hotel, adjacent to Renaissance Mall in down town Oranjestad. A year ago Starbucks opened its first location in Renaissance Market Place, not too away far from this location.

I’m surprised that Starbucks* decided to expand so soon in Aruba [FYI Starbucks doesn’t franchise*] After all Starbucks finalized a major restructuring in its business just over a year ago by closing down many locations across the United States and Australia. I’m guessing they’re are betting on oversees expansion with strong American customer presence.

Starbucks Renaissance
New Starbucks at Renaissance Marina Hotel Aruba

Previously this location already sold coffee and breakfast, now it’s been slapped with a Starbucks logo and design. I’m sure sales will increase, as the location is terrific. There are several shops in the area and this is also the dock location for the shuttle boat to Renaissance’s own private island.

Rock Shop in Aruba

Hard Rock Cafe Aruba has been open for well over a year now at South Beach Centre in Palm Beach. It opened in a time proven to be rather difficult for the restaurant business in Aruba. Examples of this are the recent closures of some high profile restaurants such as Le Dome Restaurant, Ristaurante Italiano, Bella Luna, Rumba Restaurant and Le Petit Cafe (partially) among others.

Hard Rock is alive and kicking. At this point that is. In fact, Hard Rock is opening a “Rock Shop” in middle in town. I’m not sure what that is but I imagine it’s a retail store with Hard Rock merchandise. In below picture you can see the banner “Rock This Way” to remind tourists of its location in Palm Beach. This banner was put there since the inauguration in late 2008.

Hard Rock Shop
Rock Shop opening in Oranjestad

I think it’s a rather good move to open a “dependency” in town, especially in that heavily trafficked area with cruise ship passengers. Apart from that the all important brand expansion is crucial. Cruise ship season starts later this year in September. By opening there Hard Rock also helps offset the dominance of jewelry stores in that area. For the record, Aruba doesn’t produce any jewelry, it’s all imported.

Restaurants Using Two Pricelists

NOTE: This article was written by guest writer Sonny Vallejos. She’s been coming to Aruba with her husband for 20 years and love it so much here they even purchased a condo.

While visiting Aruba this week with my son and his wife, we took them to a restaurant we have in all of these years never been. It was highly recommended for the food and service. The restaurant Old Fisherman was your typical Aruban restaurant with plenty of island ambiance but not over the top.

As we were seated all four of us were given menus. My daughter-in-law received one which showed the prices in florins while the rest of us were given menus showing the prices in U.S. dollars. We started comparing the prices. You know trying to convert the florins into U.S. dollars. While it just started out as a learning process of converting florins to dollars, we began to notice a huge discrepancy between the amount charged in florins and the amount in dollars. We then asked the waiter why there was a difference in the menu prices and had one or the other not been updated. The waiter replied that my daughter-in-law received the wrong menu. She was given by mistake the menu for the locals.


Old Fisherman in Oranjestad

Well, now we were furious. We have owned our own home here in Aruba for the past 5 years and a time share prior to that, so we have been considered “locals” by many vendors just by showing our deed. However, at the Old Fisherman’s if we didn’t have a “card” then we were not considered locals and would be charged the prices in U.S. dollars, which by the way was at least 10 to 15% more in price. After several conversations with the manager, Old Fisherman finally agreed to giving us the local’s price for this one time only.

While I do believe that the locals in Aruba should be given discounts in some areas I feel that we should all be charged the same to eat at a restaurant. Why should tourists be charged differently?