The beautiful Caribbean region encompasses several island nations, including the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Barbados, and Dominica (to name just a few). More than 30 million people visit this island each year, in no small part due to its delicious cuisine.
Traditional Caribbean Cuisine
Caribbean foods are some of the unique dishes in the world, primarily consisting of fresh-caught seafood, local fruits, and other regional delights. If you’re thinking of visiting the Caribbean soon, or you’d like to prepare some Caribbean recipes at home, read on to learn about the most iconic dinners and desserts that hail from this tropical paradise.
1. Baigan Choka (Roasted Eggplant)
There are many great things to do in the Caribbean, and sitting down for a hot bowl of Baigan Choka might be one of them! This Trinidadian dish consists of roasted eggplant flavored with garlic, onion, and butter.
Due to its fire-roasted preparation and savory ingredients, Baigan Choka is an exceptionally filling dish. It’s often paired with a local beer or glass of mauby. Baigan Choka is very similar to traditional Indian cuisine. That’s because Trinidad has a large and historically prevalent Indian population.
Many of the Caribbean recipes you’ll find in Trinidad and Tobago have uniquely Indian origins and feature curries, mashed vegetables, and flat roti or naan bread. This is an easy one to make at home especially with this recipe!
2. Conch Ceviche
When eating in the Caribbean, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to try fresh conch ceviche. This seafood-based dish is one of the most popular meals in the Bahamas, partially due to its bright colors but primarily because of its rich flavor.
Conch is a type of sea snail that lives in pointed concentric shells. They’re readily available along the warm-water coasts of the Bahamas but challenging to find in restaurants elsewhere.
This ceviche consists of a finely-chopped conch that’s tossed in lime juice, salt, and a little bit of orange juice. It’s also seasoned with chopped onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Every bite of conch ceviche is bound to transport you to a sunny white sand beach, with the sound of gentle waves caressing your eardrums.
3. Flying Fish and Cou-Cou
Did you know that Barbados is home to flying fish? These winged fish can leap from the water, making them look like aquatic dragons.
These creatures are one of the most popular options for fish dinners in Barbados and are its national dish. Though flying fish are prepared in various ways, one of the most popular methods is frying them.
Fried flying fish is typically paired with Cou-Cou (also spelled Coucou), a side dish made of ground okra and cornmeal. With a consistency similar to grits, Cou-Cou makes the perfect bed for freshly-fried flying fish. That’s because Cou-Cou can absorb all the flavors of the fish, including its oils. As such, not a single bit of food goes to waste!
4. Pineapple Chow
Pineapple Chow is another Trinidadian dish you won’t want to skip while visiting the beautiful Caribbean islands. But, of course, this dish’s ingredients and preparation are simple enough to ensure that you can make it from home!
Essentially, Pineapple Chow is chopped chunks of pineapple, pineapple juice, chopped garlic cloves, and plenty of fresh cilantro leaves. These ingredients are tossed in a bit of salt, pepper, and lime juice to give them an extra kick.
Don’t be surprised if restaurants offer a small bowl of Pineapple Chow before dinner, as this delectable dish is often served as an appetizer.
When eating at Caribbean restaurants, there’s a good chance that you’ll see Mofongo on the menu. This Puerto Rican dish is made of mashed, fried green plantains seasoned with garlic.
The garlic-infused plantain mixture is also combined with fried pork skin to give it a unique texture and smoky pork flavor. It’s formed into a small half-dome and often served over a bed of shrimp or beside a small bowl of fish broth.
Overall, Mofongo has a similar consistency to mashed potatoes, but its flavor is a unique blend of sweet and savory. Like many other Caribbean dishes, it’s a perfect mixture of locally-available ingredients.
Check out more tasty ideas in our article on The Best Puerto Rican Food!
When in Jamaica, do as Jamaicans do and enjoy some fresh coconut tarts, also called Gizzada. These tiny pinched sweets feature a buttery shortbread crust and a filling of finely chopped (or grated) coconut, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
Other spices, like nutmeg and vanilla, are also commonly added to give Gizzada its distinct flavor.
Each bite of Gizzada is a blend of tropical spice and sweet coconut. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making this dish at home, as the filling doesn’t need to be cooked or baked.
7. Conch Fritters
Conch is prevalent throughout the Caribbean and is far easier to catch than fish. As a result, conch meat makes several appearances throughout Caribbean cuisine.
But while some dishes feature raw conch, (yes conch may be eaten raw) others deep fry these chopped-up gastropods, resulting in a savory snack that’s often served in bars alongside rum-based beverages.
If you’re planning on heading out for a fun night in the Caribbean, be sure to order a small plate of conch fritters. These crispy conch bites can keep your hunger at bay while you enjoy the tropical drinks and soak up the local nightlife.
8. Goat Water
The name of this dish might make you picture a tall glass of goat’s milk or a suspicious bowl of goat-flavored water. But the truth of Goat Water (also called Mannish Water) is far more mouthwatering.
It’s essentially a mutton stew featuring onions, carrots, and finely chopped peppers. And if you’re planning on stopping by Montserrat, you’ll find Goat Water on almost every menu! That’s because Goat Water is the national dish of Montserrat! It’s a flavorful representation of the nation’s unique Irish history and Caribbean location.
9. Spiced Plantains
Another simple snack readily available throughout the Caribbean are spiced plantains. That’s because plantain trees are everywhere throughout the Caribbean islands.
Brought to the Islands by Indian immigrants, plantains are a staple crop and make up a hefty portion of the Caribbean diet. Spiced plantains are sliced into potato-chip-like rounds and deep-fried until golden. Though crisp on the outside, they feature a soft center that’s slightly sweet. Often coated in onion and ginger powder, this meal is an ideal sweet and savory combination. These are also great snacks that you can make at home!
10. Trinidad Doubles
When walking the boulevards of Trinidad, it’s challenging to resist the savory scents wafting from streetside food carts. If you’re unsure which popular street food to try, it might be wise to start with Trinidad Doubles.
Typically served in a small pouch of wax paper, Trinidad Doubles are small sandwiches made of two pieces of soft fried bread. These rounds protect a soft spiced chickpea filling that’s flavored with garlic, salt, fresh herbs, and turmeric.
If you’re looking for a vegetarian alternative to fill your belly, you’ll want to pick up a few handfuls of Trinidad Doubles soon after arriving.
11. Pepper Pot
Pepper pot (sometimes spelled pepperpot) is a dish that’s popular throughout the whole of the Caribbean. You can find it in Jamaica, Guyana, the Bahamas, and almost every island in the Caribbean Sea.
Interestingly, this meal has a U.S. equivalent, called Philadelphia Pepper Pot. This American version comes directly from Caribbean immigrants and enslaved people who lived in Philadelphia during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
One of the reasons why Pepper Pot is such a popular dish is because it’s one of the most savory and filling Caribbean dinners. Made of sweet potatoes, cubed beef, onions, and garlic, it packs plenty of protein and nutrients into a delicious hearty stew. Though the Caribbean rarely experiences cold temperatures, you can prepare Pepper Pot at home when the weather is chilly to warm your body and transport your palate to tropical Caribbean climes.
12. Black Cake
Though white-floured angel cake might be a popular dessert in European countries, Black Cake is the go-to cake for those in the Caribbean.
It’s far denser than cakes served in the U.S. and part of Europe, and it’s also soaked in rum! Made of ground fruits like cherries, currants, and raisins, this cake has a naturally sweet flavor accentuated by its rum dressing.
Still, if you plan on enjoying dessert while visiting the Caribbean, be sure to order a small piece. Because this cake is far thicker than the fluffier cakes found in the U.S., a few bites are all it takes to fill you up.
13. Trinidadian Curry Chicken
Trinidadian curry chicken is a mouthwatering meal with notable Indian influences. It’s often served with a hefty portion of basmati rice, completing the dish’s distinctly Indian look and flavor profile.
Made with onions, garlic, potatoes, curry powder, and cilantro paste, the Trinidadian version has a slightly green hue that might be somewhat off-putting if you’re unfamiliar with Indian cuisine. We suggest adding a little coconut milk to make it a little creamier. But you’ll be glad to you ordered this dish after you take your first bite of tender, flavorful curried chicken.
14. La Bandera (national Dish)
La Bandera is one of the most popular dishes in the Dominican Republic. Its literal translation is “the flag” because it resembles the Dominican Republic’s flag, so it is no surprise that it is the country’s national dish.
If you have a robust appetite, you’ll love La Bandera. It features a bed of rice topped with seasoned kidney beans, sliced tomatoes, and a spiced side of meat.
The precise type of meat included in this dish varies, but the most popular options are often chicken or beef. The final result is a full plate that’s lovingly arranged to resemble the nation’s flag.
The Caribbean is home to several seafood-based and meat-based dishes. As a result, vegetarian visitors may not be sure which meals to try while visiting. Fortunately, Chapea is widely available and entirely meat-free.
Originating from the Dominican Republic, Chapea is a vegetable stew made of rice, onions, carrots, and cabbage. It also incorporates crushed tomatoes and butternut squash, and pinto beans. After chowing down on a bowl of Chapea, you’ll have enough energy to take on the day with confidence.
Jamaican Callaloo is a vegetarian dish of callaloo (a leafy green similar to collard greens), Scotch bonnet peppers, onions, and garlic. But don’t let these simple ingredients fool you!
Each bite of tender Jamaican Callaloo is bursting with flavor, partially thanks to the addition of tomatoes and fresh thyme leaves. To make Jamaican Callaloo, you’ll simply chop the ingredients, wash them, and add them to a hot skillet. After stirring these components for about ten minutes, you’ll be ready to plate and serve.
Because this dish doesn’t require a ton of preparation and cooks quickly, it’s a fantastic Caribbean dish to try when you’re short on time. Of course, getting your hands on callaloo might be challenging, but you can substitute kale or collard greens in a pinch.
Discover more delicious Jamaican Cuisine in our article Jamaican Food – 20 Traditional Dishes You Have to Try
The island of Haiti also lies in the Caribbean Sea, and its most famous dish might be Tchaka, a stew made of corn, red beans, and pig feet. As such, this dish is one of the most memorable meals you can experience when eating Caribbean dinners.
Seasoned with orange juice and bay leaves, the flavor of this dish is challenging to describe. This Haitian food is both savory and bitter, with hints of tropical flavors combined with earthy ingredients.
18. Jerk Chicken
Jamaican cuisine is typically hearty, filling, and spicy. These qualities are all hallmarks of one of the most popular Jamaican dishes, jerk chicken.
Jerk chicken is a type of grilled chicken that’s marinated in a thick mixture of spices, including onions, peppers, cloves, and chiles. These seasonings imbue the chicken with the most savory flavors of the Caribbean. It is usually served with a side of rice and peas.
19. Creole Bread
Sometimes, you want a simple snack that’s filling and tasty. If you find yourself yearning for a sweet and straightforward snack, you’ll want to try Creole Bread.
These fluffy buns are made with coconut milk and coconut oil, imbuing it with a distinctly tropical flavor profile that can brighten your day and wake up your tastebuds. Though these rolls are most popular in Jamaica and the Bahamas, you’ll likely find them available from street vendors throughout the Caribbean.
20. Tamarind Balls
Tamarind Balls look like tiny donut holes, and they’re one of the most popular Caribbean dessert options. As you might suspect, this sweet treat is made using tamarind, a peanut-like fruit of the tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica).
Tamarind trees made their way to Barbados several centuries ago, like the African baobab tree. Since that time, they’ve become a staple crop of Barbados, the Bahamas, and Jamaica.
Much like with bananas, the taste of tamarind depends on its ripeness. That said, tamarind is typically both sweet and bitter. For that reason, tamarind is often combined with sugar and coconut to diminish its sourness and highlight its natural sweetness. Tamarind balls are an excellent example of this practice.
To make tamarind balls, you’ll remove the shells covering the sweet tamarind, cover the dark fruit with sugar and coconut, then mush the fruit together to form small balls. You’ll then roll each ball across a shallow plate of sugar, giving each one a sugared coating. After that, they’re ready to enjoy!
Try Caribbean Food Today
Caribbean dishes are diverse and often feature European, Indian, and South American influences. But Caribbean food is also uniquely local, consisting of ingredients grown or harvested throughout the islands.
While you could try Caribbean food by visiting a local restaurant specializing in these traditional dishes, visiting the Caribbean is the best way to enjoy an authentic taste. No matter your specific destination, you’re bound to enjoy the fresh-caught fish and sweet fruits so prevalent in this region.