Walk through any major town on a Caribbean island and you are sure to be drawn by the succulent fragrance of spicy seafood or the tantalizing smell of a scotch-bonnet-flavored chicken being grilled over a pimento-wood fire. Go a little farther and you will be dazzled by the colors of fruits such as the deep purple Otaheite apple or the Kelly green guinep, neither of which you will hardly find anywhere but in this region. Food is indeed an integral part of tradition and family life throughout the Caribbean. With recipes influenced by the cultures of the peoples who settled there, dishes in the Caribbean tend to be a mixture of Indian, African, British, Spanish, and Chinese cuisines with an indigenous island twist. Each country comes with its own signature meal, often referred to as the national dish. As you journey through the Caribbean, take the opportunity to sample these exclusive island flavors.
Antigua and Barbados
The island of Antigua offers a flavorful dish called fungi (pronounced foon-gee), which consists of cornmeal, okra, and flying fish topped with an aromatic sauce of fresh tomatoes, onions, chives, garlic, and peppers. A favorite with visitors and locals alike, this mix, which is similar to the Italian dish polenta, is not to be eaten without a side of ducana—an Antiguan sweet-potato dumpling—and a drink of the local fresh fruit juices, which range from mango to passion fruit to hibiscus and a variety of others. Antigua shares its national dish with Barbados, where it is called cou-cou (pronounced coo-coo). On Barbados, the dish is so popular that for the preparation of the meal the Bajan people created a special utensil called the cou-cou stick, a narrow, rectangular-shaped, foot-long paddle.
Pizzas in Paradise - St John’s, Antigua
Hemingway’s Caribbean Café - St. John’s, Antigua
Ryanne’s Restaurant and Bar - Bridgetown, Barbados
Although the national dish in this Central-American country is rice and beans, it most definitely isn’t your standard recipe. This Belizean meal comes with a stewed meat (chicken, pork, or beef) or a whole snapper and is served with fried plantains and a local Belikin beer. The Wet Lizard Bar and Restaurant, in the Belize City Tourist Village, serves this tasty lunch along with Belizean ceviche—fish or shellfish cooked by marinating it in lime juice—and salutes, a corn tortilla filled with vegetables and tomatoes.
The Wet Lizard – Belize City, Belize
Because Mexico has a diverse population, it does not have an officially designated national dish. There is one sauce, however, that definitely exemplifies the composite culture of the nation. Mole poblano, originating in the state of Puebla, is a unique mixture of ingredients including chili peppers and chocolate that create a smooth, rich, flavorful sauce; it is delicious over turkey, shrimp, or just about any other food you can imagine. Pancho’s Backyard, in Cozumel, serves Puebla’s famous mole sauce over chicken enchiladas, alongside a serving of Mexican rice, for a true sample of the country’s haute cuisine.
Pancho’s Backyard – Cozumel, Mexico
While spicy, jerk-seasoned meat is Jamaica’s most well-known food, it is not actually the island’s national dish. The distinguished title is in fact held by ackee and salt fish. The ackee is a pear-shaped fruit with three large black seeds surrounded by a spongy, light yellow flesh. It is seasoned and cooked alongside salt fish, which is dried, salted, and sautéed cod. Together the two are served with breadfruit—a large, round, starchy fruit—hard-dough bread, boiled green bananas, or dumplings to make a perfect meal anytime, but especially for breakfast.
Mystic Mountain Rainforest – Ocho Rios, Jamaica
A trip to the spice island, Grenada, is not complete without sampling the island’s famous Oil Down. The potpourri of salted meat, chicken, dumplings, breadfruit, callaloo, and vegetables stewed in coconut milk and spices all in one huge pot, leaves nothing to be desired—especially when paired with bakes, light flour dumplings. This simple yet robust meal is very popular in restaurants across the island including at the acclaimed BB’s Crabback in St. George’s, where the chef features Oil Down on the Friday menu.
BB’s Crabback – St. George’s, Grenada
The island of Puerto Rico delights the taste buds with two amazing offerings: the piña colada and a special dish called arroz con gandules and peril (rice with pigeon peas and pork shoulder). Cooked in olive oil infused with annatto seeds (similar to saffron), this customary Puerto Rican dish has gained popularity throughout Latin America and is especially good at Restaurant Barrachina in San Juan. Restaurant Barrachina also happens to be known for Puerto Rico’s official drink, the piña colada, a sweet pineapple-and-rum-based cocktail.
Restaurant Barrachina – San Juan, Puerto Rico