A getaway to a Caribbean island means many things: non-stop sun, sparkling sea, laid-back living, and feasting on fiery, flavoursome fare.
Also known as the West Indies, these islands draw on similar spices as Indian cuisine, as well as flavours from neighbouring countries, to create something unique. Although meals like curried goat and oxtail and rice are often hardened favourites, vegetarians can enjoy a plethora of options too. So, what are you waiting for? Book your getaway, pour your rum cocktail and grab your knife and fork…
Trinidad & Tobago
Known for its beautiful beaches and tropical rainforests, Tobago – and its larger counterpart, Trinidad – are big on flavour. Steps from the sugar-white sands, take on something a little spicier: doubles. Similar to a small flatbread, but lighter, doubles are a delicious snack filled with curried chickpeas (called channa), tamarind sauce, hot pepper sauce and sometimes a shaving of cucumber. Forget catching any dribbling sauce with the oilpaper they’re served in; mop up the saucy goodness with the dough itself. Another quick bite served by both street vendors and in the family home is pholourie, which are seasoned doughballs perfect for dipping in sweet chutney.
Where hearty meals are concerned, you can’t go wrong with tender sweet-but-spicy stew chicken (served with pelau rice or dhalpuri roti), or the cheesy, indulgent macaroni pie. For dessert, expect more spice but with an even sweeter spin: pineapple or mango chow uses fresh island fruit marinated for a few hours in salt and pepper sauce. It sounds like an acquired taste, but try a little and you won’t be able to stop your hand going for more.
On the mention of Caribbean food in the western world, jerk chicken is usually what first springs to mind, however, the seasoning actually originates in Jamaica. Served up with rice and peas (not the green kind, but rather kidney beans) and fried plantain – a more savoury banana – you’ll be forever searching the UK for something on par. Fried plantain is very versatile and while it can be enjoyed on its own, it’s also a fabulous addition to ackee and saltfish. A great alternative to scrambled eggs, served with dumplings (baked sweetened flour) instead of bread, add some bell peppers and tomatoes to brighten up, in homage to the lively island itself.
If you’re looking for something a little familiar, curried goat features on the menu of many Caribbean restaurants in the UK. Hearty and delicious, goat meat is slow-cooked in a delicious combination of herbs and spices, including ginger, thyme and cumin, until tender and it has soaked in all the flavours. The humble patty is also a favourite; hot pastries filled with meat or vegetables.
The Bajan way of life is slow and relaxed – much like cooking Pepperpot. One for special occasions, the dish originated in Guyana, and involves slow cooking oxtail and steak in garlic, scotch bonnet, onion, cinnamon, basil and thyme, until the meat is soft and tender. The most important seasoning gives it its deep colour – cassareep (from cassavas) – and you can keep adding meat to the pot to stew over a few days.
When hunger strikes on a less decadent day, flying fish is high up on the menu. A kind of mascot, the flying fish is represented not only on Barbados’ plates, but also on coins, some landmarks and even on their official tourism authority’s logo. Whether you fry, steam, bake or pickle it, serve with salt, pepper, Bajan seasoning, and a side of cou cou (cornmeal and okra). Looking for something sweeter? Get your hands on some sweet bread, made with coconuts.
Deviating from the others, the Dominican Republic mainly draws culinary inspiration from Spain and Africa. La Bandera is a national dish of white rice and spiced red kidney beans, served up in the shape of the Dominican Republic flag (with the rice creating a white cross between the red beans). After a rice replacement, instead? Chenchén is the way to go – chow down on cracked corn, softened by soaking and boiling in vegetable stock.
Much like its other Caribbean neighbours, plantain is a staple fruit in the Dominican Republic, too, this time in a mashed form, mangú, or fried into a flat crisp-like shape, called tostones. And to round it all off, indulge in the rich habichuelas con dulce dessert, a red bean dish, creamed with coconut milk, evaporated milk, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Follow your heart and your stomach with one of our Caribbean island escapes.