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CaribDesi | Jan 3, 201210:55 AM     58

We first visited the Turks and Caicos Islands thirteen years ago, and have returned annually ever since. It's become our favorite vacation destination, not just for the sand, sun, and water, but also for the food.

No, I'm not only talking about the latest fusion creations prepared by classically trained chefs at the most expensive and posh restaurants.. Rather, I'm recommending that visiting "Chowhounds" experience the local foods, skillfully prepared by generational cooks whose formal training was at the apron strings of mothers and grandmothers. Yes, Belongers (TCI citizens) call it "island food," but you might notice some aspects of Creole, Cajun, Soul Food, and LowCountry cuisine. After all, this is where all those forms of American southern cuisine evolved from.

I'm a Southern boy, born and bred, and my accent doesn't hide the fact. So, I've got to admit that I was taken back when I first experienced Turks and Caicos "island food." We stopped by the former "Smokey's on da Bay" in Blue Hills for dinner one night, after returning from a day trip to Grand Turk. For the first time in my life, I tasted authentic Caribbean steamed fish, peas & rice, sweet plantains, vegetables, etc., and thought, "Oh my gosh, this is my grandmother's food." Yes, that was the first time I realized that Southern "soul food" wasn't "born" in the South.

When visiting the Turks and Caicos Islands, I highly recommend that you go off the "beaten path," and experience some true Caribbean cuisine. Favorite local restaurants of ours include Hole in the Wall (near the airport), Smokey's (now located across from The Veranda Resort), Ricky's Flamingo Cafe (curried grouper melts in your mouth), Three Queens (Blue Hills), Da Conch Shack and Horse-eye Jacks (also in Blue Hills), Club Sodax (on Leeward Hwy., my favorite lunch spot), and Middle Caicos Cafe (across from The Alexandra Resort). These are all located on the island of Providenciales, but you'll also find great local eateries on North and Middle Caicos, Grand Turk, and Salt Cay -- just ask around.

There are many wonderful fine-dining restaurants in the TCI, and we enjoy them also. However, mixing your vacation dining with delicious local options is a great way to not only save $$, but also experience and appreciate the local culture.

If you've not visited the Turks and Caicos, or haven't visited in a while, here are some good websites to research:

www.wherewhenhow.tc -- a great dining guide, especially higher-end restaurants

www.turksandcaicosreservations.tc -- great site for hotel / resort / villa comparisons, rates, specials, and reservations. They're located on the island, and know what they're talking about.

www.wherewhenhow.com -- general information

Hope this helps.

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