Caribbean cuisine is versatile and diverse, being influenced by Latin American, Middle Eastern, European and African dishes. Besides several meat varieties like pork, chicken, and beef, these platters also include various veggies like cassava, bell pepper, tomato, sweet potato, and plantain. The addition of several herbs and spices elevates the taste of the foods to a different level.
1. Conch Fritter
Conch fritters, Bahamas’ national dish, comprises a combination of conch meat and chopped vegetables fried in a tasty, savory batter of celery, bell pepper, onion, chili, tomato, and a whole lot of spices. Deep frying the meat gives it a golden brown color and crispy texture. The flavor is an assortment of several ingredients like the meat’s chewy-salty taste and the rich, peppery taste of the different spices. Conch fritters serve as a delightful appetizer, eaten with dips of mayonnaise, ketchup, or a hot sauce.
2. Jamaican Jerk
The dish is as unique as its name. Jerk has several meanings. It refers to a Jamaican cooking technique where wet or dry-rubbed meat is marinated in a spicy mixture. Traditionally, it even meant a pig cooked through the process of slow grilling on pimento wood fire.
However, the theory mostly considered behind the dish’s name is the spicy seasoning, also known as Jamaican jerk spice comprising cinnamon, nutmeg, chili, thyme, and green onions. Initially, these seasonings prevented the meat from getting spoiled, though presently, they are used as marinades to intensify the flavor. Jamaican jerk chicken is more famous than the pork variant. The process of slow cooking alongside the addition of the seasonings gives the meat an incredibly tender texture. It is often eaten on paper plates or served wrapped in aluminum foil. The overall taste is soft and juicy, teamed with the hotness of the spices. To counter the spiciness, sweet bread or Jamaican beer often goes as accompaniment.
Picadillo, a popular Latin American dish, has ground meat, onions, and tomatoes as its primary ingredients. However, the versions vary from one place to the other. The dish’s name comes from picar, a Spanish word translating to mince or chop, and that is how the meat is prepared. In Cuba, the inclusion of raisins and olives helps to add sweetness and saltiness to the platter. Whereas in Mexico, the presence of honey, lime juice, or chili peppers alters the dish’s taste from sweet to tart to spicy. Besides Latin America, its popularity has also spread outside the Caribbean Islands to the Philippines. Here it is teamed with rice and known as Arroz la Cubana.
4. Arroz con huevo
The name could be jargon, but the dish is not, as it is a simple platter of rice with a topping of fried egg. The rice could be served plain or even cooked with onion, tomatoes, garlic, and green pepper for a spicy fusion. Toppings of cheese or chopped parsley would enhance the overall taste further. Initially a poor man’s dish, it has become a staple food in most Latin American households.
5. Jamaican Patty
Jamaican patty is a moon-shaped savory pastry traditionally having fillings of ground beef. However, at present ingredients like chicken, lamb, pork, lobster, shrimp, and vegetables also go in as stuffing. The dish’s yellow color is a result of the turmeric-curry powder or egg yolk mixture that goes into making the crust. It has a buttery spicy taste prominently felt with every bite. Jamaicans mostly eat it as a wholesome meal, upon teaming this delicious patty with coco bread or sugar roll.
6. Ropa Vieja
Ropa vieja, one of Cuba’s national dishes, is prepared by cooking pulled or shredded beef with vegetables alongside seasonings like pepper and tomato sauce. The taste varies as per the ingredients, though the traditional version was spiced up with a lot of bell peppers. Thus, to counter this heat, sugar is often added by some to enhance its sweetness.
This dish has a unique tale behind its origination as ropa veja alludes to old clothes. That is how this platter was prepared traditionally from a leftover broth of garbanzo beans.
7. Fish Tea
A specialty of Jamaica, found in most beach shacks there, fish tea is a light fish soup prepared from herrings or any other inexpensive fish. Other ingredients include green banana, pumpkin, potato, yam, bell pepper, onion, and carrot. Flavorings of coconut milk, and seasonings of thyme, butter, and black pepper, give it an added taste. Though a soup, it lacks the thick consistency and is as thin and light as a tea, hence the name. The dish has several folklores associated with it and has a reputation for being an effective aphrodisiac.
8. Pica Pollo
Pica Pollo, a famous dish of the Dominican Republic, is a fried chicken platter, with the meat mostly dipped in a flour batter. However, cornmeal is another option but rare. The freshness and juiciness filled in every bite is because of the lemon juice that serves as a perfect marinade. It serves as a great appetizer, mostly teamed with fried plantains or a glass of chilled beer.
9. Trinidad Macaroni Pie
Trinidad’s special macaroni pasta has macaroni, egg, cheese, milk, and seasonings of cayenne pepper, thyme, white pepper, and garlic powder. The overall taste is a blend of cheesiness, alongside the spices’ savory and spicy flavor dominating every bite.
10. Guyanese Pepperpot
Guyana’s specialty, also one of its national foods, Guyanese Pepperpot, is a delicious meat stew. Beef, mutton, pork, or chicken (though rare) are the preferred meat choices, cooked and flavored with cassareep, a special cassava root sauce. It not just accounts for the dish’s dark color but also serves as a food preservative, and the natives often used it in meat to prevent the latter from getting spoilt. In the present times, people prefer the traditional way of cooking it in a big pot and eating it over many days by reheating the meat. Other spices that go into its preparation include cinnamon, clove, garlic, onion, orange peel, and thyme.
The Amerindian settlers are credited to have introduced this dish to Guyana, which at present has evolved as a holiday dish, mainly served on Christmas and other auspicious occasions. A lot of time goes into its preparation since it is slow-cooked for several hours to attain its juiciness. It is teamed with rice or flatbread or even eaten with boiled veggies such as sweet potato, ripe plantains, or cassava.
This is a leafy vegetable dish from Jamaica. Besides the dish, callaloo is the vegetable’s local name also, resulting in some amount of confusion. In case of the unavailability of callaloo, amaranth and taro are the preferred choices. The preparation process varies from one place to the other. In Jamaica, the leafy veggie is steamed and then cooked in garlic, onion, thyme, pepper, and tomato. In Trinidad, this dish is prepared along with many other ingredients like coconut milk, bell pepper, onion, spices, and even crabs. The veggie’s bitter and nutty flavor is well complemented and balanced by several seasonings and spices.
Locrio, a one-pot chicken rice dish of the Dominican Republic, is closely similar to Spain’s paella and even pilaf, and Africa’s jollof. Seasonings of lemon juice, oregano, garlic, soy sauce, and adobo take its taste to another level. The dish has several variations, with pork, Dominican salami, shellfish, sardine, or guineafowl also added alongside the chicken.
13. Goat Water
Alternately known as a kiddy stew, goat water is a meat soup with a thin consistency. Besides goat meat, other ingredients include garlic, onion, tomato, herbs, clove, and flour. The addition of dumplings, potato, and yam help to intensify its taste further. The flavor, depending on the ingredients, varies from soft and mild to rich and spicy. The inclusion of herbs makes it increasingly aromatic. You could team a bowl of goat water with crispy bread rolls or even steamed rice.
It has its roots in Montserrat, regarded as the island’s national dish. Mannish water is the other name for this dish because of the aphrodisiac properties that one thinks it to have. Because of this reason, it is a common find in Jamaican weddings mainly served to the groom.
14. Jamaican Festival
The name says it all! It is a deep-fried bread mostly eaten during festivals of special occasions in Jamaica. The essential ingredients in its preparation include wheat flour, milk powder, baking powder, sugar, milk, and cornmeal. The bread has a sweet taste and crispy texture, often served as a side with spicy dishes like Jamaican jerk chicken or fried fish to balance the hotness.
15. Wrap Roti
This dish, having its roots in Southern Trinidad, is a delicious savory platter comprising a dhalpuri roti (fried lentil-stuffed flatbread) or paratha roti (fried flatbread) stuffed and folded tightly. The fillings (called talkari in Trinidad) may include one or many of the following items: stewed or curried chicken, curried potatoes, curried duck, pumpkin, pickles, and hot sauces. Sackina Karamath was credited to have invented this dish in the 1940s to make it a quick bite that one can have while on the go, without messing their hands too much.
Trinidad and Tobago’s famous street dish, doubles, is mainly eaten during breakfast but may occasionally be served for lunch or even as a late-night snack. Its preparation and presentation are unique indeed. The two baras (fried flatbreads) are stuffed with curried chickpeas or curry chana, as locally called, while hot sauces and pickles go as toppings.
This dish, which was influenced by the North Indian Chole bhature, was discovered in 1936 by Emamool Deen and his better half. The baras appear soft and pillowy. The overall taste varies from spicy to savory to sweet, depending on the condiment that goes as accompaniments
17. Coucou and Flying Fish
This is indeed a unique platter and Barbados’ national dish. The presentation is simple, comprising a steamed or fried flying fish fillet teamed with coucou, a cornmeal-okra porridge similar to grit or polenta. The seasonings of garlic, onion, parsley, thyme, and hot pepper sauce, enhance the flying fish’ taste to the fullest. When teamed with coucou, it would indeed be a delightful experience.
18. Fried Bake
It is one of the sought-after breakfast foods mainly eaten in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Grenada. The fluffy, savory bread has flour as its main ingredient, alongside salt, sugar, and baking powder. It is mostly served with sides of salt fish, steamed vegetables, or even sausage or corn-beef.
19. Rice and Peas
A traditional dish of the Caribbean Islands is made by cooking rice and peas, mainly pigeon peas. However, substitutes include kidney beans or cowpeas. The peas are mostly seasoned with garlic, pimento seeds, thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper, coconut milk, and grated ginger before being cooked with rice.
Rice and peas go as a sumptuous Sunday lunch, with accompaniments of goat curry or seafood.
20. Goat Curry
Goat curry is famous as a Caribbean dish and even holds a prominent place in the cuisine of Southeast Asia. It is a delectable spread with goat meat as the main ingredient, alongside seasonings of thyme, ginger, onion, hot pepper, and garlic. It mostly goes as a side along with rice and peas and mashed potatoes. Each spoon fills your mouth with the heat of the spices and aroma of the herbs.
21. Ackee and Saltfish
Jamiaca’s national dish, it is prepared by sautéing salt cod with ackee, alongside seasonings of tomatoes, onions, and Scottish bonnet pepper. A breakfast or brunch platter, accompaniments include bread fruit, dumplings, bread, and boiled bananas. Some even eat it as a side with white rice or rice and peas. The flavor is unique indeed, with the creamy, buttery texture of the fruit blending well with the fish’s sharp, salty taste.
22. La Bandera
La Bandera is the name of the Dominican Republic flag and the country’s traditional lunch platter comprising rice, beans, and meat alongside a tomato-lettuce salad. Each of the ingredients stands for one of the tricolored shades (red, white, and blue) flag. The kidney beans seasoned in tomato sauce replicates the red, while the rice stands for white. Though there is no direct connection between the meat and the third color, chicken or beef along with the salad represents blue. It has a lot of variations, with pork or fish substituting beef or chicken. Besides the salad, a dessert-like curdled milk fudge and any chilled beverage also go as accompaniments.
Considering the vastness of the island, each part of it has a specialty food of its own. Like, Cuba specializes in Tostones, and Ropa Vieja, while Puerto Rico’s favorites include Asopao and Arroz con gandules. Costa Rica has Gallo Pinto and Casado in its list of tops, while Guyana stands famous for Chana and Bara. Haiti, on the other hand, has Griot and Joumou among the most sought-after foods.