Selling the day's catch out of the back of a truck in St. Thomas' Frenchtown. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster WaltonAfricans, Spaniards, the Dutch and French, Americans and East Indians all added culinary traditions to the Caribbean melting pot. They adapted their homeland cuisine by utilizing the exotic fruits, vegetables and seafood they found in the islands, and introduced proteins from livestock.
The result? A multi-textured cook-up that varies throughout the islands, but also weaves threads of similarities. Rum, stemming from the Caribbean’s early sugar-growing era, is one such thread. Rice and beans is a staple. Every island bakes its signature bread, and many claim a national dish. Find fish, lobster, conch, pork, chicken, goat and mutton in local restaurants region-wide. You will also discover every sort of cuisine imaginable in the major islands – from burgers to fine Continental.
This quick tasty tour gives you the highlights of the food and drink on some of the best foodie islands.
Small, but packed with restaurants, Anguilla attracts serious foodies looking for fine, cutting-edge cuisine. At Shoal Bay, you will find more casual West Indian hangouts.
Conch salad made fresh on the beach at Exuma's Chat N Chill. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Conch rules most supreme here. It’s best pulled fresh from the shell and diced up with peppers, onions and citrus juice for conch salad a la minute – perfect with a cold Kalik beer and a warm chunk of sweet johnnycake. Conch chowder, conch fritters and crack’ conch (pounded and fried) are also staples. Spiny lobster plays a close second, but you will find many varieties of seafood, especially at a weekly party tradition known as “Fish Fry.”
Bahamians enjoy some quirky traditional breakfast dishes. Sheep tongue souse, boil fish or stew’ conch anyone? Do not miss their iconic dessert – guava duff. In Nassau you will find restaurants serving global cuisine. Several restaurants prepare tableside dishes and fine fare.
The birthplace of Caribbean rum, Barbados is home to Mount Gay. Rum shops everywhere serve traditional rum punches, often food and always a game of dominos. Barbados’ signature dish is fried flying fish and cou-cou – a polenta-style mash-up with okra. Don’t miss the weekend fish fry in fishing town Oistins.
Particularly Curacao retains the motherland culinary influence. Its keshi yena stuffs Gouda cheese with spicy chicken stew. The islands’ rijsttafel (rice table) buffet is a throwback to former Dutch possession Indonesia. Their most signature beverage, a blue orange-flavored liqueur, takes its name from Curacao.
Naturally, French influence shows up on tables in Martinique, Guadaloupe, St. Martin and even St. Lucia. Creole cuisine blends in African food customs. Expect to find a dominance of fine restaurants, especially in St. Martin. Local rum is distilled like cognac, fine for sipping.
Grenadian women drying chocolate beans with their feet. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Nicknamed “Spice Island,” Grenada is he breadbasket of the Caribbean. Nutmeg is synonymous with the fertile island, but cacao, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, turmeric, pumpkin, breadfruit, avocados, bananas and all manner of tropical plants proliferate. Grenada’s cocoa is considered among the world’s finest. “Community pots” of oildown, the national dish, stew alongside the road. Everyone in the community contributes the breadfruit, salted meat or fish, okra, green bananas, coconut milk and other ingredients; everyone is welcome to partake.
Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee fields in bloom. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
National dish saltfish and ackee use the ackee fruit, which looks and tastes somewhat like scrambled eggs with bacon. Jamaica invented the spicy jerk method of seasoning pork and chicken. Curried goat and meat patties also show up on most menus.
Jamaica boasts superlatives in the drink department. Its Blue Mountain coffee is universally acclaimed among the best coffees worldwide. Red Stripe beer and Appleton rum also have reputations that circle the globe.
Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic boast fine traditions of Spanish-influenced cuisine. Plantains ripe or green and mashed are staple. Beef is more prevalent than elsewhere in the Caribbean. They are also known for their fine rums and coffee.
Trinidad & Tobago
These islands feel the strongest East Indian influence. Their hybrid “roti” is a chick pea flatbread whose popularity has spread Caribbean-wide. Roti stands provide a choice of fragrant curried dishes such as beef, chicken, goat, and chick peas with potatoes as filling.
Another popular “fast food” option, shark & bake shacks line up a buffet of condiments with which to dress your johnnycake and fried fish. Trinidad also adheres to British tradition with blood pudding and afternoon tea. The capital Port of Spain dining scene has grown quite cosmopolitan in its use of native produce.
Curried crab and dumplings make up Tobago’s signature dish. On Sundays, villages host a “harvest,” where locals and visitors promenade from house to home for tastes of local exotic wild meats such as iguana and agouti.
The U.S. and British Virgin Islands residents eat similarly. Kallaloo is signature – a soup of spinach-like greens with okra and fish or meat. They call their meat patties “pates” here, and love their flatbread johnnycakes. Fungi is their version of cou-cou.