It’s difficult to easily define “Caribbean cuisine,” as it’s the absolute epitome of fusion food, with influences from African, Creole, Cajun, Amerindian, European, Latin American, East Indian, and Chinese cooking. Explaining rum (the majority of which is produced in the Caribbean and Latin America) is a tad easier, as at its most basic, it’s a drink made from sugarcane juice or byproducts and aged in oak—and then spiced in hundreds of different ways. But regardless of where you go, for the tastiest fare, seek out the local dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and area-distilled rums. And while it’s impossible to list every specialty from every Caribbean hotspot, here’s our list of top must-tries to whet your appetite.
Whether you’re headed to the Bahamas or the Turks and Caicos Islands, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to sample conch. This mollusk (pronounced “conk”) is the star of local menus. Order it “cracked” (battered and fried), curried, in a chowder, or as fritters. Or, particularly in the TCI, the traditional way to eat conch is in a ceviche-like salad composed of raw conch, citrus, onions, tomatoes, and sweet peppers.
Ackee and Saltfish
Widely consumed in Jamaica as a breakfast pick-me-up, the combination of ackee (a yellow tree-fruit) and cod (a salty fish) is wholesome, filling, and tasty. Ackee actually looks and tastes a bit like scrambled eggs, and when served with Johnny Cakes, fried dumplings, and bammy (a fried cassava flatbread), the overall dish composition feels like a twist on the American breakfast classic of pancakes and eggs.
As for which rum to seek out in Jamaica, later in the day? There’s a wide range of choices, but we favor the range of well-aged Appleton Estate rums.
Flying Fish and Cou-cou
When visiting Barbados, don’t be surprised if one of the island’s famous flying fish lands on your plate. Fried or steamed flying fish served with cou-cou, a grits-like mixture of cornmeal and okra, is the island’s national dish. The combo is excellent for lunch—try it with some plantains on the side, too.
Want to polish it off with some locally-produced rum in hand? Just like in Jamaica, there’s plenty to choose among, but we recommend seeking out the “honest rum” (no sweeteners added) from the fourth-generation family-run Foursquare distillery. By the way: A similar popular dish in Antigua is called fungie and pepperpot. Add it to your “must” list, too.
Pigeon Peas and Rice
Anguilla’s national dish is simple, filling, and delicious. It’s composed of pigeon peas (similar to black-eyed peas), plus rice, salt, butter, thyme, black pepper, lime juice, and a dash of hot sauce. Some versions includ have salted beef or ham, too). And after you eat, taste the island’s beloved Pyrat Rum (now owned by Patrón Tequila) to round out the meal.
The flavorful dry-rub “jerk” seasoning may have its origins in Jamaica, but nearly every single country and island in the Caribbean makes their own twist on the spice mixture. That mixture, by the way, is often made up of fiery peppers like Scotch bonnets, plus nutmeg and pimentos. Don’t miss a chance to try jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk shrimp, and so much more.
You’ll find this starchy, sweet-tasting, banana-like fruit throughout the Caribbean, served all sorts of ways: fried, sauteed, boiled, in a soup, in a salad, or solo. Don’t be surprised that, in certain countries like Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, plantains make an appearance at nearly every meal.
There’s nothing quite like slow-cooked meat, seasoned with spices, served piping hot and falling off the bone. Curry goat, served especially in Jamaica but also throughout the Caribbean, is one of those melt-in-your mouth dishes. Originally from Asia, this kind of meat preparation has become emblematic of Caribbean cuisine over the years.
You may have never seen nor heard of a breadfruit before, but during a visit to any part of the Caribbean, make a point to pick one up at a market, or order a dish that utilizes the soft fruit. You won’t be disappointed: Breadfruit is considered a superfood, rich in fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, thiamine and riboflavin. It’s usually served peeled, chopped, boiled, or roasted.
It’s origins are in the West Indies, but roti is ubiquitous throughout much of the Caribbean. Generally, it’s a thick curry stew folded within a dhal puri or paratha (types of bread wraps), which also generally contains potatoes and meat. Seek this tasty streetside snack out in Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, and many other Caribbean spots.