Traditional Caribbean foods

Whether you are lucky enough to visit the Caribbean or not, there are a few foods that any self-respecting diner really should familiarise themselves with. Grab a glass of rum, listen to some reggae beats and chill!

One of the apparent traditions of Caribbean fine dining is seafood. There is, after all, a lot of ocean between all those beautiful islands. One seafood classic is ‘Ackee and Saltfish’ which combines salted cod, the wonderful ackee fruit and peppers. If you get the chance, ‘Flying Fish and Cou-Cou’ have long been a staple of sailors crossing the Atlantic and are full of flavour. This is very popular in Barbados and the cou-cou element is made of okra and cornmeal. Another traditional fish to seek out is a ‘Grouper’, a large fish which are often cooked as fish steaks.

When considering all fruits of the sea when we think about Caribbean foods, ‘Conch’, a sea snail, must be highlighted. Yes, for most of us, we may think of the beautiful shell that can produce exotic, sounds but is actually like a giant clam when eaten.

One signature dish of the Caribbean is ‘Jerk’, a very spicy dry or wet rub that is generously applied to chicken or pork. The seasoning is a blend of smoked paprika, cumin, nutmeg, chilli flakes and plenty of guarded secrets! After the meat is seasoned with the jerk ‘rub’, it’s usually grilled or smoked depending on the season!

One of the great staples is the papaya fruit which grows exceptionally well on the islands. Some varieties are orange, some yellow but all are quite delicious. This is often served as a breakfast; all it needs is a squeeze of fresh lime. This excellent fruit is often seen in a rum cocktail and even to be found in some local stews.

Although we may consider ‘Chicken with Rice’ to sound bland, cooked with a little Caribbean magic ‘Arroz Con Pollo’ is one truly inspired dish that natives to the islands crave when in cooler climates. Yes, it’s one of those dishes that combine peppers, tomatoes, chicken and garlic into an aromatic delight!

However, if it’s a light lunch you’re looking for, then one of the great traditions of beach life has to be the ‘Cuban Sandwich’! Yes, in many Caribbean bars you can indulge in a mix of toasted bread with ham, pork and white cheese. That’s the base and to this should always be added dill pickles and spicy yellow mustard. In the heat of the tropics this is just what’s required.

One of the exotic foods you may try in the Caribbean is ‘Callaloo’, a thick green dish made from blending the vegetable callaloo with okra or spinach and coconut milk. This base is made into a paste with meats or seafood.

On the island of Montserrat, they call it ‘goat water’ and throughout the Caribbean you will find goat stew a very hearty and tasty main dish. This is usually, like most things in the region cooked really slowly and everyone it seems has their own variation of it. On the Cayman Islands it is called ‘Mannish Water’ and they traditionally add a goat’s head and foot to the pot. Not for the faint-hearted!

One classic to try is 'Baigan Choka', which is a fragrant dish of roasted eggplant enriched with butter, onion and garlic. This is often cooked on a wood fire and comes from the Indian populace of Trinidad.

‘Mofongo’ is a dish that comes from the Puerto Rican influence on the island cuisine and is a well-spiced plate of fried green plantains cooked with copious amounts of garlic!

Finally, we must mention ‘La Bandera’ the national dish of the Dominican Republic which is a fusion of rice, kidney beans and spiced meat and is presented resembling the countries very own flag!