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Caribbean delicacies

When you think of Caribbean food, what instantly comes to mind might be jerk chicken with rice and peas or a hearty fish stew. However, when you arrive on these tropical islands, you'll soon realise they have hundreds of unfamiliar ingredients and cooking techniques that combine to create new flavour sensations.

The use of plantain, seafood and a certain level of heat to the food remain consistent across Caribbean islands, but each have their very unique twists on Caribbean favourites as well as some individual and sometimes quite unusual delicacies.

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.

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