Caribbean Food and Cuisine
Steak, chicken, and seafood served in the Caribbean are cooked with distinct spices and ingredients found in the region. Well known Caribbean cuisine includes key lime pie, barbecued ribs served with guava sauce, chicken kabobs, jerk chicken, and coconut shrimp.
Origins of Caribbean Food
Food is a very important aspect of many family traditions and Caribbean culture. During holidays and other special events, it is not uncommon for people to spend many days preparing food. Caribbean dishes are often comprised of indigenous, European, American, Chinese, and African influences.
Caribbean cuisine is influenced by Chinese, Indian, Dutch, French, Spanish, British, and Amerindian food. Local residents have also developed distinct dishes.
A popular Caribbean dish is seasoned jerk chicken. This spicy dish is unique, but it is similar to Louisiana Creole chicken. Chicken, goat, and curry are popular foods throughout the English influenced areas of the Caribbean, particularly Tobago, Trinidad, and Guyana. French food is popular in the French influenced areas of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe and Haiti, for example. Rice served with beans and different sauces is a staple food throughout the Caribbean. In fact, people in the West Indies refer to rice as “peas.”
A traditional goat stew is Montserrat’s recognized national dish and very popular in St. Nevis and Kitts. This popular stew is made with tomatoes, dumplings, green papaya, breadfruit, and goat meat. In the British Caribbean, a popular meal is pelau, a mixture of saltfish, beef, and chicken meat with rice, pigeon peas, and other vegetables. A prominent African influenced Caribbean dish, callaloo, combines leafy greens with okra.
People living in the Spanish influenced regions of the Caribbean eat a lot of spicy and flavored foods. For example, Cuban and Puerto Rican people heavily flavor their food with garlic and lime. Cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg are other popular seasonings used in the Spanish Caribbean.
Seafood is very popular in the Caribbean. Each Caribbean nation usually has a unique seafood dish. Shark, fish, lobster, and conch are common dishes popular in different regions. For example, flying fish is a popular dish in Barbados, while fried shark and crab are popular in Tobago. Western African influenced saltfish can be found throughout Caribbean.
Rice is a staple food throughout the Caribbean, and each island has a unique rice dish. On some islands, rice is specially seasoned or served with coconut. Yellow and brown rice is served as a side on many Caribbean dishes.
In addition to rice, beans are a popular food throughout the Caribbean. In Cuba, beans are included in many dishes. Beans are cooked and served in a variety of ways depending on the country.
Excellent conch can be found in Belize and the Bahamas. One popular way to prepare conch is to season it, coat it in batter, and then to deep fry it. This popular food is known as fritters.
Caribbean Food Glossary
The following are popular food items found throughout the Caribbean:
Ackee - is grown on evergreen trees that were brought to the island from West Africa. The fruit is easily recognizable from its reddish and yellow appearance. It is often called vegetable brains since the fruit lies within the red section. The flavor of the yellow section is similar to scrambled eggs. Ackee is popular in dishes featuring saltfish, onions, and hot peppers.
Asopao - translated into English means soupy. This famous Puerto Rican soup is comprised of capers, olives, peas, ham, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, rice, and chicken.
Boniato - is a partially-sweet potato grown throughout the Caribbean.
Calabaza - is a Caribbean squash with a very sweet taste. It is commonly found in pumpkin soups and meals with a lot of vegetables.
Carambola - is often called star fruit since it looks like a star when cut a certain way. Carambola is tasty and crisp and very popular in salads and desserts.
Ceviche - is a seafood dish prepared in citrus juices and served with herbs and onions.
Chayote - is a melon like fruit. It is commonly called Cho-cho and frequently used in salads.
Chutney - is a mixture of spices, peppers, vegetables, and tropical fruits. Mango chutney is often served with different curries.
Coconut - a freshly picked coconut will be full of liquid, so people looking for a fresh one should shake it prior to purchasing it. To reach the sweet juice, stick a knife into the dark dots on the bottom of the coconut and let the fluid drain out while slightly tapping the shell with an object. To reach the coconut’s fillings, shatter the shell by striking it with a hard object.
Curry - is a spicy or very seasoned sauce that originally comes from India. Curry is popular in Tobago, Trinidad, and Jamaica since immigrants from India migrated to these countries during the 1800’s. Common curries are seasoned with cayenne peppers, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and allspice.
Escabeche - is known by Jamaican citizens as Escovitch. It is a seafood dish poached or cooked in a pan before being marinated in herbs and citrus juices.
Guava - is a small tropical fruit with a vivid orange coloring. It is common to see guava in jellies, sauces, and compotes. Guava sauces from the Spanish speaking islands are very tasty and often spread over bread.
Jerk – is tender meat preserved by saturating it in hot peppers and spices. Jerk meat is very popular in Tobago, Barbados, Trinidad, and Jamaica. Jerk money is frequently seasoned with garlic, onions, peppers, allspice, and thyme. To make the meat sweet, it is often seasoned with molasses. Common jerk seasoned meats include fish, pork, and chicken.
Jicama - this large root vegetable is crunchy and tasty.
Mango - is a brightly colored fruit with a thick covering. This fruit is very sweet and often made into sauces, marinades, and sorbets. Green colored mangoes are an important ingredient in different soups and chutneys.
Mauby (or Mawby) - is a tree bark often boiled with flavoring to create a drink alleged to decrease cholesterol.
Mojito - is an alcoholic beverage consisting of soda water, lime juices, and rum. It originated in Cuba.
Okra - is a small green fruit used to thicken soups or cooked to be eaten whole. Slaves from Africa introduced okra to the region.
Paella - is a Spanish influenced dish where clams, shrimp, sausage, pork, chicken, and other items are placed on a stack of rice. Since a variety of ingredients can be used in this dish, chefs usually develop their own unique paella recipes.
Papaya - is a big melon like fruit with a tasty orange colored filling. It is called PawPaw by many island natives. Papaya comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Papaya is used in desserts, salads, and drinks.
Pick-a-Peppa Sauce - this Jamaican sauce is very spicy and mango flavored.
Plantain - is a staple food throughout the region. Plantains must be properly cooked before eaten, but it is not required that plantains be ripe. Green plantains are frequently fried to be served with fritters. Thinly sliced and fried plantains are a crunchy treat similar to potato chips.
Ropa Vieja - is prepared by cooking shredded beef in a sauce full of spices.
Roti - is one example of a Caribbean dish with Indian influence. Roti is made from wrapping a piece of flat bread around vegetables or meat.
Salsas - are flavored sauces loaded with chili peppers, herbs, spices, and fruits. These tasty condiments are usually spicy and add great flavor to any meal.
Saltfish - is dried fish, usually cod, coated with salt. Haddock, herring, and mackerel are other popular meats used to make saltfish. Ackee usually accompanies a dish of saltfish. Saltfish is known as Bacalao in the Hispanic Caribbean nations and Morue in the French Caribbean nations. A popular salad called Bujol consists of peppers, onions, and salted codfish.
Sofrito - is a sauce made with herbs, chilies, tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell peppers, and cilantro. It is an important ingredient in soups found in Puerto Rico, including Asopao.
Sorrel - is a flower that can be found throughout the Caribbean. Sorrel is often placed in a pan with ginger, orange zest, and cloves and boiled to create sauces, jams, and drinks. During Christmas, many people in the British Caribbean enjoy this sweet and tart drink.
Soursop - this large fruit is coated with soft spines and shaped like a heart. The sour juice from this fruit is a common ingredient in many sorbets and drinks.
Stamp and Go - these deep fried cod meat patties are seasoned with chilies and annatto to create a distinct flavor. Excellent Stamp and Go can be found in Jamaica.
Tamarind - this fruit is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, curries, and other sauces.
Yuca - is also called manioc or cassava. Yuca is very tasty whether fried, baked, or boiled. Yuca is very starchy and usually comes in long and slim strips. Yuca is a common ingredient in tapioca, syrup, and casareep. Yuca can also be used to make bread.