Foods of the Islands

The foods of the Caribbean are marked by a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, and spices, all of which contribute to the area's unique cuisine. Foods of Creole, Chinese, African, Indian, Hispanic, and European origin blend harmoniously to produce mouth-watering dishes.

Fruits and Vegetables. There are many fruits and vegetables found in the various Caribbean Islands, and because many of them have been exported to North America and Europe, people have become familiar with them. This exotic array of fruits and vegetables in vibrant colors forms the heart of island cooking.

Chayote, also called Christophene or Cho-cho, is a firm pear-shaped squash used in soups and stews. The Chinese vegetable bokchoy (or pakchoy) has become widely used on the islands. Plantains, which resemble bananas, are roasted, sauteed, fried, and added to stews and soups. The breadfruit grows profusely, and is either boiled or baked, sliced, and eaten hot, or ground into flour. The breadfruit blossoms make a very good preserve.

Yucca, also known as cassava or manioc, is a slender tuber with bark-like skin and a very starchy flesh that must be cooked and served like a potato, or it can be made into cassava bread. Mangoes can be picked from the tree and eaten by peeling the skin and slicing the flesh off the large pit. They are used in salads, desserts, frozen drinks, and salsa. Papaya, which has a cantaloupelike flavor, contains the enzyme papain, which aids in digestion. To be eaten, the black seeds must be removed and the flesh scooped out.

tuber: swollen plant stem below the ground enzyme: protein responsible for carrying out reactions in a cell

The soursop is a large, oval, dark-green fruit with a thick skin that is soft to the touch when it ripens. The fruit has a creamy flesh with a sweet, tart flavor. Its rich custard-like flavor can be made into a sherbet, ice cream, or refreshing drink.

Spices and Condiments. The food of the Caribbean can be highly spiced. The Scotch bonnet, a colorful pepper with a hot aroma, is widely used in soups, salads, sauces, and marinades. Some other important spices are annatto, curry, pimento, cinnamon, and ginger. Annatto seeds are often steeped in oil and used to flavor soups, stews, and fish dishes. Curry powder is made from a variety of freshly grounded spices. Curry dishes and hot sauces, which are used regularly in cooking, were brought to the islands by Indian settlers.

Pimento, also known as allspice, is used in pickles, marinades, soups, and stews and is an important ingredient in jerking, a method of cooking meat and poultry over an open fire. To bring out the flavor of meat and chicken, they are marinated in a mixture of scallions, garlic, thyme, onion, lemon juice, and salt. The spices and the method of slow cooking over a fire give jerk meat its distinctive flavor.

Protein Sources. Although fish, conch (a pink shellfish), goat meat, pork, and beef are used throughout the Caribbean, legumes make up a fair percentage of the region's protein intake. Kidney and lima beans, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, and other legumes are used in soups, stews, and rice dishes. Accra fritters, made from soaked black-eyed peas that are mashed, seasoned with pepper, and then fried, is a dish of West African origin similar to the Middle Eastern falafel. Sancocho is a hearty Caribbean stew made with vegetables, tubers, and meats.

Cooking Methods. A "cook-up" dish is one made with whatever ingredients an individual has on hand, and is an opportunity to be creative. Such a dish will often include rice, vegetables, and possibly meat. By adding coconut milk, this could turn into an enticing coconut-scented pilaf. Burning sugar to color stews is another technique used in island cooking. This process begins by heating oil, then adding sugar, and stirring until the sugar becomes an amber color.

The roti is a griddle-baked flour wrapping that is filled with curried meat, chicken, or potatoes. Coucou, or fungi, is a cornmeal mush that is served with meat, poultry, fish, or vegetable dishes.

Beverages and Desserts. A variety of fruit beverages are often served in the Caribbean. Beverages include green tea and "bush tea," served sweetened with sugar or honey, with or without milk. Bush tea is an infusion of tropical shrubs, grasses, and leaves that has a number of medicinal uses. People drink it as a remedy for gas, the common cold, asthma, high blood pressure, fever, and other ailments. Sweetened commercial drinks made from carrot, beet, guava, tamarind, and other fruits and vegetables are also popular.

A number of fermented drinks are also popular. Garapina is made from pineapple peelings, while mauby is made from the bark of the mauby tree. Grated ginger is used to produce ginger beer. Horlicks is a malted milk made with barley.

legumes: beans, peas, and related plants asthma: respiratory disorder marked by wheezing, shortness of breath, and mucus production high blood pressure: elevation of the pressure in the bloodstream maintained by the heart

POPULAR DISHES

OF SELECTED CARIBBEAN ISLANDS

Island

Special dishes

Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis

Fish soup, pepper pot soup (any available fish,

meat, chicken, and vegetables cooked in fermented

cassava juice); saltfish with avocado and eggplant

Barbados

Flying fish; jug-jug (mashed stew of pigeon peas,

usually served at Christmas)

Black pudding (a type of sausage made by

combining cooked rice mixed with fresh pig's

blood, seasoned with salt, pepper, and other

condiments, and placed in thoroughly cleaned

pieces of pig's intestine, and then tied on both ends

and boiled in seasoned water)

Belize

Rice and chicken, tamales, conch fritters, refried

beans and iswa (fresh corn tortillas)

Dominica

Tannia (coco, a starch tuber soup); mountain

chicken (frog's legs)

Grenada

Callaloo (soup with green vegetables)

Lambi souse (conch marinated in lime juice, hot

pepper, onion); oil-down (a highly seasoned dish of

coconut milk and salted fish)

Guyana

Mellagee (one-pot stew of pickled meat/fish and

coconut milk with tubers and vegetables); rice treat

(rice with shrimp, vegetables, and pineapple)

Jamaica

Saltfish and ackee (a fruit commonly used as a

vegetable, boiled and then sauteed in oil);

escoveitched fish (fried fish marinated in vinegar

spices, seasoning); roasted breadfruit; asham or

brown George (parched dried corn that is finely

beaten in a mortar, sifted, and mixed with sugar)

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Stewed shark

British Virgin Islands

Fish chowder, conch salad, saltfish and rice

Trinidad and Tobago

Pelau (rice with meat, fish, peas, vegetables);

pakoras; kachouri; palouri (fried vegetable fritters)

Guadeloupe and Martinique

Mechoui (spit-roasted sheep); pate en pot (finely

chopped sheep and lamb parts cooked into a thick,

highly seasoned stew)

Fruit is eaten anytime of the day, but is not considered a dessert unless prepared in a fruit salad or some other form. Coconut and banana form the basis for many desserts. A sweet pudding that goes by many names (e.g., duckunoo, blue drawers, pain me, paimee, and konkee) is made from grated banana, plantain, or sweet potato, which is then sugared, spiced, and mixed with coconut milk or grated coconut, and then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled in spiced water. A prepared sweet pone (pudding) cake or pie is a popular dessert. Black fruitcake, made from dried fruits soaked in wine, is popular at Christmas time, and is also used for weddings and other celebrations.

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