03 Oct 2022

Traditional Caribbean food: Taste the islands


vibrant coloured fruits on a table at a market stall vibrant coloured fruits on a table at a market stall

Yacht Cruising 

Caribbean & Central America

Food & Drinks

Nothing expands your horizons quite like new culinary delights, and traditional Caribbean food is one of the best examples, with an array of surprising flavours that dance on your palette.

You’ll be spoilt for choice as you taste your way through the Caribbean islands. Whether you’re looking for a quick and filling snack, a hearty meal, an indulgent treat, or even something sweet to munch on as you stroll along the beach, you’ll discover plenty of authentic Caribbean food bursting with flavour.

We list our favourites below, but first, let’s take a look at what Caribbean food is.

What is Caribbean food?

Caribbean food is a melting pot of world flavours and ingredients. Taking inspiration from Europe to Asia and from the Americas to Africa, the idea of authentic Caribbean food differs which each island, depending on which colonising nation assumed authority and passed on its influences. 

Spice is often a shared factor between most traditional Caribbean food, with ginger, thyme, allspice, and paprika being the go-to flavours, though you’ll find plenty of mild dishes and sweet treats to enjoy, too. 

Traditional Caribbean food 

Doubles is one of the most popular Trinidadian dishes in the Caribbean. Inspired by Indian cuisine, this dish hits the trifecta of being low cost, incredibly tasty, and very versatile. You’ll find this staple being sold by almost every street vendor selling authentic Caribbean food in Trinidad and Tobago – and on many other islands across the Caribbean, too. A sandwich consisting of curried chickpeas and lightly spiced fried flatbread, doubles are often enjoyed as a breakfast dish, a light bite, and as a starter in restaurants.  

The best doubles are made fresh – soft bara roti (which translates into ‘deep-fried flatbread’) forms a bed for a sea of curried chickpeas. A generous amount of cucumber chutney and shredded coconut adds an extra layer of flavour, which you can enhance further with a touch of hot sauce. Finally, another bara roti sits on top, making for an incredibly warming and indulgent sandwich like no other. 
A well-loved dish in Puerto Rico, mofongo is a starchy, traditional Caribbean food made from sliced and fried unripe plantains, which is then mashed alongside garlic paste and pork crackling, though bits of bacon make a great substitute.   

Mofongo can be enjoyed by itself, but it’s often a side dish to be eaten with fried meat such as chicken, beef, or even a variety of fish. Another popular serving suggestion is to add a large ball of mofongo into a bowl with a broth poured over the top. The mofongo then absorbs the flavours, adding to its already great taste. 
The national dish of Barbados, flying fish and cou-cou is a delicacy you need to try. Flying fish isn’t easily found outside of the Caribbean islands, which makes it one of the most authentic Caribbean food staples to enjoy during your visit. Its mild flavour and flaky texture work perfectly with the cou-cou, a porridge-like dish made using cornmeal and okra. 

Like many examples of traditional Caribbean food, flying fish and cou-cou is often flavoured with plenty of spice to give it an extra kick, but mild variants of this dish can also be found in the bars and restaurants across the islands. 
Jerk chicken is arguably the most well-known traditional Caribbean food, having transcended the islands to be a huge hit in Europe and North America as well. Often served on a bed of rice and peas or with a side of corn on the cob, jerk chicken is Jamaica’s signature dish, made with plenty of scotch bonnet chillies and allspice. 

A range of foods can be jerked if chicken doesn’t take your fancy. Beef, pork, and fish are popular alternatives, though chicken is recommended for the most authentic recipe. 

To do the dish justice, the marinade needs to be packed with flavour. Scotch bonnet chillies (deseeded for less heat if preferred), spring onions, a thumb-sized piece of ginger, garlic cloves, onion, thyme, vegetable oil, soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and ground allspice provide a kick that fans of hot food will adore. 

Most jerked foods in the Caribbean are smoke-grilled over a barbecue with wood chips, which adds an extra hint of flavour unique to the islands.
A treat that packs a real punch, Caribbean rum cake is a dessert that’s every bit as indulgent as you’d hope it to be. The spongy base combined with sweet, dried fruits followed by a boozy hit creates a taste sensation that you’ll want to experience again and again. 

It goes without saying that the best Caribbean rum cake doesn’t hold back on the rum, as each bite should feel rich and decadent. And if there’s one thing the Caribbean prides itself on more than anything else, it’s the quality of their rum products. 

With a similar taste and texture to Christmas pudding, Caribbean rum cake is a Christmas time staple on the islands, though you’re bound to find a few bars and restaurants serving this favourite all year round. 
While peanuts are well loved the world over, peanut drops are unique to the Caribbean. But, if more people knew about this delicious snack, it would certainly catch on worldwide. Created to satisfy any sweet tooth, peanut drops can be found in almost every store across the Caribbean, but they’re also very easy to make at home. 

All you need are some raw peanuts, brown sugar, a drop of vanilla extract, and some grated ginger and cinnamon. Add the peanuts and sugar into a pan of water and bring it to the boil. Then add the vanilla, ginger, and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to a simmer after 30 minutes and take out ‘drops’ to cool once the mixture has thickened. 

Peanut drops are like a sweeter version of peanut brittle. They’re perfect for taking with you to the beach or to provide a boost of energy while exploring. 

What cultures have influenced Caribbean food? 

European, Indian, Asian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisines have played a huge part in shaping the flavours of the Caribbean. A significant shift occurred during the late 1400s when Christopher Columbus landed on the islands and the Spaniards introduced a range of fruit-bearing trees and plants to the Caribbean such as: 

  1. Oranges 
  2. Plantains 
  3. Figs 
  4. Dates 
  5. Sugar cane 
  6. Ginger 
  7. Coconuts 

Colonisation as a whole influenced the cooking styles of each individual island. Where the French settled, you’ll find more examples of French cuisine. Where the British ruled, you’ll unearth more British cooking tropes. 

And with that, the ruling nations also introduced new flavours from further afield. African slaves brought over to work on the plantation had their own cooking styles, and after slavery was outlawed, Indian and Chinese indentured labourers brought over their own techniques and ingredients. 

While traditional Caribbean food takes a lot of inspiration from other nations, the chefs and cooks on the islands have made each adapted element their own. As an example, the chilli pepper was introduced to the Caribbean from the Americas and ginger was introduced by Spain, but jerk-style food is a very much a Caribbean creation. 

Is Caribbean food healthy? 

Traditional Caribbean food includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, and leafy greens, which is a strong base for a healthy diet. But it’s not just the food that makes a dish healthy – the way it’s prepared can have a significant impact on how good for you it really is. 

As an example, the deep-fried bread used to make doubles shouldn’t be eaten regularly and indulging in rum cake every day will eventually take its toll – even if it does contain fruit and nuts. 

Generally speaking, though, Caribbean food can be a good source for nutrients and minerals. As long as you enjoy the sweeter and more indulgent foods as part of a balanced diet, a Caribbean diet is just as healthy as any other

Taste the Caribbean with Emerald Cruises 

Emerald Sakara, Caribbean Emerald Sakara, Caribbean
Emerald Sakara, Caribbean
There’s more to traditional Caribbean food than meets the eye, and the best way to enjoy each delectable dish is by traversing the islands to sample an authentic offering. We’ve only scratched the surface of the Caribbean’s most delicious foods here, but you can uncover plenty more culinary treasures on an Emerald Cruises yacht cruise

Download your free Luxury Yacht Cruises brochure to learn more about our itineraries exploring the best of the Caribbean
Emerald Cruises Luxury Yacht Cruises 2023 & 2024 Brochure
Emerald Cruises Luxury Yacht Cruises 2023 & 2024 Brochure

Your guide to luxury yacht cruising 

Download your free luxury yacht cruise brochure to start planning your journey.

Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.