Caribbean Cuisine – a Cultural Influence


A Caribbean island is a fun place where you shed all your stress and have the time of your life. Good food is a requisite for such a fun-filled vacation and the Caribbean islands will not let you down in this matter. Caribbean fare is a melange of cuisines from a diverse range of countries, namely Spain, France, Africa, India and China, to name a few.

Each of these countries added an ingredient to produce a touch of excellence to the Caribbean cuisine. Caribbean food is derived from the diverse cultural influences that were bestowed on the Caribbean islands. Various people and cultures (Arawaks, Caribs, Dutch, Spanish, Scottish, British, African, Asians ) have added their own touch to Caribbean food, transforming it into an ultimate exotic indulgence.

The Carib, Arawak, and Taino Indians were among the first to dwell in the islands. These ancient tribes combined their native elements with local ingredients and set the stage for Caribbean cuisine of recent times. Caribbean tribal foods were a healthy affair and their daily diet principally comprised of fruits and vegetables as well as meat and fish. The Caribs were the pioneer in using spices and pepper in their cooking, which are now the highlights of Caribbean cuisine. They are believed to be the inventors of pepper pot stew which they cooked in large clay vessels with varied recipes.

We are all in love with barbecue foods and you will be amazed to know that it all started in the Caribbean! The Arawaks used to cook meat on slow wood fire so that it can imbibe the smoky, murky essence of the wood, a culinary process known as ‘barbacoa’ at that time which evolved as ‘barbeque’ in due course.

The tribes called the healthy ingredients as ‘soul foods’ – a perfect name, since the flavour and aroma of every Caribbean dish cooked with soul foods elates your soul and offers you an ultimate gastronomic experience. Okra, plaintain, mangoes, sweet potato and yams are among the vast range of soul foods that rule Caribbean recipes. The Taino tribe also incorporated dishes containing meat, fish and seafood in their soul food meal.

With the invasion of Europeans in the Caribbean islands, its food and culture faced a major change. The African slaves brought by the Europeans had to live on the leftovers of their owners, which mainly consisted of the local staples, fruits and vegetables. The slaves used their African knowledge of cooking and blended Caribbean ingredients with the spices they brought with them to give birth to unique fusion dishes which later became the heart of Caribbean cuisine. The famous ‘jerk’ cooking method of Jamaica was introduced by the escaped African slaves who cooked wild boars without smoke in order to keep their hideout place a secret. As time took its turn, African slavery abolished in the Caribbean islands and Europeans went beyond Africa in search of slaves. Arrival of Chinese and Indian labours in the mid-19th century marked the entry of curries and rice in Caribbean cuisine. The much-loved Caribbean curried goat is the gift of India to the islanders while Chinese taught them the use of mustard in dishes.

As foreign sailors paid visit to the Caribbean from time to time, they left their mark in Caribbean food. It is the Spaniards that the Caribbean has to thank for bringing a wide array of fruit trees like date palms, figs, sugar cane, tamarinds, coconuts and grapes with them.

Escovitch fish, a tangy delicacy is a unique dish of Spanish origin. Portugal and Polynesia also played their part in Caribbean art of cooking by initiating the use of codfish and breadfruit respectively. Corn, squash, potatoes and chilli peppers entered the Caribbean with the Americans and soon became indispensable in Caribbean cuisine.

The cultural confluence in Caribbean cuisine has turned the Caribbean islands into a food lovers’ paradise. So bring the taste of the world on plates with Caribbean foods and indulge in its divine flavours.

By Liya Das

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