The Caribbean is such a beautiful place that sometimes the local cuisine gets overlooked.
Caribbean food is distinctive, in part because of the abundance of natural resources in the area: fresh fruit, seafood, and spices grow well in the climate and are easy to find. The Caribbean is also home to of many cultures - from Indigenous peoples to people of Spanish, Dutch, English, and African backgrounds. These cultures and the natural riches of the region have combined to make for some amazing food.
Here are the best 8 foods you have to try if you're visiting the Caribbean.
You’re on an island the middle of a sea at an all-inclusive resort. It's time to eat some seafood. Grouper, whitefish, and fresh shellfish are all in abundance in the Caribbean. You should be taking advantage of the local markets as well. Some of the best fish and seafood can be purchased there, often only hours after it was caught.
As a bonus, at local seafood restaurants and markets, you can often meet the fishermen or fishmongers to learn more about their products, making your experience with fresh seafood in the Caribbean even more memorable.
Torta Cubanos, or Cuban Sandwiches
This may be the perfect sandwich.
Soft bread with extra-crisp crust is piled high with roast pork, ham, tangy dill pickles, and good, vinegary mustard, as well as jack or mozzarella cheese. Then you put that sandwich in a hot press and melt the cheese together with everything else, wrap it in parchment paper, and serve.
This is a great walking lunch too if you’re on a sightseeing tour and want some local food - it’s portable, but very filling. Cuban sandwiches are popular throughout the region, as are the ingredients. You’re likely to find roast pork, ham, mustard, and dill pickles in a lot of Caribbean food.
Pepperpot is similar to beef stew, or jambalaya.
This Caribbean food is a very thick stew usually made with beef, okra, squash, potatoes, eggplant, and cornmeal dumplings. Pepperpot can be spicy and filling, but it’s rarely made the same way twice. It's the perfect dish to use up vegetables or anything that’s in season, so every time you eat it you’ll probably get a new experience.
Conch is sort of like a very large sea snail - you’ve probably seen their beautiful shells before on a beach, but not near an oven.
Conch is cooked in a variety of ways in the Caribbean, from fritters to salads, soups, and stews. Fried conch fritters are a staple in many areas, and are great very fresh, which is hard to replicate outside of the region.
Jerk is a spicy, sweet, and tangy rub - either dry or wet - that is put on grilled meat, commonly as Jamaican-style jerk chicken.
Jerk sauce, with the distinctive flavors of ginger, allspice, Scotch Bonnet peppers, and lime, is also a popular addition to many foods. Jerk huts and jerk sauces are easy to find throughout the region, and everyone makes theirs a little differently, so you can eat jerk often and never get exactly the same experience.
Plantains are growing in popularity outside the Caribbean - in particular, plantain chips are quickly becoming a great alternative for those who choose a gluten-free lifestyle.
But in the Caribbean, this food is prepared in innumerable ways. As they’re both sweet and savory, they are sometimes served with chicken and rice, another Caribbean food staple, to balance out the rich flavors. They can also be cooked with rum, sugar, cinnamon, and syrup for a delicious dessert.
Roti is definitely a dish of many cultures. Roti is similar to naan, but is thinner and chewier, almost similar to a tortilla.
It’s grilled and filled with curry, chicken, lamb, beef, potato, or pretty much anything that can be curried. Like the Cuban sandwich, roti is a great portable food, and is familiar while still conveying the unique flavors of the Caribbean.
Bonus: Roti is easy to recreate at home, so when you get back and can’t stop thinking about it, you can make your own without much trouble.
No, rice isn’t unique to Caribbean food. But it’s a vessel for all kinds of foods - rice and peas, chicken and rice, a side dish to roti, served under pepperpot. With the rich spices and unique flavors of the Caribbean, it’s never boring.
All those carbs are going to come in handy while you’re traveling around the region as well, as many areas are walkable or perfect for the thrill-seeking outdoor adventurer.
Try These and More
The Caribbean is not one large, indistinct area. Each region has its own unique culture and ever-evolving cuisine. But it is a place marked by an abundance of wonderful food, no matter what part you visit. The rich history of the region has created food that is unique and delicious. Just take your most comfortable shoes, your stretchiest pants, and your appetite with you when you go.