Caribbean food recipes are an ecclectical mix between various cultures. Remnants of Amerindian cuisine and its ingredients have fusioned with many Old World ingredients and cuisines to create something very unique. On this page I will describe Caribbean food recipes in general, at the bottom of the page are links to specific countries.
The pre-Columban Caribbean was inhabited by Amerindian groups like the Arawak and the Caribs. They had developed agriculture to a high level and cultivated various fruits, tubers and vegetables; several of the cultivars had actively been introduced by them from other parts of the Americas. All Caribbean countries have coastlines; naturally fish and seafood was important sources of protein. The tuber manioc, maize, beans, zucchini, pumpkins, peppers, avocado, tomato, pineapple and papaya were some of the more important staple foods.
Like all over the Americas the arrival of the Europeans would prove disastrous to the locals, several Old World diseases like measles and smallpox wiped out large parts of the Amerindian populations. The colonialists were cruel and mistreated the Indians, many times using them as slaves. In many parts of the Caribbean the Indians resisted the new-comers for centuries, these days Amerindians is a minority group.
The Spanish did not take much interest in most of this region, they mainly used it as a stepping stone for shipping riches from the American mainland back to Spain. These ships were juicy baits, pretty soon the British, the Dutch and the French started to rob them using government supported pirates. Many parts of the West Indies would become infamous for these, many times pirate crews went private and thus became considered as outlaws by the very same country that sent them there.
France and Britain were the two European powers who would become the dominant forces from the 17th century and onwards, on most islands they set up plantations were they grew cash crops like tobacco, cocoa, coffee, bananas and sugarcane. At first they tried to use Amerindians as slaves but they proved too weak and prone to illnesses so large amounts of people were brought from Africa. When slavery was abolished in the 19th century labour immigration from countries like Portugal, India and China took place. It is in this general mix of cultures that the Caribbean cuisines have developed. From the 19th century USA have become a major player in the region. During the 20th century several territories have been granted independence and are now sovereign countries. The economies are mostly based on agriculture and tourism.
The Caribbean food recipes vary a lot with how many slaves came to the countries and how immigration and emigration have been to that particular region. For instance: On many islands people of black African heritage are in majority, thus are the similarities to African cuisine stronger there – this of course almost goes without saying but since the demographic mix vary quite dramatically between different Caribbean nations so does the cuisines and the point is good to make. Many desserts are of clear French and British origin. Rum distilled from sugarcane molasses, a bi-product obtained in the refining of sugar, is the dominant strong spirit.
There are some ingredients that you will find in many Caribbean food recipes. To start with a set of tubers, often referred to as provisions, like manioc, sweet potato and taro. Rice and beans, the latter often replaced by pigeon peas, are the typical staple foods. Fish and seafood is eaten in abundance. The use of coconut and maize in various forms are also hallmarks. The food can range from quite spicy to relatively mild, two of the cultivars of chili peppers in use are the Scotch Bonnet and the Jamaican Bird’s Eye. The influence of Asian Indians can be seen in the ample use of spice mixes and in some dishes like roti. The Jerk-spice mix, made famous on Jamaica, has its roots in Amerindian cooking traditions.
With the arrival of the Europeans started a great trade of foods and cultivars of crops; ingredients like rice, citric fruits, sugarcane, banana, mango, coffee, garlic, yellow onion, chicken, goat, cow and pig were new introductions. Already existent were sweet potato, manioc, maize, bell pepper, guava, squash, tomato, avocado, guava, papaya, pineapple, coconut, turkey and chili peppers. The heritage from the Amerindians is strongest in the use and treatment of all pre-Columbian ingredients.
The tropical climate has often (not everywhere though) made growing easy, thus a great variety of fruits and vegetables have been readily available to be ingredients in Caribbean food recipes. Dried and salted fish, traditionally imported cod, known as saltfish is a typical part of a Caribbean breakfast. Which dishes are traditional vary with country.