If you have booked a luxurious villa in St. Martin (or the Dutch side of the island, called St. Maarten), it is likely that you already know about the amazing food you can expect to savor during your stay. After all, the island is rather small in overall size, but home to more than 400 restaurants! This is no surprise when you stop to consider the enormous range of peoples who have settled here; numbering around 70 different nationalities.
With the combination of both French and Dutch influences, as well as those of Africa, North America and other regions, the unique cuisine of the island is extraordinarily diverse. The abundance of certain key ingredients, such as seafood and island produce, also makes for some unique local specialties.
As a traveler to the island, you may already know about the dining delights of Grand Case (on the French side), and how it is home to some of the very finest gourmet restaurants in the entire Caribbean. Yet, it is also home to some of the most popular “lolos“.
And just what is a lolo? No one has been able to definitively identify just how these small, open air food stalls got their name. However, many point to a French term for the word “lot”, and historians say that the earliest lolos were really just places where rations were stored on plantations. Over time, the lolo transitioned from storage space to social center and popular eatery.
Today, lolos are found in many of the major towns of St. Martin, and each is a unique spot serving Creole and local favorites in a lovely, open-air setting. They are, in fact, such great resources for the traveling “foodie” that the famous Anthony Bourdain headed to St. Martin to visit a lolo.
What to Eat
Anyone familiar with lolos will tell you that you always smell them before you actually see them because of their enormous grills and delicious foods always being prepared. Yet, as a traveler, you may not know exactly what to enjoy when visiting a lolo. Unfortunately, there is no single, one size fits all answer because lolos are just like typical restaurants in that they serve different dishes or specialize in a few particular favorites.
You can expect any meal at a lolo to feature fish, meat, plantains, and starchy side dishes. Depending upon where you dine, though, your meat might be a delicious stewed curry chicken or goat, or it could be grilled fresh fish. Many spots are serving up grilled lobster and ribs, and almost all have their own variations of jonnycake that cannot be missed. Remember, too that saltfish cakes (accras) are a delicious island specialty. And keep in mind that portions are never, ever, small.
Choosing Your Lolo
Almost all of the top lolos in St. Martin are on the beaches or with street side settings. They are very casual and ideal for days spent along the sands or when out shopping and exploring. While there are six major lolos in Grand Case (and all right in a row), don’t just stick to the most commonly known destinations. For example, in Marigot, you will find the (now) famous Rosemary’s. This is where Bourdain visited and where the restaurant’s namesake owner presides over the eatery every day. Most visitors get quite an experience of Rosemary’s wonderful personality, but most also marvel at the food.
There is also Jonny B Under the Tree in Simpson Bay, Rosie’s Snack Bar in Mullet Bay, and Chez Coco also in Marigot. There is also Scooby’s in Grand Case, Sky’s the Limit, and the ever popular Chez Leandra in Orient Bay.