Caribbean cuisine is a unique fusion of African, European, East Indian, Arab, Chinese, and Indigenous food and food styles. Because of the geographic nature of islands a lot of foods are based around the ingredients that can be found locally such as rice and beans, tropical fruits, fish, pork, poultry, and beef.
Caribbean cooking also includes many different spices and herbs like hot peppers, garlic, onions, cilantro, rosemary and thyme. The availability of many items became possible only after trading routes were opened to the rest of the world, forever changing the makeup of Caribbean cuisine.
Stews and curries are a stable on almost all of the Caribbean islands but vary depending on local ingredients and which countries colonized that specific island. Jamaican goat curry was largely influenced by Indians who came to the islands of Guadalupe, Martinique, Trinidad and Jamaica. They brought curry blends with them from India and tailored them to work with what foods were available locally. Not all curries are spicy, for example in Trinidad no chili peppers are used. Jamaica’s goat curry on the other hand is very hot thanks to the inclusion of scotch bonnet peppers.
Rice and beans are another staple on every island of the Caribbean, sometimes made slightly different depending on local or family tastes. You’ll also be able to taste fried fish, conch, and banana or plantain fritters. These are favorite appetizers, snacks, and sometimes dessert (the sweet variety). They are made by mixing together the main ingredient with a binder like flour or eggs and spices and then deep frying. They can be eaten alone or served with a dipping sauce.
Coconut is widely used in Caribbean cooking, across all of the islands. Its primary use is in baked goods and sweets or chutneys. Coconut milk is used in many main dishes like soups, stews, and curries or to cook in rice, vegetable and meat dishes. Coconut water is often a beverage of choice in the region as is ginger beer.
It might seem odd considering that the islands of the Caribbean are surrounded by water, however salt fish is a popular food. Salt fish is made by salting large pieces of white fish so that it could be preserved for long periods of time. Colonial traders used it to barter for Caribbean goods like sugarcane and rum. It remains a major part of the Caribbean diet though it is almost exclusively imported.
Desserts are found throughout the Caribbean. Cakes, cookies, puddings, sorbets and more are all found here and are largely inspired by the natural tropical fruits. Many desserts like flan and bread pudding were introduced by colonial powers and adapted based on locally available ingredients. Rice pudding and rum cakes are a few other local favorites each varying slightly depending on the island. Those islands colonized by the Spanish feature rice puddings, custard tarts, and flans as their desserts of choice. While those colonized by the English have more cakes and cookies as their desserts of choice. But the best dessert of all just might be a big plate of sliced tropical fruit!
Have you previously experienced Caribbean food? What was most memorable to you?