I remember the first time I had gooseberry stew like it was this morning. It’s sweet, sour and spicy all at the same time, with a texture much closer to jam than any stew I’d ever had before. It was an unexpected treat in the middle of an otherwise busy lunch hour, and it was the moment I realized I had to taste a lot more new foods before I could come to any conclusions about the culinary traditions of the British Virgin Islands.
I would not have heard of gooseberry stew, much less tried some, if it hadn’t been for BVI Restaurant Week, the predecessor to BVI Food Fête, happening throughout November and currently in its third year.
Tourism officials began holding these culinary themed events in 2012 with understanding that foodies travel, and that everybody who visits a new place wants to experience something unique to that destination.
“We heard that portrayed very clearly,” Tourism Director Sharon Flax-Brutus said back in 2014 when the BVI Food Fête was launched.
“We need to be very proud and showcase our BVI products, our BVI food and beverages, whether it’s peppermint candies or potato pudding … visitors want to be able to say ‘I had oxtail, I had the peppermint candies, or I had a taste of the tamarind wine.’”
Over the years, the BVI’s traditional dishes and drinks have become more and more the focus, explained BVI Food Fête coordinator Cindy Rosan-Jones.
First, in 2013, officials added an event spotlighting the sister island of Anegada and its favorite local seafood, lobster. Lobster Fest has since become the signature event of the BVI Food Fête, allowing attendees to try locally caught lobster prepared in various ways while exploring the territory’s farthest sister island.
“Last year we had the fish and fungi competition, and that was really good,” Cindy said, adding that her favorite local flavors are the drinks made from fresh seasonal fruits like tamarind, ginger and coconut.
Fish and fungi is the BVI’s official dish, and it will again be featured in this year’s Taste of Tortola, when local and visiting chefs will compete to see who prepares the best version of the cornmeal-based dish.
“We hope to make it something even bigger this year,” Cindy said.
Looking back, she said that as the Food Fête has grown, it’s also improved.
“We’ve added more evening events, more local entertainment and things unique to our tastes. It’s become a really memorable experience,” she said.
Both Taste of Tortola and Taste of Virgin Gorda events should be even more memorable this year with the addition of staffed photo booths where attendees can pose for keepsake photos with novelty oversized culinary props. The taste events also let food fans become the jury for the evenings’ coveted “people’s choice” prizes.
“Everyone gets a ticket when they come in, and they use it to vote for their favorite booth. That restaurant receives a prize, and the bragging rights,” Cindy said.
For those looking to make the most out of their Lobster Fest at the last-minute, Cindy recommends chartering a yacht, since Anegada doesn’t have as much hotel space as other isles in the BVI.
“I think it’d be perfect for a group of friends to sail over and spend the weekend on a yacht enjoying Anegada,” she said.
She also hopes that while there, Lobster Fest patrons take part in a five-stop historical tour of Anegada. Last year, the tours coincided with the re-opening of the Faulkner House Museum, the historic home of one of the territory’s local heroes, Theodolph Faulkner.
“We found that was very popular last year, so we’re bringing it back,” Cindy said. “There’s more to Anegada than lobster.”