When you visit anywhere in the Caribbean, you can expect to find five-star dining. White table clothes. $100 bottles of house wine. Dining with a sunset view. You get the picture. But that’s not the local flavor and that’s not what I was craving when I was getting my tan on in Saint Martin. I was hankering for some hole-in-the-wall culinary perfection. You know, the type of food only found within a shabby, unsavory structure that somehow manages to churn out simple but delectable dishes.
Right off the main thoroughfare on the Dutch side of the island, bordering Simpson Bay, I found Hilma’s Windsor Castle. The name evokes images of royalty but anyone approaching this roadside shack would know with 100 percent confidence that this isn’t a place for Will and Kate.
Tucked back from the Airport Road, I walked up to the trailer-turned-bar establishment. Four chairs lined the bar. Each weathered but welcoming. It was a slow time of day so the locals were away working and my mom and I had the place to ourselves. We took our seats and to our surprise there she was. Hilma Harris, proud restaurant owner and chef.
Like an old friend, she greeted us with “Talk to me,” inviting us to place our orders. Only problem was I didn’t know what I wanted…so I left it to the expert. Hilma nodded, dropped off a cold Carib Lager, and headed to the back.
Five minutes later she came back with her signature salt fish sandwich on homemade johnnycakes, an island favorite. Hilma explained that salt fish has been a staple for years because it’s cheap and can be easily preserved. It was simple looking, sitting on a white Styrofoam plate, but surprisingly inviting.
I dipped the sandwich into red hot sauce and found humble perfection in every bite. I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to fork out tons of money to really get a taste of a locale. Perhaps Hilma and her shack didn’t exactly pass for royalty…but her food, simple and authentic, was fit for a king.
Photos :: by Say