As an Asian-American, it’s understandable that I need my Asian products. Growing up at home, my family ate rice everyday. My mom grew lots of Chinese herbs and vegetables at home and nothing beats home cooking. Before coming to the island, I wondered if I had to bring my rice cooker from home. What was this island like anyway? Could I get in touch with my Asian-ness while on the island? Reading how international St. Maarten was, I decided to take the risk of leaving my rice cooker, chopsticks, wok, and soy sauce at home. After arriving to the island, I was quite surprised. Chinese-owned businesses were everywhere… not only in restaurants but also grocery stores as well. Luckily, I’ve come to a place that has satisfied my Asian needs.
Here are some common questions that one might ask:
First and foremost, where can I buy a rice cooker?
As there’s never a day in my family where we don’t cook rice, it’s no surprise that my first purchase when I got to the island was a rice cooker. I got mine at Cost-U-Less for around $30.
Where can I buy my Asian groceries?
Many of the grocery stores on the island are owned by Chinese and Indian people, and therefore offer a range of Asian products. For Chinese products, I recommend Sang’s in Philipsburg. It’s a pretty large store and they offer anything from Chinese vegetables, to Chinese medicinal broth herbs, to China-imported toilet paper (don’t ask me why). Once every while they also roast and sell Char-siu pork (Chinese BBQ). They are also the only store on the island that I know of that sells my favorite kind of rice… Kokuho rice. A 50 lb bag will cost around $60.
Can I buy Basmati rice?
Yes. Check out Grande Marche, Cost-U-Less, or Sang’s.
Where can I get my Gharam Masala and Lentils?
Grande Marche offers a good selection of curries and South Asian products.
Where can I get my bubble tea?
There are several places to get bubble tea on the island, most notably at Bubble Tea. There is a Bubble Tea in Philipsburg as well as one in Simpson Bay.
Where can I get good sushi?
Try Bamboo Bernie’s in Maho, Sushi di Vino in Simpson Bay, or Gongfu Tea in Cole Bay. With Tiki torches and a statue of Buddha, Bamboo Bernie’s is an exciting place to dine out. They have pretty good sushi, but expect New York prices. Sushi di vino has a more intimate, traditional setting. Thai Savannh by campus also has sushi, but it’s really small and over-priced. I have not tried Gongfu Tea but have heard positive reviews on it.
Can I get “real” Chinese food?
Yes. As many of the Chinese restaurants on the island are family-owned, you can easily find authentic Chinese food (that is if you don’t order sweet and sour pork or crab rangoons). If they hear you speak their language, they are more than happy to offer items not found on the menu. Check out the Chinese restaurants in Cole Bay — Trey Wah, Hing Wong, or Happy Island. White Swan Restaurant in Simpson Bay caters a lot for school events, including Thanksgiving. Try their Peking Duck or Ho-fen noodles (河粉).
Can I get Dim Sum?
Yes. Both White Swan and Trey Wah have Dim Sum. White Swan Restaurant in Simpson Bay have many dim sum items like siu mai, hakkao, chicken feet, radish cake, congee, and pork ribs. However, you order them off the menu rather than choose from a pushed cart. If you want dim sum, make sure to go on Sundays from 11am to 4pm and request their special Sunday dim sum menu (not the regular menu, although the regular menu does list a limited selection of dim sum items). The dim sum is good, but expect to pay a little more than you would in the states. The dim sum at Trey Wah in Cole Bay isn’t nearly as good as White Swan, and the selection of dim sum items is much smaller. However, they do have sesame balls there… that by itself makes it worth going to!
Any Middle Eastern restaurants?
Yes. Aldywan Lebanese Restaurant in Simpson Bay has pretty good food and at a great price too, considering how much they give you. Try the baba ganoush or the tabouli. There is also Abu Ghazi, also in Simpson Bay. Their specialty is shwarmas, which are really delicious. Abu Ghazi is more of a fast, casual dining spot. Over the past semesters, SNMA had been selling Abu Ghazi shwarmas on campus for fundraising. Although technically not in Asia, there is also a Moroccan restaurant in Marigot called Marrakech that is really good, but it is a fancier place to dine. Then there is Little Jerusalem in Simpson Bay, which I have not been to before.
Is there a mosque in St. Maarten?
Yes. The mosque is located in Cay Hill.
Is there a Tzu Chi chapter on the island?
Yes. It is located on L.B. Scott Rd.
How about Pho? or Kim Chi?
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any Vietnamese or Korean restaurants on the island to satisfy my occasional Pho or Bibimbob cravings. If anyone knows of any, please let me know!
Looking back, it’s funny how I worried about not being able to connect with my Asian self when I was leaving my home in Macon, Georgia to go to a tiny island thousands of miles away in the middle of the Caribbean. Ironically, and to my surprise, I’ve come to a place far more Asian-convenient than back at home. While it may not be Chinatown San Francisco or Flushing, New York, St. Maarten has enough of what I need to cook my favorite bitter-melon-tofu dish or go out on a weekend with some friends for dim sum, and most importantly, to feel connected with my family’s heritage and way of life.