One of the best ways to experience the culture of the Caribbean is to sample the local cuisine. Each country has its own special dishes and interpretation of available ingredients, and tasting your way through the islands is a great way to understand the intricate fusion of nationalities, spices and customs that are quintessentially Caribbean.
Caribbean cuisine has African, East Indian, Chinese, Native American, Arabic and European influences, resulting in an explosion of flavors.
You will find your share of tourist-style options, with hamburgers readily available in many places, but do take advantage of the opportunity to sample local Caribbean food alternatives. This is the best way to eat the freshest fish, try exotic new fruits and vegetables and perhaps best of all, strike up a conversation with a local cook. People seem to bond over food! Showing your interest in how a dish is prepared is a wonderful way to learn something new and show your respect for the culture.
Trying the island fare is also a great way to balance out your meals during your sailing vacation. It might even give the cook a well-deserved break! Unless you’re dead set on eating every meal on board, you can plan to eat at least several meals either in waterfront restaurants or further into town. Your options include everything from beach shacks to street vendors, elegant cafes and hotels.
As we mentioned, there are many, many variations of dishes and unique preparations of ingredients but you will find common themes. Caribbean dishes often feature starches such as rice, cassava, beans, plantains and sweet potatoes. Typical vegetables include bell peppers, okra (often called ochroes) tomatoes, leafy greens, onions and sweet or hot peppers; you’ll also find legumes such as beans and black-eyed peas. Proteins will include plenty of fresh fish and conch (pronounced conk) as well as chicken, beef, goat, pork and lamb.
As for fruit you’ll find coconut, mango, ackee (a relative of the lychee), guava, breadfruit, pineapple, papaya, bananas and avocados, among many others. They are often used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes, along with typical seasonings like garlic, celery, green onions, cilantro, thyme, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and allspice.
As if that wasn’t enough to awaken your taste buds, here are a few of the most renowned dishes and snacks to try!
Ackee and Saltfish
Ackee and salt fish is a national favorite for breakfast or lunch- ackee actually resembles scrambled eggs when cooked! Then there are Jamaican meat patties, known for their turmeric- tinged yellow pastry, filled with spiced ground beef, curry chicken or vegetables. You can add extra spice with scotch bonnet hot sauce. Jamaica also serves up its famous Jerk chicken, marinated in spices including clove and allspice and then grilled to perfection.
In Grenada you’ll have to try Oil Down, a rich stew of chicken, salted meat, callaloo bush (leafy greens), coconut milk, breadfruit and dumplings. It’s simmered down in one big pot and makes for a hearty meal; great for sailors! Since it’s the spice island you also can’t miss sampling aromatic treats like nutmeg ice cream and sweet potato pudding.
The British Virgin Islands
The BVIs are famous for their Fish and Fungi (pronounced foon-jee), a tasty combination of fresh white fish sautéed with butter, lime, peppers and onions and served alongside a combination of polenta or grits-style cornmeal with okra. The BVIs (along with many other islands) also have excellent conch fritters and spiny lobsters.
On St. Lucia
St. Lucia’s national dish is Green Fig and Salt Fish. The ‘fig’ element is actually green or unripe bananas which are boiled until tender and then stewed with salted fish, garlic, onions, celery, peppers and plenty of spices. It’s often served with a tangy cucumber salad.
Here Flying Fish is at the top of the menu, with the most famous dish being Cou cou and Flying Fish. Cou cou is Barbadians’ version of Fungi, the savory and comforting cornmeal blend. It’s topped with fried, steamed or battered flying fish and a sauce made of tomato and herbs. Visitors also rave about Barbados’ flying fish cutters, which are fried fish sandwiches on soft rolls.
Antigua and Barbuda
Fungi and pepper pot is the national dish, a base of fungi topped with an elaborate stew. It’s made with a range of meats and vegetables including peppers, eggplant, spinach, okra, garlic, onions and spices, simmered to a richly flavored finish.
When cruising in the Bahamas you’ll discover Crack Conch with Peas and Rice. This dish is composed of fresh ‘cracked’ or battered conch served alongside Bahamanian beans (or peas as they’re called here) and savory rice. It’s also often accompanied by sides of coleslaw, potato salad or macaroni salad. Another must-try dish is Bahamanian conch fritters.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
St. Vincent brings you Fried Jackfish and Breadfruit, a crispy pairing of fresh fish with the unique, loaf-like texture of the ripe breadfruit, all served with a squeeze of lime. It’s great with St. Vincent’s national Golden Apple Drink.
Saint Martin/ Sint Maarten
Originating on the Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten’s national dish is Conch and Dumplings. It’s a hearty main dish of conch pounded and seasoned before being pressure cooked, served with tasty flour or cornmeal dumplings. On the French side the dish is Callaloo soup, stewed with pork, hot peppers, okra, chicken stock and spices.
As you can probably imagine, these regional dishes are just a smattering of the range of flavors and options you’ll encounter in this colorful part of the world. The Caribbean also has special flatbreads, johnny cakes, exotic smoothies, tostones, Roti, curries and so much more.
Taste as many as you can during your next sailing charter in the region- wherever you go the cuisine is guaranteed to make your trip that much sweeter!