The Floating MarketA market that floats? The name sounds mysterious, possibly a little sci-fi fantastic, but actually refers to the method by which produce vendors bring their wares to the market: via small fishing boats. The boats pull up to a canal, whose sidewalks are lined with stalls shielded from the sun by colorful canopies. The tables are laden with fruits and vegetables of all description, including watermelon carved up, covered in plastic and ready to eat. Arrive early enough and you’ll see the vendors waking up in their boats, which is where they live. The vendors are from Venezuela, which is just forty miles away but has an entirely different climate than Curacao, which is arid to the point of resembling a desert. In other words, the produce that’s sold at the Floating Market are not grown on island.
This is a tradition that has been active in Curacao for decades – working at Floating Market is a family business, with fathers passing it on to their sons. (It appears that all the workers are men.) Its vibrant colors make the market a magnet as a tourist attraction, but the market has its problems, from maritime accident to smuggling, as a documentary also called The Floating Market The Floating Market describes. And since many purchase their produce at supermarkets, it’s also no longer a vital supply of fresh fruits and vegetables for the island.
MarsheBieuw or “The Old Market”The Old Market, at the Plasa Bieuw , or old plaza, is s in the heart of Willemstad, and looks like a very large pitched roof shed. The outside is painted mint green, and the cavernous inside is filled with picnic tables, covered in plastic table cloths. Along the long side of the shed is the cooking area, topped with heating vents, above which are murals which display scenes of the island’s rural life.
Although plenty of tourists visit, this is a place where locals definitely come for lunch, making it one of the most convenient places in Willemstad to sample Curacao’s island cuisine, which is surprisingly difficult to find in the capital city. Traditional dishes includes kabritu stoba , or stewed goat, karko , or conch, and bokel , or salted fish, served with an enormous helping of polenta. If it isn’t available at your table, ask for promèntè a relish of hot peppers and pickled onions that goes perfectly with a hearty, filling meal.
Also keep an eye out for yuana - stewed iguana, which, like most exotic meats, tastes like chicken, albeit with lots of tiny bones. There’s also iguana soup. (sopi yuana)
Yes, despite the high heat, soup is a popular choice at lunch time. One particular local favorite is guiambo, a soup made with ochre. This is incredibly viscous – almost a gel – and quite green, an unusual texture to experience once, if not twice.
Plan Your Trip to Willemstad’s Food Markets
- The historic center of Willemstad is not very large and easy enough to tour on foot – although be sure to bring plenty of water, and avoiding the heat of the day is highly recommended!
- Read more about Curacao's markets.
- Read more about the neighborhoods of Willemstad
- About.com's Curacao travel guide.