Aruba’s Distinctive Island Cuisine

March 12, 2015 Updated: April 22, 2015

For us here in wintry Canada, the islands of the Caribbean are a world away. Sun-swept Aruba, its name evoking exotic sounds, sights, and fragrances, is one island that stands out because of its dynamic cuisine.

Aruba cuisine has a fascinating history and local dishes are a blend of flavours and flavourings from the Spanish and the Dutch as well as Amer-Indian, Indonesian, South American, and Caribbean.

Local dishes include fish that is pan-fried, blackened, or grilled and served with seasoned brown or black butters; stews of chicken, goat, or beef served with rice and beans or cornmeal mash; and pan bati, which usually replaces bread. Dutch pea soup is also a favourite.

At the 21st annual Travel and Vacation Show in Ottawa later this month, Matthew Boland, executive chef of Divi Resorts in Aruba, will demonstrate unique Aruban recipes. His “Taste of Aruba” presentations will take place on Saturday, March 28 and Sunday, March 29 at 1 p.m. at the Shaw Centre (formerly the Ottawa Convention Centre). Two of his delicious recipes follow.

Keshi Yena Recipe

By Chef Matt Boland, Divi Resorts

Makes 4 to 6 servings

• 25 ml (2 tbsp) butter
• 25 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
• 2 onions, chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 2 green peppers, chopped
• 1 kg (2 lbs) cooked boneless chicken thigh, shredded
• 3 tomatoes, chopped
• 50 ml (1/4 cup) sliced olives
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) capers
• 25 ml (2 tbsp) parsley
• 1/4 minced hot pepper (or hot sauce to taste)
• 125 ml (1/2 cup) raisins
• 25 ml (2 tbsp) tomato paste
• 10 ml (2 tsp) Worcestershire sauce
• 25 ml (2 tbsp) ketchup
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Gouda cheese, sliced

Line 8-oz soup cups with the sliced gouda cheese. Saute the onions and garlic in the butter and oil, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Spoon the mixture into the cheese cup shell and close the top with cheese.

Cook in a hot oven at 190º C (375º F) for approximately 30 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbly, like onion soup (165º C internal temperature). Let rest for 10 minutes. Turn upside down onto a plate and serve with rice, beans, and ripe fried plantain.

Conch Curry Coconut Banana Chowder

By Chef Matt Boland, Divi Resorts

• 2 slices bacon, sliced thick
• 40 ml (3 tbsp) butter
• 25 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1/4 large red pepper
• 1 small poblano pepper
• 2 medium jalapeno peppers
• 2 stalks celery, chopped fine
• 40 ml (3 tbsp) flour
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) curry powder
• 125 ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock
• 250 g (8 oz) can coconut milk
• 2 pinches saffron
• 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) milk, or half and half
• 443 ml (15 oz) can cream-style corn
• 500 ml (2 cups) conch meat, chopped fine
• 15 ml (1 tsp) ground white pepper
• 2 ripe bananas
• Fried plantain for garnish

Slice the bacon lengthwise, chop into 1 cm (1/2-inch) pieces. Place in a three-quart pot with olive oil and cook over medium heat until the fat has been rendered from the bacon.

Add the butter to the pot and let it melt. Add the onion, peppers, and celery and continue to cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft. Add extra oil as needed.

Add the flour and curry to the pot and stir it into the vegetables to break up any lumps. Continue cooking over medium heat until the flour turns a light brown colour.

Add the saffron to the chicken broth, let stand for 5 minutes, then stir well to blend the flour mixture into the liquid without any lumps (roux). Add the saffron, milk or half and half, coconut milk, corn, conch, and white pepper, and stir until combined.

Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, then turn the heat down and let simmer for about an hour. This gives time for the flavours to blend and the conch to cook. Taste a piece of the conch. If it is rubbery, continue to cook until it is a soft texture.

Add bananas and garnish with plantain chips if desired .


Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: