Caribbean cuisine is filled with the sunshine and colours that we associate with the beautiful islands that lie in the sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean. Dishes are vibrant and packed full of flavour using fresh produce and the wonderful selection of spices that are so readily available here. Everyone’s favourites can be found in the dishes cooked with pride in the large selection of foods available to the cooks and chefs of these islands. You will find seafood, chicken, goat, pork and steak, rice plays an important part as an accompaniment along with beans, fresh fruits and vegetables include peppers, plantains, sweet potatoes, callaloo, cho-cho, bananas, papaya,pineapples and coconuts, to name but a few.
Influences from around the globe such as Africa, East India, China, Europe and the Americas have played an important part in the history of the cuisine in the Caribbean and traditions, from countries far and wide, have created a culinary style of cooking that has become unique to the region. One can see the diverse groups of people that have occupied or settled on these islands over the centuries, from the original Carib, Taino and Arawak Indians to the French, English, Spanish and Dutch who followed, then later came the influence of African cuisine, and lastly the impact that the Chinese, Indians and Americans have had now also shows. The Arawaks are credited with creating what we now call “barbecuing” by building grills with green sticks so that the slow, smokey flavours were imbibed into the food which they called “barbacot”,and the Caribs introduced spicing food with chili peppers and spices, and also added lemon and lime juice to their meat and fish recipes, they are believed to be the inventors of the famous Pepperpot Stew which they cooked in large clay pots. The Caribbean Sea was named after this tribe.The Taino started the process of cooking meat and fish in large clay pots. From the European countries came new methods of cooking as well as the introduction of garlic, onions, chicken, pork and rice. English soldiers brought with them the technique of preserving meat dried over rocks in the hot sun. Both English and African meat cooking methods produced the process of today’s Jerk cooking for which Jamaica is justifiably famous. Portugal introduce Salted codfish. Most visitors to the Caribbean have no idea that the fruit trees and fruits so familiar to the islands were introduced by the early Spanish explorers. The fruit trees and fruits brought from Spain include oranges, limes, ginger, plantains, figs, date palms, sugar cane, grapes, tamarinds and coconuts. Many Africans came as slaves to work in the sugar plantations and they brought with them their own cooking traditions and ingredients such as plantains, taro root, okra, callaloo, fish cakes, saltfish, ackee, pudding and souse and mangos. Following the abolition of slavery Chinese and Asian Indians came to work on the islands bringing with them wok cooking and curries, the Chinese also brought rice with them. Later influences came from North and South America and Mexico, which came as travel became more easily available to all. From America comes beans, corn, potatoes and tomatoes.
Food plays an important role in family life, and on special occasions and holidays, cooks will spend days preparing food for the whole family to come together and enjoy. Caribbean food has been influenced by the cultures of the world and some foods will be native to each island with its own special flavour and cooking technique, whereas others are shared as equally native to the whole of the Caribbean. The original Indian tribes would call the foods they used in their recipes “Soul Foods” which is a perfect name for these dishes as eating them elates your soul and offers a gastronomic delight.
Here are some of the favourite dishes and foods enjoyed on the Islands of the Caribbean :-
Ackee. Also known as achee, akee apple or akee, is a pear-shaped fruit. When it ripens, it turns from green to a bright red to yellow-orange, and splits open to reveal three large, shiny black seeds, surrounded by soft, creamy or spongy, white to yellow flesh. The evergreen tree was introduced into Jamaica from West Africa. The flesh tastes, and looks, like scrambled eggs and is served with saltfish, hot peppers and onions.
Bammies. Bammies are a traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread descended from the simple flatbread eaten by the Arawaks, Jamaica’s original inhabitants. Today, they are produced in many rural communities and sold in stores and by street vendors in Jamaica and abroad.
Boniato. A semi-sweet potato with with white dry flesh and a pink to purple skin, and can be cooked in any way suitable for potatoes or yams.
Calabaza. A sweet, pumpkin-like squash, somewhat like butternut squash, it is believed to have been brought to the Caribbean via Spanish colonial influence It is often used in the Caribbean as the base for pumpkin soups and in vegetable dishes. The taste is smooth and somewhat sweet. The seeds, toasted and seasoned, known as pepitas, are a common snack.
Callaloo. Callaloo is a popular Caribbean dish originating in West Africa served in different variants across the Caribbean and is similar to spinach. The ‘callaloo’ made in Jamaica is different from the ‘callaloo’ made in Trinidad and Tobago in terms of main ingredient (the leaf used) and other ingredients included (for example, Jamaicans tend to use only callaloo leaf, salt, onions, and scallions, and simply steam the vegetable, while Trinidadians use okra and coconut milk to make a different dish with a different taste and consistency). Callaloo is the National Dish of Trinidad and Tobago.
Carambola. Known as the “star fruit” because of it’s shape when cut cross-ways. The entire fruit is edible, including the slightly waxy skin. The flesh is crunchy, firm, and extremely juicy. It is crisp, juicy and golden in color, and is used in desserts or salads. They may also be used in cooking, and can be made into relishes, preserves, and juice drinks.
Ceviche. Seafood or fresh raw fish “cooked” by the acids of citrus juices, such as lemons and limes, seasoned with onions, chili peppers and fresh herbs such as coriander. Ceviche is often accompanied by side dishes of Boniato, corn or plantain.
Chayote. A member of the squash and melon families, it is also known as Cho-cho,christophine, or Christophene. It is a green pear-shaped fruit used as a vegetable in salads or cooked in a variety of ways. When cooked, chayote is usually handled like summer squash, it is generally lightly cooked to retain the crisp flavour.
Coconut. A fresh coconut has liquid inside, so shake it before you buy it! To open a coconut, puncture two of its “eyes” – the darker dots on one end – with a small sharp knife or an ice pick. Drain all the liquid from the coconut, then tap the whole surface of the shell lightly with a hammer. Now give the shell a sharp blow with the hammer. This will open the coconut, and the meat will now come away from the shell. Coconuts are used in many guises in Caribbean cuisine and uses the flesh and the milk.
Curry. Curries are highly seasoned gravy-based dishes originating from the Indian subcontinent. They are prevalent on islands such as Jamaica, Trinidad, and Tobago, where indentured servants from India settled in the mid-19th century. Many Caribbean cooks use prepared spice mixtures that include coriander, cumin, turmeric, black and cayenne peppers, and fenugreek, among others. Caribbean cooks also commonly add allspice, and Scotch Bonnet Peppers in Jamaica, to their curries. Curries are mostly served with rice and side dishes such as fried plantain.
Duckunoo. Duckunoo is a Jamaican dessert made from cornmeal, coconut,spices and brown sugar, tied up in a banana leaf. It is steamed over boiling water
Guava. A bright orange to red tropical fruit about the size of a small lemon.Guava pulp may be sweet or sour, tasting something between pear and strawberry. Because of its high level of pectin it is used in compotes, pastes and jellies. Guava pastes from the Hispanic islands are intensely flavored and are delicious served with cream cheese and spread on cassava or other crisp breads or crackers.
Jerk. Jerk is a way of cooking by rubbing in a mixture of spices into the meat or by marinating the meat in a wet marinade. In Jamaica, Trindidad, Barbados and Tobago, an entire culinary art grew up around “jerk”. There are many various kinds of Jerk seasonings in the Islands, but the two main ingredients are allspice and Scotch Bonnet peppers, other ingredients vary but may include cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, thyme and onions. Traditionally jerk is used to flavour chicken or pork, but it is also great with seafoods.
Mango. A tropical fruit with thick skin varying in color from green to bright red. Its flesh is yellow, firm and sweet, and can be eaten raw or as part of many marinades, sauces, ice creams and sorbets. Green mangoes are a main constituent of the best chutneys and are used in down-island stews as a vegetable.
Matrimony. Matrimony is a fruit salad which uses the “coming together” of three fruits, star apples, oranges and grapefruit served in a juice of sweetened condensed milk. The combination of these flavours is exotic and pack full of flavour.
Meat Patties. Meat Patties are most commonly found in Jamaica, but also found in other parts of the Caribbean, are pastries containing a variety of fillings and spices, usually minced. The pastry shell is flaky and golden, brushed with egg yolk and turmeric. They are traditionally filled with minced beef, but also can be filled with chicken, lamb, vegetables, seafoods, fish, ackee or cheese.
Okra. This green pod-like fruit was introduced to the Caribbean region by African slaves, and is cooked as a vegetable on the islands. Often used as a thickening agent in soups and stews. In Curaçao the soup is known as jambo which primarily is made out of the okra’s mucilage. It is often prepared with fish and funchi, a dish made out of cornmeal and boiling water. In Haiti, it is cooked with rice and maize, and also used as a sauce for meat. In Cuba, it is called quimbombó, along with a stew using okra as its primary ingredient.
Pick-a-Peppa Sauce. A mango-tamarind based spicy pepper sauce from Jamaica, made from a combination of tomatoes, onions, cane vinegar, mangoes, raisins, peppers, and other spices, aged in oak barrels.
Plantain. Plantains, or cooking bananas, are a staple across the Caribbean. They must be cooked to be edible; however, they need not be ripe. Green plantains and ripe plantains are often sliced, cooked in a seasoned batter and deep fried for fritters. Ripe plantains taste like a cross between a sweet potato and a banana. Tostones are green plantains sliced and fried, pounded flat and refried to form crispy chips. Plantains fruit all year round, which makes the crop a reliable all-season staple food.
Rice and Peas. Rice and peas is the mainstay of the cuisines of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and many other English-speaking Caribbean islands. It is a protein-packed accompaniment to chicken, lamb, beef or pork, or fish or seafood such as shrimp, crab or king fish. The dish is made with rice and any available legume, such as kidney beans, pigeon peas (known as gungo peas), or cowpeas.
Roti. Exemplifies the heavy influence Indian cuisine has had on Caribbean cuisine. It begins with a round, Indian flat bread called a “roti” or “paratha” that is wrapped around a big dollop of curried goat, chicken, shrimp, pork or vegetables.
Salsas. Intensely flavored “little dishes” halfway between a condiment and a side dish. These varied combinations of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and chili peppers add an intense flavor “kick” to any meal, and are simply and healthfully prepared.
Saltfish. Saltwater fish which is salted and dried. Most often it is made with cod, but can be made with mackerel, herring or haddock. Served with Ackee as a specialty in Jamaica. Referred to as Bacalao on the Spanish-speaking islands, and Morue on the French-speaking islands. Bujol is a salted codfish salad made with onions and peppers.
Sofrito. The basic components of this seasoning mixture are cilantro, bell peppers, onion, garlic, tomato, and sometimes chilies, additional herbs and salt pork colored with annatto. Sofrito is an important component of Asopao and numerous other Puerto Rican soups, stews and vegetable dishes.
Soursop. A large, dark green heart-shaped fruit covered with soft spines. Widely grown on the islands for its refreshing sour juice used in drinks, sorbets and ice creams. The flavour has been described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavour notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavour reminiscent of coconut or banana.
Stamp and Go. Codfish patties fried in heavy batter which has been flavored with onions, annatto, and chiles. Popular in Jamaica. “Stamp and Go” was a command given to 17th century English sailors when they had a task to do, like pulling on a rope. It is part of a Jamaican breakfast along with ackee and callaloo fritters.It is referred to as one of the original fast foods.
Tamarind. The fruit of a very large tree, it is a brown pod about 3-4 inches long which grows in bunches. Used in chutneys, curries and Worcestershire sauce.
Yuca. Also known as cassava, or manioc, it can be eaten boiled, baked or fried. It is a long, slim tuber (like a long potato) with bark-like skin and very starchy flesh that becomes nearly translucent when cooked. It is used to make casareep, a bittersweet syrup, and tapioca, a common thickening agent. It is also ground into meal to make bread.
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