CARIBBEAN FOOD IS A HEARTY BLEND OF PASSION, JOY, ROBUST INGREDIENTS
AND AN ENDEARING CULTURE,
THE CULTURE OF FOOD IS NOW A GLOBAL CONCEPT. I JUST HOPE WE DON’T LOSE TRACK OF OUR OWN DISTINCT CULTURES AND TRADITIONS AS BORDERS DISAPPEAR AND WE BECOME PART OF A GLOBAL COMMUNITY WHERE FOOD BECOMES A SHARED EXPERIENCE.
Food is a reflection of culture--much more so in the Caribbean than in most other regions of the world. When slaves were shipped from Africa to America and the Caribbean plantations, they brought with them their African culinary styles. After slavery was abolished throughout the Caribbean, the plantations sought out cheap labour. Those new workers came primarily from China and India. And so the island cuisine came to be a fantastic fusion of East Indian, Chinese and African styles that endure even today.
The proportion of ingredients–and thus the flavour and texture of the dishes--varies from island to island. As a whole, the Caribbean way of preparing flavourful, natural ingredients and the resulting robust cuisine, is unique. Hardy, healthy and spicy, it is the way of the islands and reflects who they are.
With its hybrid style, this is a far from fancy style of food and dining. It’s all about the passion. Just thinking back to Trinidad and the street food makes me hungry; and I just had dinner! Curried goat in a dhal poori, fried bread and curried chick peas, bake and shark, conch ceviché, Bahamian fried conch, stew mutton, salt fish fritters, tania fritters, breadfruit of the sort brought from Africa, jerk chicken from Jamaica, curried beef patties, fried plantain, rum cake from Barbados… I could go on and on but in deference to your palate I shall refrain.
I’ve been really fortunate that all the places I’ve worked and lived in have been able to offer me incredible culinary experiences. But if I had to choose one as being the most enlightening, it would be Goa. While travelling around India after my stints in the Caribbean I came to better realise how certain cuisines could transit the globe and connect the peoples and cultures of distant lands; Goan food has the ability to do exactly that.
The culture of food is now a global concept. I just hope we don’t lose track of our own distinct cultures and traditions as borders disappear and we become part of a global community.
In some respects we are lessening the integrity of traditional dishes when we try to make them too fancy and complex. We need to remember that things were done in a certain way for centuries for a reason: because it worked and that very way of preparation was a component of its culture. To be true to the dish is to stay true to the culture, to recreate something authentic.
Bastardising traditional foods and neglecting the history and the tradition of long-established and long-venerated recipes is increasingly common. That said, I see nothing wrong with improving dishes with
the use of superior ingredients and modern cooking techniques. The goal is to do so while maintaining what may be called the integral lineage of the dish.
My own food heritage recalls a recipe my grandfather prepared for family dinners back when I was a small child-a beer-braised sailor’s beef stew. Another, a dish from my grandmother’s repertoire, was a sort of Swedish rice porridge. What I see now is that food has gone full circle. Old becomes new and less is more. Precision cooking and emphasis on the quality of raw product is more important than ever before and keeping things clean is key. By clean I mean a sort of conceptual elegance; a functional and attractive simplicity in the composition and presentation of a dish.
I love all good foods and all good wine. And I’m always in search of the best of a particular style and a particular cuisine. Invariably, the most exciting and enjoyable new dishes I come across are prepared by a not-so-famous chef in a no-name restaurant–or in a night market in Southeast Asia, a street in India, a food stall in the Caribbean, even a hot dog stand in New York. You never know where you’ll find your next incredible meal or your next mind-blowing glass of wine. All you can do is keep travelling, eating, drinking and experimenting.
Over the years, the single greatest discovery came to me in the realisation of how important it is to break bread together. Enjoying good food and good wine binds people together and maintains harmony in friendships and family. Instead of fine dining it is now fun dining; sharing is caring, white table cloths are gone and a good wine selection is essential. Cocktails are back in style and a good bartender is, indeed, a true mixologist.
And, when it comes to Caribbean food which is so close to my heart, I realise that I feel strongly about it because it reflects the true grit of the islanders. You can really get a feel of what went on in the past, just by considering the food and drink they present. If you are lucky to spend some time here, eating, drinking and imbibing their way of life, you will come away a happier individual, as its warmth and culture pervades your life. Chef Andersson is executive chef at The Datai, Langkawi, a fivestar resort located in Malaysia.
AUTHENTIC CARIBBEAN MEAT CURRY WHICH BLENDS INDIAN, AFRICAN AND CHINESE TASTES.