Caribbean cuisine is really a fusion of African, Amerindian, British, Spanish, French, Dutch, Indian, and Chinese cuisine. These traditions were brought from the many homelands of this region's inhabitants. In addition, the population has created styles which are unique to the region.
A typical dish and one increasingly common outside of the area is "jerk" seasoned meats, commonly chicken. It's an original, spicy flavour, reminiscent of Louisiana Creole cuisine, but still quite distinct from it. Curry goat and chicken are eaten throughout the Anglophone Caribbean islands, penetrating much further into the Caribbean than have the Indians who introduced them to the region over 150 years ago, most notably in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and Guyana. Haitian, Guadeloupean and other French Caribbean cuisine, is often rather similar. Rice is a prime food eaten with various sauces and beans, which West Indians call peas.
A local version of Caribbean goat stew has been chosen as the official national dish of Montserrat and is also one of the signature dishes of St. Kitts and Nevis. It is a tomato-based stew, created using goat meat, breadfruit, green pawpaw (papaya), and dumplings (also known as "droppers"). Another well-liked dish in the Anglophone Caribbean is called "Cook-up" or Pelau, a dish which combines variations of meats like chicken, beef, saltfish and or pigeon peas or vegetables with rice. Callaloo is usually a dish containing leafy vegetables and sometimes okra amongst others, widely distributed in the Caribbean, which has a distinctively mixed African and indigenous character.
Meanwhile, the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean usually prefer more savoury spices to these sharper flavours. Lime and garlic, for instance, tend to be more common on Puerto Rico, Cuba and in the coastal areas of Colombia than pimento (or "allspice"). Other common flavours in the region include cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Seafood is one of the most common cuisine types in the islands, and often each island may have its own specialty. Some prepare lobster or conch, while some prefer certain kinds of fish or sharks. The island of Barbados is known for its "flying fish," while Trinidad and Tobago is known for its cascadura fish and crab, also fried shark served as a sandwich called "bake and shark". While Saltfish Accra is served all across Caribbean which has its roots from western Africa.
Another Caribbean mainstay is rice, in various forms on different islands. Some season their rice or add peas and other touches for example coconut. Sometimes the rice is yellow, other times it might be more brown but overall it tends to just act as a part of a dish. Conch is a very popular food in The Bahamas and Belize as well, where fritters are created by making a batter from the chopped meat, seasonings and dough, and then deep frying.
Set your taste buds ablaze with the vibrant cuisine of the Caribbean islands. Here are some must-try dishes.
Seafood - All those islands, all that ocean. Seafood, whether swimming or in a shell, is a Caribbean highlight. Long a staple of sailors crossing the Atlantic, flying fish are a firm and tender whitefish, best served grilled and hugely popular on Barbados and the Windward Islands. Grouper, a large fish, makes excellent steaks and is good in stews while countless varieties of shellfish are served in beachfront bars.
Jerk - The signature flavour of Jamaica and one of the Caribbean's most famous cuisines, jerk refers to a very spicy dry or wet rub applied to chicken or other meat. After absorbing the flavours, the meat is smoked and/or grilled to fiery perfection. Variations are many, with influences from Africa to Portugal to Latin America.
Roast pork - Ubiquitous across the islands, especially those with a strong Spanish heritage like the Dominican Republic and Cuba, roast pork is often served with other regional staples like rice and beans plus plantains. Succulent and juicy, pork drippings give everything on the plate a rich flavour. Roadside stands across Puerto Rico serve the much-loved lechón asado, which is spit-roasted suckling pig.
Pepperpot - Simmered in huge pots across the Caribbean, this thick and rich stew can include aubergine, okra, squash, potatoes and pretty much anything else that grows in the islands' rich earth. Beef is the most common meat, while fungi - tasty cornmeal dumplings - add texture. It's called souse in the Bahamas, which may refer to the condition of the cook given that no two recipes or even batches are alike.
Conch - A sort of sea escargot, conch is any of many different large sea snails that are housed in often beautiful shells (piles of them in Bonaire form pearly pink mountains). Something like a huge clam, the meat makes fabulous fritters - a staple in the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and cruise-ship ports everywhere. Conch also appears in salads, soups and stews. Farm-raised is the most sustainable.
Chicken with rice - Still craved by locals even decades after they've emigrated, Arroz Con Pollo is the ultimate island comfort food. Wildly popular where Spanish influences remain strong, this deceptively simple dish is a savoury mix of flavours that include tomatoes, garlic, peppers and more. Baked until the rich scents fill the kitchen, most would say their mother's version is best.
Cuban sandwich - One Cuban export that has found favour across the Caribbean and Florida, this hearty sandwich was once the lunchtime meal for labourers in Havana. Soft, crusty white bread is layered with ham, roast pork and some sort of mild white cheese. Dill pickles and vinegary yellow mustard provide accents. A sandwich press makes everything gooey, toasty and scrumptious.
Goat stew - "Got some?" is a conversation-starter on tiny Montserrat, where a thin, clove-scented stew called goat water is a national obsession. The broth is heartier on islands like Aruba and Bonaire, where it is called kabritu or cabrito and locals solemnly proclaim that their own mother's version is best. Mannish water, a Cayman Islands version, includes a goat head and foot.
Callaloo - A vegetable dish with roots in West Africa, callaloo was brought to the Caribbean by slaves and is still a vital part of diets on Jamaica and Dominica plus Trinidad and Tobago. Leafy greens (often from the namesake bush or from taro, water spinach and more) are boiled into a thick stew, which may include peppers, coconut milk, okra and all manner of meats and seafood.
Papaya - This tasty fruit staple grows wild and on farms almost everywhere. It comes in yellow and orange varieties and when perfectly fresh is served plain with a squeeze of lime for a sweet and luscious breakfast. It also appears in salads and even stews. However many prefer papaya mixed into a cocktail with the Caribbean's great contribution to libations: rum.