The notion that Caribbean cuisine is too exotic or too difficult for non-Caribbean nationals to make is as false as the stereotypes that some people have about Caribbean culture in general.
Yes, you can make Caribbean dishes at home, no matter where you live! What better way to remember your fantastic Caribbean vacation than to cook up something that reminds you of the delicacies you enjoyed while in paradise? You can try a recipe similar to something you’ve already sampled. Or, you can be brave and test your skills at something new!
But what if I can’t find the ingredients?
It’s true, sometimes you won’t be able to find the exact same products that Caribbean locals use in your neighborhood grocery store. But anyone who’s an expat knows that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”! Those who move away from their home countries find the means of cooking up the dishes they love from “back home”. So, if you can’t find the exact product or produce you’re looking for, perhaps you can substitute something similar.
Most Caribbean dishes don’t rely on certain brands to achieve great taste. Nor is cooking an exact science! Don’t worry too much about making your dish 100% perfect or “authentic”. What really matters is that you enjoy the taste!
Are Caribbean dishes difficult to make?
Like we mentioned earlier, the notion that Caribbean dishes are extremely exotic is false. That misconception comes from various forms of media. For example, movies that are set in Caribbean settings often portray Caribbean food as strange and outlandish. The characters might react strongly to the “odd” food that they are presented. They might even recoil at the site of a conch dish or “strange” vegetables that they don’t recognize.
While it’s true that there are a few veggies and fruits available in the Caribbean that aren’t commonly found in other countries, the majority of the ingredients in Caribbean dishes are recognizable. And, even if they are new to you, you may find that their taste is similar to something you’ve already tried. For example, Puerto Rican tostones made of mashed and fried plantain taste similar to potatoes. The curiously-shaped starfruit might remind you of fruit punch. And the cherimoya, which tastes like banana and pineapple, was regarded by Mark Twain as “the most delicious fruit known to men.”
What are the origins of Caribbean cuisine?
Interestingly, Caribbean cuisine is actually a mixture of traditions from a plethora of countries. The Caribbean is a melting pot of cultures. That’s why it’s one of the best places on earth!
Caribbean dishes fuse traditions and ingredients from some of the following continents/regions and cultures together:
- Latin America
- East/North India
- Middle East
Today, each Caribbean country has developed its own unique recipes and cooking styles. Most Caribbean nationals take great pride in their countries’ “typical” dishes. Some countries have even declared certain meals their “national dishes”. For example, coo-coo and flying fish is the national dish of Barbados, while pigeon peas and rice is the national meal of Anguilla.
What are some Caribbean staple foods?
Contrary to the entire Pirates of the Caribbean saga, pork, apples, and peanuts aren’t the only things that Caribbean islanders eat. The most common ingredients in Caribbean dishes are rice, beans, plantains, bell peppers, chickpeas, coconut, sweet peas, cassava, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
As for protein, most Caribbean meals contain chicken, pork, beef, or seafood. Common seasonings are garlic, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, celery, and green onions. Caribbean nationals also enjoy using herbs like cilantro, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon and thyme.
Dish 1: Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas
This Jamaican-inspired dish uses easy-to-find ingredients for a spicy, flavorful chicken meal.
You’ll need 12 chicken thighs, plus rice, spring onions, soy sauce, brown sugar, and spices like thyme and allspice. Coconut milk gives the rice a robust island flavor. Get the full recipe here.
Dish 2: Cuban Ropa Vieja
Its name literally means “old clothes” in Spanish, but this dish tastes like anything but dirty laundry. It’s also the national dish of Cuba! To make it, you’ll need shredded beef, tortillas, and rice. Cumin, fresh cilantro, and white vinegar will make the beef tasty and tender. Get the full recipe here.
Dish 3: Pork Chops with Banana and Bacon
Mmm…bacon. That ingredient alone should be enough to make you want to try this one out. Perhaps you’ve never heard of combining pork chops with banana and bacon, but we promise, it’s as delicious as a day on the beach! This recipe comes from Antigua, a tiny Caribbean island with amazing beaches and just as amazing food! See the super simple recipe here.
Dish 4: Traditional fish cakes from Barbados
Perhaps you don’t usually eat fish for breakfast, but in Barbados, fish cakes are a traditional breakfast dish! They can also be appetizers or snacks. Since they are fried and crispy, these fish cakes could easily become a favorite with your family. See an easy traditional fish cake recipe here.
Dish 5: Butter cookies from St. Martin
These aren’t just any butter cookies. They are St. Martin-style cookies! They’re the perfect accompaniment to coffee or tea, and they take just 40 minutes to prepare. With simple ingredients like granulated sugar, butter, flour, and vanilla extract, you might even be able to make them with what’s already in your cupboard. See a great St. Martin butter cookie recipe here.
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Main image credit: Olive Magazine