Of course, the Caribbean’s scenic charms are well known; something that is, perhaps, less true of the Caribbean’s cuisine. Yet, the regions remarkably diverse heritage has helped create a cuisine that holds its head up proudly with the best in the world. These three dishes are great examples of typical Caribbean cuisine and they are also the national dishes of the three different islands: Barbados, Jamaica and St Lucia. You can cook them at home but all make marvellous marriages with ice cold beer or a rum punch served under a shady Caribbean palm!
What’s On The Menu In Barbados?
In the ‘land of the flying fish’ there’s a pretty obvious – and rather delicious – ‘must try’ dish that is a real Bajan favourite. Steamed or fried, the flying fish is a wonderfully ‘zingy’ dish with lime juice and spices to the fore and marries beautifully with coucou that is best thought of as the Caribbean’s answer to polenta and the perfect vehicle for carrying a hot spicy sauce.
Elsewhere, your Bajan ‘must try’ menu might include the ubiquitous rice and peas, coconut turnovers, macaroni pie and the wonderfully named ‘conkies’ – a sweet, spicy steamed dish that comes wrapped in a banana leaf and is often prepared to celebrate Independence Day in Barbados.
But, Do Flying Fish Really Fly?
It might be more accurate to label the flying fish as a swimmer with a rather neat side-line in gliding. In the sense that a bird flies then, sadly, the flying fish isn’t really in that league but, given its size and the fact that it is, first and foremost, a fish, its feats of aviation are still pretty remarkable.
In order to take to the air the flying fish has to achieve great velocity whilst still submerged. The little fish can manage around 37 miles per hour – faster than any cruise ship in a hurry to make its next port – before breaking the surface and taxiing prior to taking to the air. The little four winged fish can reach heights over 4 feet and can sustain its glide path for 650 feet or more. The flying fish is also able to take consecutive glides spanning distances up to 1,300 feet. Like many fish it is attracted to light and flying fish are often caught my local Bajan fishermen who put a light in a canoe or rowing boat and simply wait for the fish to ‘land’. This is a tad ironic as the flying fish has evolved its aerial feats precisely to escape predators.
What’s On The Menu In Jamaica?
Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and it is used to prepare the national dish of Ackee and Salt Fish. The ackee is prepared with vegetables and savoury salt fish. It is usually eaten for breakfast with Caribbean dumplings, homemade bread, fried plantains and boiled green bananas (more of which later).
Ackee is not native to the Caribbean but has grown there since being imported from West Africa in 1773. It is a staple dish added to all manner of soups, stews and curry. Some prefer it simply fried in butter, although it can’t be denied that ackee and salt fish is a fantastic start to any Jamaican day! Aside from the ackee, salt fish quickly became part of the cuisine and, indeed, the fabric of daily life. The importance of salt fish was brought into sharp relief when the price of cod began to soar and successive Jamaican governments were forced to subsidise the cost as a way of preventing civil unrest.
These days, you can enjoy fried salt fish right across the Caribbean but fried salt fish with ackee and dumplings remains the dish to try in Montego Bay.
What Makes That Caribbean Sauce Sing?
There are countless spices used in Caribbean cuisine but the daddy of them all – and a key component of Jamaican cuisine - has to be the wonderfully named, Scotch Bonnet. The name is of colonial origin and derives from the fact that this particular pepper looks like a traditional ‘tam-o-shanter’ hat, although you’ll also find it referred to as ‘the Bahama Mama’, the ‘Jamaican Hot’, the ‘Martinique pepper’ and ‘the Bahamian’, depending on where you are in the Caribbean. But, make no mistake, whatever name it’s going under, this pepper is HOT! You’ll find Scotch Bonnets in many traditional dishes, from jerk sauces and curries to ackee and salt fish and pepper pot soup.
Just how hot is the Scotch Bonnet? According to the Scoville heat unit scale a Scotch Bonnet can be up to 350k units, making it 140 times hotter than a mild jalapeño – pass the Red Stripe, please!
What’s On The Menu In St Lucia?
Green Fig and Salt fish is the dish that epitomises Castries, St Lucia, but you’ll need a little local knowledge to navigate your way through what’s on offer here. First and foremost, those green figs aren’t really figs at all, but green bananas.
This is a dish of celebration and is often prepared on weekends and special occasions like the Jounen Kweyol festival, where St Lucia’s creole heritage turns itself into a party of food, song and dance that weaves the island’s French and African influences together into a heady brew.
Why Not Eat Your Way Around The Caribbean?
Cruising from island to island will let you sample a broad spectrum of Caribbean dishes from the classics outlined above in Barbados, Jamaica and St Lucia to some of the many high-end restaurants and simple eateries (and simpler beach shacks) to be found right across the Caribbean from Miami to Martinique and Guadeloupe to the Grenadines. So, if the food of the Caribbean has whetted your appetite for a Caribbean cruise, then why not embark on a culinary tour to the Caribbean?