When people envision the Caribbean, they immediately conjure up imagery of expansive white sand shorelines, swaying palm fronds, and cerulean waters stretching as far as the eye can see. The laid-back island lifestyle is one of the Caribbean’s biggest attractions, which explains why it has become such a hot spot for travelers from all across the globe.
From family getaways to romantic escapes and adventurous excursions, there is truly something for everyone to discover when it comes to the diverse destinations scattered throughout this idyllic region, comprising more than 700 islands, islets, cays, and reefs. With a range of Iberostar hotels scattered around exciting Caribbean, you can enjoy the Caribbean in the lap of luxury, with pools in which to take a swim, spas to relax in and, of course, incredibly comfortable rooms.
Caribbean cuisine is another delectable draw that keeps people coming back for more. It’s a wonderfully unique amalgamation of flavors, ingredients, and influences that alludes to the area’s storied past and multicultural roots. But to fully appreciate the region’s signature dishes, one must first understand its history.
For centuries, many Caribbean islands were under European rule. Many of the ingredients that have become synonymous with the Caribbean (like breadfruit, mangoes, and sugarcane) were actually introduced by countries such as Spain, France, and England. The development of Caribbean cuisine was also undeniably influenced by the culture and culinary traditions of Africa, Asia and India in the early 1800s.
These global influences, combined with indigenous Caribbean ingredients and techniques, have played a paramount role in defining the evolution of the modern Caribbean cuisine we know and love today. From soups and stews to desserts, many of the region’s signature staples surprisingly trace their beginnings back to the European and African countries where they originated. Read on to discover some of the best dishes that you can order the next time you find yourself in paradise, or recreate them at home to transport yourself to the faraway shores of the Caribbean islands.
The Caribbean Introduction
Caribbean cuisine is an exciting melting pot of global flavors influenced by the multicultural history of this diverse region. People from all over the world came and settled in the Caribbean, bringing their culinary heritage with them.
As soon as the islands were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492, French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Swedes and even Danes Galleons sailed forth to get a taste of tropical pie. There, they changed the culinary landscape, mixing their own homey recipes with local ingredients.
Once settled, the Europeans launched immense sugar plantations and brought African slaves to help work the land. Robbed of seemingly everything, African men and women bore both their keen taste and native cuisine, as evidenced in callaloo or okra, and then later waves of Indian laborers arrived, carrying fragrant spices now used for colombo, a complex curry paste. One favorite dish from Curacao has that curious mix of circumstance and culture: keshi yená, or stuffed cheese, started after the Dutch rulers of the past used to throw out their hollowed cheese rinds. The slaves would take them, stuff fish or meat inside, and boil them.
Few Caribbean islands have the right conditions to be agriculturally abundant, making the sea and its natural bounty the cornerstone of most Caribbean diets, which may explain why some of the islands’ cuisines are among the world’s healthiest.
The colors and flavors found in Caribbean foods must be some of the most vibrant and varied found anywhere. Set your taste buds ablaze with a selection of delicious Caribbean dishes you’ve probably never heard of.
Not the prettiest fruit in the world, or even the tastiest, this member of the gourd family is often described without any irony as an ‘acquired taste’, except the humble chocho doesn’t actually taste of very much at all. Once cooked, the flavor and texture is somewhere between an apple, potato and cucumber. It can be used in stir fry, salad or served as a side with fish or meat. Jamaicans like to serve it sliced with butter and black pepper. The great thing about this vitamin loaded wonder fruit is its versatility; it takes on the dominant flavor of whatever spice or herbs it is being cooked with. So if you can’t find apples for that apple pie, try using chocho instead.
Essentially a dense bread made with the addition of coconut-milk, butter and sugar, coco bread is starchy but with a sweet taste. Immensely popular across the Caribbean, coco bread will satisfy the hungriest diner. Popular in Jamaica as a sandwich with a patty filling, coco bread is tasty but demands a big appetite: not one for those on a low-carb diet!
Native to Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America, this prickly fruit’s flavour is something of a hybrid between strawberry and pineapple with a dash of citrus, and an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana. Best enjoyed as a juice or in ice-cream, this unusual fruit is a popular and almost ubiquitous Caribbean flavour used to enhance all manner of foods and drinks. This spiky fruit gains its name from the slightly acidic flavour of the ripe fruit.
Breadfruit is an important staple food across much of the Caribbean. Used at all stages of maturity, at the green stage it can be boiled and used to replace starches such as sweet potato and yam. Once fully mature, the inside presents a creamy soft fruit that has a starchy texture akin to a potato. Traditionally the spiky skin is roasted off, resulting in the blackened breadfruit seen for sale by roadside vendors. Used much as a potato would be, breadfruit is good for soups and salads and tastes vaguely bread-like. It can be boiled, roasted or fried and goes well with jerk chicken.
Bammy or bami is a traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread descended from the simple flatbread eaten by the Arawaks, Jamaica’s original inhabitants. Fried and eaten hot, it’s a popular side accompaniment with anything from jerk to ackee and saltfish. Bammy is a particular breakfast favorite and is good for absorbing sauce and juices from other dishes like rundown.
A vegetable dish with roots in West Africa, callaloo was brought to the Caribbean by slaves and is still a staple of diets in 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. Callaloo can also be purchased ready chopped by the bag in many Caribbean supermarkets. This leafy green also grows wild in many locations across the Caribbean, and locals can often be seen picking it at the roadside.
Pronounced in the Caribbean as ‘conc’ (/ˈkɒntʃ/ or sometimes /ˈkɒŋk/), the name refers to a number of large sea snails. Deliciously versatile, this meaty snail is good in soups, curries and fried as fritters. Particularly popular across the Caribbean, conch soup is sold by the cup at the mobile carts of many a street vendor. Less common is the long appendage usually removed from the conch prior to eating. Said to have aphrodisiac properties, this delicacy is not for the faint hearted.