St. John and St. Thomas -- Availability of Good Ingredients at Markets and Groceries?
Our extended family is considering a house rental in St. John or St. Thomas. We love to cook, and would want to do a number of dinners at the house, taking advantage of the gourmet kitchen.
Any thoughts on the availability, quality, and price of ingredients on either island?
We visit STJ regularly, often renting a house.
While I love to plan meals and cook at home, I never do it on STJ anymore because it takes too much effort. Until recently, the availability of decent meat was iffy. The stuff I saw in the stores was, to put it simply, gross.
Durning our last two trips, the selections did look better (this was in Feb 10 and July 10). For what it is worth, I am super-picky about meats so my standards may be unreasonable. The Starfish Market is generally good and their gourmet store (in the same complex) has great cheeses and wines.
Fresh fish can sometimes be had in Cruz Bay, sold out of a cooler by a guy down by the ferry dock or at the Fish Trap counter. I know people that shop this way but I am lazy. The last thing I want to do after a day at the beach is drive into town and spend 30 minutes searching the streets for the fish guy, looking for a parking space, standing in line at the Fish Trap, etc.
Again, I am lazy, some people may enjoy chasing their ingredients more than I do.
I have heard great things about the Marina Market on STT. I know people that live on STT who swear by it and many visitors will provision their charter boats from this market.
Repeat STJ visitors who like to cook typically take their own meats and a lot of their own ingredients to STJ. We have done this in the past when travelling with my parents, who prefer to stay in and cook their own meals. It is doable if you plan ahead and are ok with the baggage fees.
To answer your questions, it depends on what you want to cook. Standard stuff shouldn't be too much of a problem. If you are looking to pick up a specific fresh fish or Caribbean lobsters for dinner, you will likely be out of luck. (I have yet to find a Caribbean lobster source...)
Availability - Almost anything that is available stateside can be found on STJ/STT. You might not be able to find shallots, for example, but onions won't be a problem. Bell peppers, no problem. Specific hot peppers might be hard to find. Tomatoes might run $8 per pound but locally grown greens are $4 a small bag.
Quality - varies GREATLY. I already wrote about my meat observations. Sometimes the produce looks fine, other times it is well past it's prime.
Price - Most things are 20-30% more. Convenience foods like chips, snack foods, cerceal are 3x the cost. The last bag of tortilla chips my husband bought were $7-$8.
Cooking nice meals on island isn't impossible (I feel like I am coming off as negative on this topic) but it definately takes advance planning.
When we did take meats/shrimp/fish along, I had the meals planned before we left home. I wrote out the menu for that particular night and made a list of all necessary ingredients as well as substitutions for anything I might not be able to find on island. I packaged all the dry ingredients and made shopping list of items needed from the store. All meats were vac-packed and deep frozen. I used a soft-side cooler and put the meats, dry ingredients, menus, meal plans and shopping list into the cooler. Once on island, I filled in the fresh needs as best as I could.