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A Guide to Caribbean Food

The Caribbean is renowned for great music, great people and great carnivals! With a rich multi-cultural heritage stemming from European nations such as Britain, France, and Spain as well as African and Asian countries it is no surprise that the Caribbean nations are diverse and unique. In recent times, it has become known for its beautiful weather, athletics success and of course, it’s cuisine. It’s no surprise that food plays a large part in Caribbean culture and within Caribbean families; during holiday seasons it is not uncommon to find families spending days preparing meals.

This emphasis on national cuisine is evident within each Caribbean country, with each developing their own style and persona based upon their unique cultural influences; resulting in a variety of delicious dishes – some of which have made their way on to menus across the world.

What is traditional Caribbean food?

The first stop on our guide to Caribbean food is to look at traditional Caribbean foods. When you think of the Caribbean there are a few dishes and ingredients that may come to mind; such as curried mango, plantain and even curried goat. However, as many of the nations within the Caribbean have their own unique characters and personalities, many varied and popular national dishes have emerged – each with a flavour of their historical past!

Here are a few national dishes of the Caribbean:

Jerk Chicken – Jamaica

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Jerk chicken is perhaps the most famous dish from the Caribbean, and one of the most popular dishes of Jamaica. Out of all the popular Caribbean dishes, this is the one you are most likely to find locally. This dish involves marinating your chicken in a mixture of spices, peppercorns, thyme, spring onions, and chillies that have been stirred in alongside sugar, salt, soy sauce and lime juice. This article from The Guardian outlines how you can make your very own jerk chicken at home.

Saltfish and Green Figs – St Lucia

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Despite the name of this dish, there are no green figs involved; rather green bananas – which St Lucia locals refer to as figs. The fish used within this dish is generally salted cod although it is not uncommon to find other varieties of fish used instead. Saltfish and green figs are generally served alongside onions, peppers chives and a mixture of herbs and spices.

Keshi Yena – Curacao

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Keshi Yena is a dish in which chicken and vegetables are baked within a cheese shell (achieved by lining a baking dish with edam or gouda cheese slices and placing remaining slices on top). This dish is believed to be of Dutch descent having originated from Dutch Empire slaves of the Dutch West Indies. If you are interested in trying this, this great article outlines the recipe.

What influenced Caribbean food?

The diverse history of the Caribbean is never more apparent than within its cuisine. French influences are visible within the islands that use the cooking method of Creole – involving the use of local ingredients cooked with tropical fruits and vegetables. There are English influences in the form of the herbs used commonly within Caribbean dishes; including rosemary, thyme, and parsley.

There are also Spanish dishes such as Paella and Zarzuela that are common throughout the Caribbean, highlighting how many European nations have influenced local culture.
The influences on Caribbean food stretch beyond Europe. The use of okra, taro and several seasonings and spices illustrate the influence of African nations; with dishes that use roti (an Indian flat bread) or white rice showing how Asian nations also influenced present day Caribbean cuisine.

Traditional beef dumplings. Image:

How healthy is Caribbean food?

Caribbean food, for the most part, is considered healthy as many of the recipes within traditional diets are dense in lean meat and vegetables. However, there are certain foods such as Accras, cod fried in vegetable oil, that could cause health issues if consumed regularly in large quantities due to the high levels of fat involved – primarily from the use of oil. Other Caribbean dishes may have a high sugar or salt content due to the sauces and marinates used, however these can be substituted for healthier alternatives if you attempt to make these dishes at home.

How to cook Caribbean food

If everything that you have read today has got you in the mood to try Caribbean cuisine, then you might want to try your hand at these recipes:

Saltfish Accras

  • 1/2 lb boneless salt fish (dry salted cod)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 small onion finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (use a garlic press if you have one)
  • 2 shado beni leaves (or 1 tablespoon cilantro) chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
  • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (if you have dried thyme, use 1/2 the amount)
  • 1 teaspoon minced hot pepper, red pepper flakes or pepper sauce
  • 1 egg
  • dash of fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ to 1/2 cup water
  • pinch of sugar
  • Vegetable oil for frying (about 3 cups)

* 1/2 teaspoon parsley chopped – optional

Sticky Jerk Wings with Sugared Oranges
Ingredients to serve four as a starter

  • 12 chicken wings
  • 2 tablespoons soft light brown or demerara sugar
  • 2 pipless oranges
  • 5 long, mild red chillies, whole and undamaged

For the jerk marinade:

  • 4 spring onions, green part only, roughly chopped
  • 1 hot red chilli (ideally Scotch bonnet), seeds left in
  • 3cm piece of root ginger, cut into chunks
  • 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 100ml cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Thank you for reading our guide to Caribbean food! If you want to take your Caribbean cuisine further, then why not try these recipes from BBC good food.

Other resources: