Tips for foodies 10 Tasty Features of Caribbean Food
Discover these 10 essential characteristics of Caribbean fare
On the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, the El Mercado Buffet at the hotel in Puerto Plata Iberostar Costa Dorada highlights the best of local tastes, and diners discover just how diverse Caribbean food can be. Here, visitors begin to find that the Caribbean is a melting pot of eating traditions.
It´s all in the sauce
Perhaps no other factor in Caribbean food is as essential as the sauces and marinades. Giving those meats and poultry that distinctive tropical flavor, they're often piquant and rich in citrus and spices with far-flung origins like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom. Pescao en escabeche is a fine Cuban fish dish that epitomizes the Caribbean´s tangy, garlicky vinegar-based sauces with origins in Islamic Spain and Spanish colonies. On the Emerald Island, look for the Jamaican variation called Escovitch.
Hot & Spicy
Some newcomers to Caribbean cuisine are surprised to find a healthy amount of peppers that bring no small amount fire to the tongue. The crown jewel of spicy Caribbean peppers, Jamaica's Scotch bonnet, grows in a diversity of colors and heat levels. But it is only the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the restaurants and hotels of the region, local chefs spice up their jerk rubs and marinades with Cayenne and Habanero peppers, bringing a delightful juxtaposition of fruits and heat that screams Caribbean.
Caribbean flair for fruits
From the soup bowl to the grill, exotic fruits of the Caribbean are more than a side dish. Cubans know the Mamey, which is like a custardy sweet potato. Captain Bligh brought the starchy Breadfruit to Jamaica, where they roast it and steam it. Ackee is a burnt orange fruit, bursting with flavor, used in Jamaica’s national dish: Ackee and saltfish. Plantains are perfect for tasty tostones or Mangú Plantain Mash, a classic breakfast in the Dominican Republic.
Fruits of the sea
On the grill, look out for simply prepared dorada, mahi-mahi, mackerel and marlin, occasionally with a splash of beer as they cook. Beachgoers in the Dominican Republic savor grilled fish. In Cuba, Aporreado de Pescado is a white fish dish that boasts a dash of paprika and red wine sauce. Deep-fried fritters made from fish, conch, crab or shrimp, often known as accras, abound in the Caribbean, each country giving its own twist. Jamaicans call their crispy cod fish version “Stamp and Go.”
Chickens and Chevon
Classic Caribbean stars are Cuban Fricasé de pollo and Dominican guisados, staples of chicken with a deceptively simple garnishes and ingredients like bell peppers, garlic and tomato paste. Melding the Indian cuisine with Jamaican tastes, Curried Goat is an unmissable plate that highlights thyme, curry spices and those hot Scotch bonnet peppers, and Brown Stew Goat incorporates a helping of soy sauce.
Delicious broths made from fish, salted beef and chicken, along with stocks and soups derived from sweet potatoes and beans, find their way onto many a local dinner table in a restaurant or in a hotel. But it´s the 7-Meat Sanchocho, brought from Spain´s Canary Islands to the Dominican Republic, that steals the show in the soup category. Made with a flexible variety of meat from local Caribbean livestock -beef, chicken, goat, sausages, pork ribs, smoked ham, among others (but not beef)- this tangy soup is often touted as the national dish in the DR.
Bell peppers, garlic, onions and tomatoes are just the beginning of the essential Caribbean cornucopia of vegetables. In Jamaica, nutritious amaranth greens are used in a popular dish called Callaloo, a thick leafy base mixed with thyme and Scotch bonnet peppers and accompanied by salted fish, shrimp or more veggies. A Rastafarian favorite is a plate of Spicy Sauteed Okra, cooked in the saucepan with cumin, garlic and hot Habanero peppers. Yams and sweet potatoes are smartly used for anything from soups to crab cakes to a simple roasted side. In the bean category, kidney, black, pinto and white all make appearances. Habichuelas guisadas is a Dominican ragout made with red beans, auyama squash, cilantro and celery leaves.
An essential Dominican lunch called “La Bandera” displays the colors of the nation’s flag with beans, stewed meat, and of course rice. This essential cereal grain, mostly white, has spread to the far reaches of the Caribbean, and enjoys the status of vital side dish as well as main course.
Another vital meat in the Caribbean, pork dishes are sometimes cooked with coconut milk, black beans or a tropical fruit like mango, but most often accompanied by bell peppers, onions and rice. Cubans adore their pork dishes, like Lechón Asado, grilled to perfection after a tangy orange and cumin marinade, or tender roasted pork shoulder with that garlicky, citrus mojo sauce.
A plant with native roots
One unique tuber has many uses in the Caribbean. Also known as manioc or cassava, yuca is a tasty plant with complex terminology and strong connections to the indigenous cultures. It can be fried, roasted or boiled, and shows it versatility in fries, garlic-rich creams and mashes like Mofongo, made with unripened plantains and flavored with bacon.