Food and drink in the Caribbean

One of the biggest highlights in the Caribbean is certainly the food and drink. Exotic flavours, secret combinations, home-grown specialties – and of course, signature drinks, here’s our guide to the food and drink in Caribbean that you can expect to enjoy.

The Caribbean and its Rum

Rum originated in the 1630s in Barbados when it was discovered that molasses – a by-product of the sugar refining process – could be fermented into alcohol. And following a trip to Barbados with his brother, George Washington even demanded a tot of rum at his inauguration in 1789.

Produced in JamaicaArubaCuba and St Lucia, among other countries, rum is made in a variety of different ways in each of the places where it’s distilled. This explains why there are so many different tastes and styles throughout the islands.

In order to help consumers appreciate these variations, and also guarantee the provenance of rum produced throughout the Caribbean, The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ – WIRSPA – has introduced a marque, or an authentication system.

Celebrate rum at Caribbean festivals

The Caribbean islands have many differences, but one of their unifying factors is rum. August 16th is International Rum Day, which is celebrated across the Caribbean and further afield – now there’s a party worth attending.

As with all festivals you’ll have the pleasure of attending during your stay in the Caribbean, they aren’t simply a celebration of alcohol but a way of showing off the music, the costumes and the traditions of these islands. So you can immerse yourself in all things rum and Caribbean.

If you’re celebrating in Jamaica, just be aware that you may encounter something called overproof rum. This is the stuff that the locals drink and is 80% proof – to say that this is really strong is something of an understatement. So maybe ask for an Appleton’s or Myers instead.

Caribbean delicacies: chocolate!

The Caribbean cocoa trade is world renowned for producing some of the finest cocoa beans which in turn makes some of the most luxury chocolate round the world. It’s a highly celebrated trade in the Caribbean and they even have festivals for chocolate! Whether its the Grenada Chocolate festival celebrating the organic and ethically produced cocoa or the Barbados Chocolate festival which aims to indulge your senses, they’re certainly a sight to see.

Chocolate has been being produced here for hundreds of years, starting back in the 17th Century, and was first farmed using enslaved African labour. The Caribbean islands were the perfect environment for growing such luxurious cocoa having such a hot, rainy and tropical climate – and still are.

There’s many ways to learn about the Caribbean and their cocoa, but on the islands themselves is best as there’s plenty of museums and workshops where you can see first hand and learn everything about the trade.

Jamaica’s dangerous delicacy

Probably boasting the most well-known Caribbean cuisine like jerk chicken and Jamaican patties, food in Jamaica is heavy on seafood, meats and some little heard of tropical fruit. It has influences as wide as Spanish, British, African, Indian and even Chinese, shown in the fact the ackee fruit used in Jamaica’s national dish of saltfish and ackee was imported from West Africa in 1778.

Commonly served for breakfast, saltfish is what Jamaican’s call cod, and ackee resembles scrambled eggs when cooked. Adding a dash of jeopardy to your mealtime, unripe ackee and its black seeds are actually poisonous, but don’t worry, the locals know exactly when it’s ripe and which bits not to serve.

St Lucia’s savoury bananas

Shaped heavily by its French and East Indian past, St Lucian food has lots of creole flavours and is also hot on seafood and fish like tuna. Food here can be as simple as plantain fried in a bit of coconut oil and seasoned with salt, to the more complex national treasure of green figs and saltfish. The figs are actually none other than unripe bananas, which are quite savoury and less strong than ripe bananas. They’re peeled, boiled then sauteed with garlic, onions, celery, peppers and the saltfish.

Another widely used ingredient is callaloo, a dark green leafy vegetable that comes from the leaves of the taro plant. The leaves are similar in taste to cooked chard or kale, but with none of the bitterness, and they act as a smoky-flavoured addition to fish or seafood dishes.

A laid-back island, street food is popular in St Lucia, including a deep-fried round of plain flour dough known as a bake that can be eaten for breakfast with jam or filled for a more substantial meal. For instance, the St Lucian delicacy of shark and bake is a bake filled with a mixture of shark or other fish and stewed vegetables.

Not your usual pasty in Aruba

The Aruban range of snacks is wide, from cala bean fritters to bolita di keshi, which is made of egg, white cheese, and yellow cheese, rolled into a ball and deep-fried. What is considered their national snack though is the pastechi – a crescent shaped flour pasty filled with either beef or cheese. And for something more substantial you could try a goat curry or sopi di pampuna – spiced pumpkin soup served with diced salt beef.

Fish with wings in Barbados

Barbadian cuisine is known as Bajan and the national dish is the flying fish, which you may have seen on wildlife documentaries launching out of the water and gliding through the air like a bird. Out of the water and into the frying pan it’s cooked with chopped onions, cherry tomatoes and Bajan seasoning, a secret combination that usually contains chive, thyme and peppers.

The flying fish is often accompanied by cou-cou and tends to be served in Barbados homes on a Friday. Made from the protein-rich breadfruit found hanging on local trees, it’s mashed to produce cou-cou.

Cuban comforts

With lots of Latin inspiration, traditional Cuban food makes good use of the seafood, meats, pulses and root vegetables found across the island. As well as heading to Caya Coco for some lobster, one thing you must try while in Cuba is the ultimate comfort food of ropa vieja. It’s slow cooked beef in a rich tomato and veg sauce that’s shredded and served on white rice.

For a lunchtime treat, the Cuban Sandwich is a classic that might muster up New York deli thoughts. It has the five key ingredients of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, all served on crusty Cuban bread and toasted.