When people envision the Caribbean, they immediately conjure up imagery of expansive white sand shorelines, swaying palm fronds, and cerulean waters stretching as far as the eye can see. The laid-back island lifestyle is one of the Caribbean’s biggest attractions, which explains why it has become such a hot spot for travelers from all across the globe. From family getaways to romantic escapes and adventurous excursions, there is truly something for everyone to discover when it comes to the diverse destinations scattered throughout this idyllic region, comprising more than 700 islands, islets, cays, and reefs. With a range of Iberostar hotels scattered around exciting Caribbean destinations such as the Mayan Riviera, Montego Bay and Punta Cana, among many others, you can enjoy the Caribbean in the lap of luxury, with pools in which to take a swim, spas to relax in and, of course, incredibly comfortable rooms.
Have a good night’s sleep in one of Iberostar’s luxurious rooms with the finest bedding and then wake up refreshed to continue your adventure by focusing on an essential part of Caribbean culture that is also one of the most pleasurable ones: food. As any visitor knows, Caribbean cuisine is another delectable draw that keeps people coming back for more. It’s a wonderfully unique amalgamation of flavors, ingredients, and influences that alludes to the area’s storied past and multicultural roots. But to fully appreciate the region’s signature dishes, one must first understand its history.
For centuries, many Caribbean islands were under European rule. Many of the ingredients that have become synonymous with the Caribbean (like breadfruit, mangoes, and sugarcane) were actually introduced by countries such as Spain, France, and England. The development of Caribbean cuisine was also undeniably influenced by the culture and culinary traditions of Africa, Asia and India in the early 1800s.
These global influences, combined with indigenous Caribbean ingredients and techniques, have played a paramount role in defining the evolution of the modern Caribbean cuisine we know and love today. From soups and stews to desserts, many of the region’s signature staples surprisingly trace their beginnings back to the European and African countries where they originated. Read on to discover some of the best dishes that you can order the next time you find yourself in paradise, or recreate them at home to transport yourself to the faraway shores of the Caribbean islands.
It’s no secret that sofrito is something special. The fragrant sauce is made from a sautéed blend of herbs and spices that serves as the building block for thousands of recipes, spanning Caribbean, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American cuisine. The technique was brought to the Caribbean islands in the late 1400s, but was first invented in the Catalan region of Spain roughly a century prior. While the specific components of sofrito depend on the country, it’s common in Caribbean destinations to use a lard base, then add ingredients such as bell peppers, onion, garlic, and coriander. It’s a cinch to whip up at home and appears in numerous traditional Caribbean recipes.
Although ropa vieja is one of Cuba’s national dishes, it is also extremely popular throughout the other Caribbean countries. Ropa vieja is made of shredded beef (typically flank or skirt steak) that is slow cooked with vegetables and served in a tomato-based sauce. It originated in the Canary Islands and translates from Spanish to “old clothes” which is a reference to how the shredded meat mimics the appearance of tattered or ripped clothing. There are plenty of variations to this dish, but it is commonly made with onions, bell peppers, garlic, and can frequently be found served alongside black beans and yellow rice.
Ackee and Saltfish
A Jamaican favorite for generations, ackee and saltfish is a versatile dish, commonly served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s cooked with dried and salted cod that is sautéed with boiled ackee fruit, and combined with other vegetables and spices like onion, pimento, and Scotch bonnet peppers for a little extra heat. The ackee fruit is known for its creamy texture, and was first imported to the Caribbean from Ghana in the 1700s. But exercise caution if you plan on cooking this classic at home. Your best bet is to order this dish at an authentic Jamaican restaurant, since parts of the ackee fruit can be toxic if not prepared properly.
Goat water, also referred to as kiddy stew, is considered the national dish of Montserrat. Goat water is a spicy, flavorful stew made with goat meat, breadfruit, and sundry spices. Some recipes even call for a touch of rum or whiskey. Goat water is widely believed to have originated as an adaptation of a traditional Irish stew, swapping in goat meat in lieu of beef, which is more typical in Irish recipes.
This dish is an inexpensive but delicious meal, made primarily from cornmeal and okra. Its texture and consistency can be described as somewhat similar to polenta or grits. Cou-cou was a common meal amongst slaves in Barbados, and started out as adapted version of Banku, an African dish made of fermented maize flour and okra. Today, it’s still a favorite of locals and tourists alike, and can also be found in many Caribbean islands.
Few snacks are as scrumptious as beef patties. These golden flaky shells are most notably found in Jamaica, but appear in other Caribbean countries as well (in addition to plenty of other regions of the world). Although they are usually stuffed with a seasoned ground beef filling, they can also house chicken, pork, lamb, ackee, fish, or other vegetables and cheeses. The beef patty is a direct product of colonialism and migration, harmoniously fusing the multicultural flavors of the Caribbean. This variant of the Cornish pasty, which hails from the United Kingdom, combines African and Indian seasonings alongside produce (like Scotch bonnets) which are indigenous to Jamaica.
Although macaroni and cheese is considered an American classic, it actually got its start in England. Today, macaroni pie is a local delicacy in some Caribbean destinations. This simple casserole dish is made from elbow macaroni noodles, cheese, and milk, and is one of the easiest dishes on this list to recreate at home. In the Caribbean, macaroni pie is a popular side dish typically made without a crust and served cold, oftentimes accompanying fried fish. It can also be prepared with curry powder and hot sauce for a spicier variation that is most common in Barbados.
Callaloo (also spelled calaloo or kallaloo) is another long-standing Caribbean staple that draws inspiration from West Africa. It’s most classically made from the edible leafy greens of the amanranth or taro plants found throughout the islands. While it looks similar to spinach, it has more of a bitter taste with nutty undertones. There are plenty of ways to cook this superfood, which vary from island to island. In Jamaica, it’s traditionally chopped and steamed with scallions, onions and spices, while Trinidadians tend to include okra and coconut milk, which lends a completely different texture and flavor.
This process gives the fruit a deep, darkened hue. The macerated fruit is then ground into a paste and combined with caramelized sugar, eggs, butter, and other additives such as vanilla extract, lime zest, and Angostura bitters. The dish is a fusion of traditional English holiday desserts (such as figgy pudding), and is commonly eaten during the Christmas season, weddings, and other special occasions.