Fish and Fungi, St. Croix–Style

The island’s national dish plays alongside fried fish in an okra sauce

A plate with fried fish, tomato topping, and two balls of white pounded starch.

Photo: Lauren Vied Allen

Fungi (pronounced foon-gee), the national dish of St. Croix, has nothing to do with mushrooms. It’s a variation on fufu, a pounded starch that’s a staple of many regional African cuisines. Enslaved people brought this filling side dish to the Caribbean and Latin America, where it’s often made with cornmeal instead of yams or cassava. Here, fried fish is paired with fungi, then doused in a flavorful sauce thickened with okra. It’s comforting—and tells a rich story of adaptation. —Von Diaz, Islas: A Celebration of Tropical Cooking

Read our Q&A with Von Diaz here, and join her on a culinary trip across Puerto Rico here


  • Fish and Fungi (Yield: 4 servings)

    • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil

    • 1 large yellow onion, diced

    • 1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and diced

    • 1 habanero or scotch bonnet pepper, stemmed, seeded if desired to mitigate spiciness, and minced

    • 1 celery stalk, diced

    • 3 garlic cloves, minced

    • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp. dried thyme

    • 1¼ tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed

    • 2 tbsp. white vinegar

    • 1 cup canned crushed or puréed tomatoes

    • 1 tbsp. tomato paste

    • ¾ cup thickly sliced okra (fresh or frozen)

    • 1 cup cornmeal

    • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • ¼ cup vegetable oil, for frying

    • 2 lb. fish fillets, such as grouper, tilapia, or red snapper

    • Lime wedges, for garnish (optional)


  1. In a large sauté pan over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, habanero, celery, garlic, thyme, and ¼ tsp of the salt. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown. Add the vinegar, tomatoes, tomato paste, and ¼ cup of water. Lower the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes more, until the vegetables are softened and the sauce has thickened. Adjust the seasoning as needed and keep warm until ready to serve.

  2. While the sauce is simmering, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the okra and enough water to cover it, cover with a lid, and simmer on low for 5 to 7 minutes, until the okra turns jade green. Drain and set aside.

  3. In a medium pot over high heat, bring 2 cups of water and the remaining 1 tsp. salt to a boil. Whisking constantly, gradually add the cornmeal in a thin stream. Lower the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the cornmeal is creamy but holds its shape on a spoon, about 10 to 15 minutes or longer as needed. If the cornmeal isn’t quite tender, add more water a few tablespoons at a time until the fungi sets up. Add the butter and okra, then taste and add more salt as needed.

  4. In a wide saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil until it shimmers. Working in batches as necessary, carefully place each fish fillet in the pan and fry, flipping once, until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the fillets with a slotted spoon.

  5. To serve, put two scoops of the fungi and a fish fillet on each plate. Spoon the sauce over and around the fish. Squeeze lime wedges over the fish if desired.


A bright cookbook with Carribean dishes

Excerpted with permission from Islas: A Celebration of Tropical Cooking—125 Recipes from the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Ocean Islands by Von Diaz, © 2024. Photographs © Lauren Vied Allen. Published by Chronicle Books.


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