Fancy tucking into some ‘léchon asado’ or drinking ‘ti-punch’? The Caribbean bursts with flavours to be enjoyed everywhere, from castaway beach bars to top-end restaurants
The Caribbean’s exhilarating cookup of cultures is reflected in its diverse food and drink specialities.
Fertile soil, a plentiful ocean, abundant sunshine and varied terrains mean island chefs have ready access to a wide choice of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood.
Organic farms are common throughout the Caribbean, and a heritage of using spices and locally sourced produce – not to mention a love of hot sauces – means menus invariably reflect the native culture. Historic culinary influences from Africa, Europe, Latin America, India and the UK are obvious, along with modern concerns such as healthy eating, sustainability and providence.
Spices are a staple of Caribbean cuisine, particularly in Grenada, where nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves are grown commercially. In Jamaica, they are rubbed onto meat and chicken then barbecued as jerk, while roti – flatbread wrapped around curried meat and vegetables – is popular in St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. Rice and beans are frequently eaten in Haiti and Belize, and stews are widely popular – meat is the core ingredient in the spicy ‘goatwater’ of Montserrat, while saltfish is used to create the national dish of St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Jamaica. In low-lying, beach-fringed destinations such as Anguilla, The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos, the bounty of the sea is to the fore, with fresh tuna, mahi mahi, conch and spiny lobster common on restaurant menus.
From posh to party
Whether you want to dine with sand in your toes while listening to a live band, or strap on your best heels and sip an elegant cocktail, the Caribbean can deliver. Nothing is more free and welcoming than the roadside barbecue held every Friday night by the ‘Water Department’ on Nevis. On Saint-martin, Grand Case is a packed strip of beachside lolos (barbecue stalls) and gourmet restaurants serving French Caribbean dishes; while in Cuba, Havana’s paladares (private restaurants) offer inventive dishes in a homely setting.
The smartest dining out experiences are often found in hotels: in Grenada, Gary Rhodes oversees the restaurant at the upscale Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel, which recently joined the haute cuisine-focused Relais & Chateaux collection, while at The Cliff at Cap, in the Cap Maison resort on Saint Lucia, the French West Indian-inspired dishes include roast bouillabaisse and pineapple and coconut soufflé.
Rum is the signature tipple of the Caribbean – it’s at the heart of the ubiquitous rum punch. Premiumaged rums for sipping are becoming increasingly popular, too, so do take
the opportunity to try one… or two!
Barbados is considered the birthplace of what was once known as ‘rumbullion’, and its Mount Gay Distillery dates back to 1703. Much of the molasses used today comes from Guyana, but there are still small-scale producers that use locally grown sugar cane, such as Macoucherie on Dominica and River Antoine in Grenada (in action since 1785).
In Martinique, where rhum agricole is produced directly from crushed sugar cane, you can follow a self-guided Route des Rhums covering 12 distilleries, while in Haiti, tours can be arranged of the Barbancourt Rum Distillery. Some hotels take a special interest in rum, such as Itz’ana Resort and Residences in Belize which has a ‘rummelier’ offering tastings, and the Four Seasons Resort Nevis on Nevis which has the 101 Rum Bar, boasting over a hundred different bottles.
Guavaberry is the National Rum Liqueur of St. Maarten, made right on Front Street in historical Philipsburg. The factory offers free tasting samples.
In Curaçao, try the eponymous local flavoured liqueur. Made with the dried peel of the Laraha citrus, its bright blue hue makes it hard to miss.
There’s a festival for that!
Barely a month goes by when there isn’t some kind of celebration of Caribbean cuisine taking place. In January 2018, Saint Lucia launched an inaugural Rum and Food Festival; while Anthony Bourdain was one of the headline chefs at the annual Cayman Cook Out held at the RitzCarlton Grand Cayman resort in the Cayman Islands. Puerto Rico holds its Maricao Coffee Festival every February and in Anguilla, the Festival del Mar (March) includes awards for the best prepared seafood dishes. Chocoholics won’t want to miss the Grenada Chocolate Festival (May), while barbecue-lovers should head for the Portland Jerk Festival (July) in Jamaica. Tobago stages a Blue Food Festival (October) that celebrates dasheen, a root crop that turns blue on cooking, while on Turks & Caicos, there’s a popular Conch Festival (November). The same month also sees the Anegada Lobster Festival in the British Virgin Islands and a Food and Rum Festival in Barbados. •
Barbados is considered the birthplace of rum and was once known as ‘rumbillion’. Its Mount Gay Distillery dates back to 1703. Much of the molasses used today comes from Guyana
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