Cast­away cui­sine

A culi­nary tour of the Caribbean, where ev­ery­thing is served with a side of sun­shine

Food and Travel (UK) - - Contens -

We are go­ing to hold our hands up and con­fess that we have a bit of an ob­ses­sion with these is­lands. The Caribbean is among the very few des­ti­na­tions that can make an office full of travel jour­nal­ists stop what they are do­ing and go all doe-eyed. Whether it’s an im­age of white sand be­ing gen­tly lapped by peri­win­kle blue wa­ter or a beach bar­be­cue heav­ing with smoky meats and en­cir­cled by frosty beers, the Caribbean has the kind of al­lure that you just don’t find with other places – particularly when we are in the midst of Jan­uary’s ice-cold clutches.

Few places on Earth have had such a tur­bu­lent his­tory. In 1975, when Bob Mar­ley fa­mously sang the lyrics: ‘In this bright fu­ture you can’t for­get your past’, Bar­ba­dos, the Ba­hamas, Ja­maica and Tobago had just de­clared in­de­pen­dence af­ter five cen­turies of Euro­pean rule. His was the voice of pos­i­tiv­ity in a re­gion that was fi­nally be­gin­ning to take shape.

Af­ter Colom­bus’s first voyage in the 15th cen­tury, the Span­ish em­pire swal­lowed up most of the is­lands, ex­ter­mi­nat­ing the na­tive Arawak pop­u­la­tion. Then Sir Fran­cis Drake ar­rived in 1585 with a pen­chant for Span­ish gold. Thus be­gan al­most 300 years of Euro­pean squab­bling. The Bri­tish and French snatched St Lu­cia from each other 14 times and the Dutch colonised more than 13 is­lands. It was only when the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion weak­ened the Em­pire that Bri­tain’s power over its eight Caribbean colonies showed the first signs of re­lent­ing.

It was a time of pil­lag­ing and piracy, with buc­ca­neers such as François le Clerc (Peg Leg) and Ed­ward Teach (Black­beard) ter­ror­is­ing swathes of the ocean. Vast sugar plan­ta­tions kept Euro­pean palates sweet, while 12.5 mil­lion African slaves were shipped to this New World to toil in hor­rific con­di­tions. Their de­scen­dents make up the ma­jor­ity of the is­lands’ pop­u­la­tion today.

This is the cul­tural ta­pes­try from which Caribbean cui­sine has emerged, draw­ing on Euro­pean tech­niques with sun­shine flavours. How about jerk chicken spiked with Scotch bon­net pep­pers and smoked over the wood of pi­mento trees? Or deep-fried dumplings with salt fish stew? Maybe rum en­riched with cin­na­mon, aniseed, nut­meg and sea moss? The French legacy is cre­ole and the Bri­tish are re­spon­si­ble for hearty meals: po­ta­toes and pineap­ple up­side-down cake. African in­flu­ences make them­selves known in the preva­lence of one-pot fish or meat stews, bulked out with christophenes (squash-like savoury fruit), dasheen (taro) and bread­fruit.

With such a frac­tured past, and ge­og­ra­phy vary­ing from tufts of vol­canic rock in St Barts to rolling fruit tree or­chards in Ja­maica, the nu­ances of the in­di­vid­ual food scenes are just as fas­ci­nat­ing. Let us guide you around seven of the best.

Home to a more var­ied culi­nary cul­ture than you’d imag­ine, there’s more to the Caribbean than pris­tine beaches and wall-to-wall sun­shine (though it cer­tainly helps). Imogen Lepere looks at the is­lands where food is life and al­ways served with a smile

Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: a farm worker with bread­fruit; St Lu­cia’s Pi­tons; a C’est La Vie villa on St Lu­cia; lob­ster siz­zles on the grill; a favourite tip­ple; a bot­tle of Cap Mai­son rum; lo­cally made cho­co­late; co­coa beans; ripe pods; vis­it­ing the green­gro­cer. This page: the invit­ing jade waters of St Lu­cia

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