When you hear the word Caribbean, you may instantly feel the warm ocean breeze, feel the shade of the palm trees, and picture yourself holding a coconut husk with some rum and ice. However, Caribbean culture and its food are much more than that. Caribbean food is a fusion of many cuisines, including African, European, South America, India, Asia, and other cultures. Thus, these cultures have influenced and incubated together to create beautiful, fragrant, and delicious foods and treats.
Oftentimes, you’ll find that Caribbean foods are full of savory and spicy flavors. The base ingredients found in most Caribbean dishes include rice, beans, island fruits, and vegetables such as plantains. Of course, these dishes are complimented by various meats such as pork, beef, and goat.
Due to the desire to increase flavor and taste, slow cooking is a huge part of cooking Caribbean meals. This method of cooking ensures flavors are powerful and delightful.
From the early 1900s, there have been huge waves of Caribbean migrants moving to the U.S., Europe, Canada, and other countries seeking economic security and stability. However, post-World War II accelerated and brought the first massive wave of diaspora out of the Caribbean. In the U.S., these immigrants have established communities in various cities like New York City and Miami.
Today, Caribbean food is celebrated for its complex and colorful flavors. While there are mom-and-pop shops that stick to the feel of home-cooked food, there are restaurants and cafes that elevate and modernize Caribbean food, such as the Food Sermon in Crown Heights and Brooklyn, New York.
Because Caribbean food is a melting pot of different cultures, Caribbean cuisine varieties emphasize specific regions. However, here are some well-known and delicious dishes that highlight some of the diversity in Caribbean food.
Originating from Puerto Rico, Mofongo is a tight ball of mashed plantains that absorb the flavors of chicharron and bacon. It is served with chicken broth soup and additional vegetables and seafood that pack the dish with flavor.
While Jerk is technically a style of cooking, it is an iconic Jamaican dish. The meat, which can range from chicken to pork to seafood, is dry-rubbed with allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and other spices. Traditionally, the meat is smoked in a fire pit and is served with rice, plantains, and vegetables.
Pelau is a French West Indies rice dish. It consists of meat, rice, pigeon peas, coconut milk, sugar, and various vegetables and spices such as cardamom, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Especially popular in Trinidad and Tobago, the meat is usually caramelized. The ingredients are combined to create a delicious stew. It is a comfort dish that can bring you back to simpler times and remind you of home-cooked meals at home.
Coucou is a dish consisting primarily of cornmeal and okra. It has historical ties to colonial times, where these inexpensive ingredients were used in many dishes throughout the Caribbean.
A complement to Coucou is Flying fish prepared either fried or steamed, and this pair has become Barbados’ national dish. Another popular partner to Coucou is corned beef or beef stew.
Popularized in South East Asia, India, and Jamaica, curry goat is a delicious staple cuisine that’s often known for being full of flavor and tender to the bone. While most Americans are unfamiliar with goat meat, it tends to be leaner than other meat sources and is usually free-range.
Ackee and saltfish
Ackee and Saltfish is Jamaica’s national dish and is a delicious and slightly riskier food on this list. Ackee is a savory fruit that is actually poisonous if served fresh. However, when freshly prepared in boiling salt water, it balances the salt cod, which was originally recognized as a poorly cured fish sold to nourish slaves in the West Indies.
Together, the nuttiness and soft text of the Ackee balances the sharp, salty flavor of the saltfish. The dish is completed by adding spices, vegetables, and plantains.
Lambi is a Haitian stew that consists primarily of conch, a large-sized sea snail with herbs and spices. It is a traditional Caribbean dish with French influence that requires a lot of preparation and care to taste delicious.
So why do Americans love Caribbean food?
It could be because of the history and the stories these foods tell. It could be the beautiful marriage of the freshness and the flavors of the fruits, vegetables, and meats combined together with various spices and oils. Or maybe it’s the novelty of this emerging food craze that brings Americans back to discovering new foods they have never tried before.
Either way, Caribbean food is making its way into mainstream American cuisine. It provides unique experiences and flavors that tell stories about the cultures, traditions, and histories of the origin of these dishes.