The Caribbean is such an incredibly diverse group of islands, and the food is no exception. With such an interesting history, the meals in the Caribbean have become a super unique blend of so many different cultures: from African, American, French, Spanish, Indian, Dutch, British, Asian and more…
The Spanish conquistadores brought with them a variety of fruits, including coconuts, plantains, sugar cane, chick-peas and cilantro. Okra, callaloo, fish cakes, saltfish, ackee, mangos, and pudding were all introduced by African slaves. The Chinese contributed rice and mustard to the cuisine. Meanwhile, the colonists from Europe, (British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish), each brought their own traditional foods and dishes too.
The result? Caribbean food is flavorful, fragrant, fresh, and just as visually appealing as the picturesque location you are eating it in. Warning!! My tummy is already rumbling as I reminisce about my 5 favorite dishes from living in the Caribbean for 10 years… So, I hope you’ve come hungry, island girls 😜
1. Fresh Fish: Hog Island.
Hog Island is a hidden island just off the southern shores of Grenada, that can only be reached by water taxi or footbridge. This island is isolated and quiet during the week but since it is popular amongst yachties, it features a party scene on Sundays. During our sailing years, Hog Island had zero power but I’m not sure if this has changed in more recent times. We fell in love with Hog Island and especially with the fresh fish that was cooked from scratch on fire and delivered with a big island smile to our dinghy.
2. Oil Down: Grenada
Since we are already down in the southern Caribbean, let's chat more about Grenada. Grenada is lovingly known as the "Spice Island", because it is a major exporter of spices like Nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, and turmeric. With their long history of spice production, it can only be expected that the locals have developed a love of super flavorful and fragrant dishes. Their national dish, the “Oil Down” is a very social dish, only made when expecting company.
It is a classic one-pot Grenadian dish that has been around for decades. The pot typically contains breadfruit and meat at the bottom, most of the vegetables in the middle, a traditional mix of coconut milk and spices poured over, and callaloo leaves and dumplings at the top. The cooking of this dish is completed when all the liquid has been absorbed, and what is left is a rich, and flavorful meal that is enjoyed as a big happy group!
3. Trini Roti: Trinidad and Tobago
If you’ve spent some time in the Caribbean, it’s like you’ve heard of or tried a Roti. This is a very popular street food in many islands but is especially common in Trinidad and Tobago, which is where I tried my first “Trini roti”. The roti has Indian roots and is basically the West Indian answer to a sandwich: a kind of naan flatbread made of wheat flour, filled with slow-cooked savory curry meat (most often goat, seafood or chicken) and basic vegetables. This Caribbean dish is so nostalgic for me, my mouth is watering as I remember the signature aroma you could smell whenever you got close to a roti stand/shop.
4. Breadfruit: St Vincent and the Grenadines
The Caribbean staple that you’ll either love or hate!! Breadfruit is a treasured part of Caribbean cuisine due to how easy it is to grow on the islands, and also in it’s versatility to cook. Despite it’s name, breadfruit is more like a vegetable than a fruit, and it’s a staple food in the diet of most islanders. It can be steamed, boiled, fried, baked, or even roasted over a fire. I first tried breadfruit in St Vincent and the Grenadines but ate lots of it throughout the islands during my sailing years. My personal favourite is fried breadfruit “chips” with a sprinkle of salt and served with fresh fish or calamari.
5. Ting: Jamaica
Ok ok, it might not be a “cuisine” per say buuuut it sure is a delicacy!! Ting is a Jamaican product that has been widely adopted by the rest of the West Indies as an ultra-popular soda / soft drink. Now, let’s not overthink the name here, friends. The word “Ting” actually just means “Thing” and it truly is the think to drink whilst on island. Tart and tangy with just the right amount of grapefruit sweetness, Ting can be enjoyed with or without a little dash of booze… You can find Ting at all your favorite Caribbean beach bars, where you might request a “Ving”, for vodka/ting, “Ging”, for gin/ting, or “Wing: for whiskey/ting. But if you’re like me and prefer not to mix it, just pour over ice and enjoy as a deliciously refreshing sweet treat on a hot and humid Caribbean day.
The Caribbean is truly such a uniquely diverse group of islands, with vast differences in climate, culture, history, and cuisine. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my top 5 favourite Caribbean foods from the many beautiful islands that I explored during my sailing years. Each dish (+ the Ting, of course) has such unique flavors, spices and ingredient profiles that make them memorable. Make sure you save this post in your memory bank for your next trip to the West Indies, and keep an eye out on the menu so you can experience them for yourselves. Did I miss anything, island girls? If you have a favorite Caribbean dish that I didn’t mention, please share with us all in the comments below.