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Caribbean Food: 15 Dishes You Need to Try

Must Try

Soft sandy beaches, crystal blue waters, and a tropical climate. These are the first things that come to mind when people think of the Caribbean.
Millions of tourists flock to the Caribbean islands every year to seek sun and surf, but one draw that shouldn’t be overlooked is the food. From Jamaican jerk chicken to cou cou and flying fish in Barbados, there are plenty of things to look forward to in the Caribbean other than sipping cocktails and getting your tan on.
If trying the local cuisine is one of the best things you enjoy about travel, then be sure to look for these fifteen delicious Caribbean dishes on your next trip to the West Indies.

If you’re visiting the West Indies and want to learn more about Caribbean cuisine, then you may be interested in joining a food tour.

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The Caribbean refers to a subregion in the Americas that lies in and around the Caribbean Sea. Also referred to as the West Indies, it consists of over 700 islands that lie southeast of the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.
Similar to the “Balkans“, the term “Caribbean” can have different meanings depending on how its used. Geographically, the Caribbean consists of 13 sovereign states and 12 island territories but some definitions may include a few Central and South American mainland nations as well due to their cultural and political ties to the region.
Not counting the dependencies and mainland countries, the Caribbean consists of the following island nations:
Antigua and BarbaduaBahamasBarbadosCubaDominicaDominican RepublicGrenadaHaitiJamaicaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesTrinidad and Tobago
Due to its history of colonization and migration, Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of culinary influences, most notably West African, European, Amerindian, Latin American, South Asian, and Chinese. The cuisines vary from island to island but they do share many common characteristics and ingredients like rice, beans, plantains, root vegetables, coconut milk, fresh herbs, peppers, and spices.
Engulfed by the sea, seafood features prominently in Caribbean cuisine. Fish, shrimp, crab, and conch meat make their way into many dishes as do land-based proteins like chicken, goat, and pork. To a lesser extent, beef is also used.
Like many Latin American countries, Caribbean food is hearty and comforting. Made with protein-rich seafood or meats, starchy vegetables, legumes, and grains, many dishes are slow-cooked for hours to create nourishing family-style meals that leave you feeling full and satisfied.
A list of fifteen is hardly exhaustive but here are a few interesting dishes to whet your appetite before your next trip to the Caribbean.
1. Jerk Chicken (National Dish of Jamaica!)
There’s no better way to start this list than with jerk chicken, arguably the most well-known dish from the Caribbean. It’s the pride and joy of Jamaica where it’s considered the country’s national dish.
The term “jerk” refers to a style of cooking that entails dry-rubbing or wet-marinating meat – typically chicken or pork – with a hot spice mixture. Called Jamaican jerk spice, its key ingredients are scotch bonnet peppers and allspice but it’s typically made with other ingredients as well like garlic, thyme, cloves, cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg.

Photo by Brent Hofacker

2. Ackee and Saltfish
Like jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish is considered a Jamaican national dish. As its name suggests, it’s made with two principal ingredients – ackee (soapberry fruit native to West Africa) and salted codfish.
Ackee and saltfish is a relatively simple dish to prepare. Salt cod is sauteed with boiled ackee, hot pepper, tomato, onion, and different vegetables before being seasoned with black pepper. It’s typically served for breakfast though it can be enjoyed at any time of the day with different side dishes like deep-fried plantains, boiled green bananas, dumplings, and breadfruit.

Photo by CKP1001

3. Callaloo
Callaloo refers to a Caribbean stew made with leafy greens as its principal ingredient. Popular throughout the Caribbean where it can be made in a number of ways, this leafy stew is often enjoyed as a side dish though it can be eaten for breakfast as well.
The term “callaloo” can be confusing because it describes both the stew and the leafy vegetable used to make it. In Jamaica, it’s made with the callaloo plant (Amaranthus viridis) while in other countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, or Grenada, it’s made with other leafy greens like taro and water spinach, though the dish is still referred to as “callaloo”.
Recipes for callaloo vary throughout the Caribbean (some use coconut milk) but the one constant is that leafy greens are always the star of the dish. In Trinidad and Tobago, it’s considered a national dish.

Photo by Content zilla

4. Sada Roti
Fans of Indian food will likely recognize this next dish. Sada roti is the Caribbean version of chapati which was brought to the islands by indentured Indian laborers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Unlike chapati, sada roti isn’t usually made with ghee. It’s especially popular in Trinidad and Tobago where it’s consumed as a staple dish with curries, stewed meat, and vegetables.

Photo by Santhosh Varghese

5. Cuban Pizza
Like sada roti, Cuban pizza is an example of how Caribbean cuisine has been influenced through the centuries by waves of migration. Brought to Cuba by Italian immigrants and then popularized by Cuban migrants to Miami, this type of pizza differs from the Italian original in subtle ways.
Cuban pizzas are typically smaller, about the diameter of a small plate. The dough is more plump and topped with a tomato sauce that’s a bit sweeter in flavor. Unlike Neaopiltan pizzas, Cuban pizzas are also made with two types of cheese – mozzarella and gouda.
The example below shows the pizza topped with a few ingredients but many Cuban pizza makers will bake the toppings into the pie, sealing them to the crust with a layer of melted cheese.
Cuban pizzas are a popular street food that’s typically folded in half and eaten on the go. Ham, pepperoni, and pineapple are common ingredients though they can be made with more Cuban ingredients as well like picadillo and deep-fried plantains.

Photo by Nixy Jungle

6. Haitian Spaghetti
Haitian spaghetti refers to a popular comfort food made with boiled spaghetti noodles tossed in a pan with tomato sauce (or ketchup), onions, garlic, and hot dogs (or Vienna sausages or herring). What makes it interesting is that it isn’t consumed for lunch or dinner as you’d expect. Instead, it’s traditionally eaten for breakfast in Haiti.
Like Cuban pizza, Haitian spaghetti demonstrates how Caribbean food has been shaped over the centuries by foreign influences. Though you’d assume this dish was brought to Haiti by Italian immigrants, it’s actually a product of American imperialism.
Similar to the influence American troops had on the cuisines of the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, Haitian spaghetti was born thanks to American soldiers bringing processed foods like Italian-style pasta, SPAM, hot dogs, and Vienna sausages into the country.
How Haitian spaghetti came to be a breakfast dish is less clear, but the most accepted explanation is that it’s simply an easy, inexpensive, and filling dish to prepare in the mornings.

Photo by Sancheznews

7. Bake and Shark
The snappy-sounding bake and shark refers to a type of sandwich made with seasoned shark meat served in fried bread (bake) with fresh vegetables and condiments. It’s a hugely popular street food dish that’s sold at food stalls throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo by KBYC photography

8. Soup Joumou
If you have a curiosity for dishes with significant cultural importance, then soup joumou is something you need to try in Haiti. A type of pumpkin soup – joumou means “pumpkin” in Creole – it’s a dish that’s typically consumed on January 1st to celebrate Haiti’s independence from French colonial rule.
Soup joumou is made with winter squashes that are sliced and then simmered with beef (or other meats), soup bones, potatoes, vegetables, pasta, lime juice, fresh herbs, and spices. After the squash has softened from cooking, it’s pureed before being returned to the saucepan. When ready, soup joumou is typically served with bread that’s dipped into the soup.
Soup joumou was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2021. Aside from being a tasty and filling dish, it’s also a symbol of resilience and freedom for the Haitian people.

Photo by AS Foodstudio

9. Poulet en Sauce
French speakers will know that poulet en sauce literally means “chicken in sauce” and refers to a type of chicken stew popular in Haiti. It’s made with bone-in chicken simmered in a rich tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic, bell peppers, scotch bonnet peppers, fresh herbs, and spices.
A comforting and filling dish, poulet en sauce is usually served with a starchy staple like rice, fried plantains, or root vegetables.

Photo by AS Foodstudio

10. Flying Fish and Cou Cou
Flying fish and cou cou is the national dish of Barbados. It consists of two main ingredients – flying fish that’s either fried or steamed and cou cou, a type of polenta-like porridge made from cornmeal and okra.
Flying fish are a staple ingredient in Barbadian cuisine. They can be cooked in different ways but they’re best when seasoned with lime juice and fried till golden brown, or steamed in banana leaves with herbs, spices, and aromatics.

11. Fungee and Pepper Pot
Fungee and pepper pot may sound like a peppery one-pot mushroom stew but it’s far from it. The national dish of Antigua and Barbuda, this two-component dish consists of fungee, a cornmeal-based porridge similar to cou cou, and pepper pot, a type of slow-cooked meat stew made with beef or pork, different vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Photo by Fanfo

12. Arroz con Gandules
Arroz con gandules literally means “rice with pigeon peas” and refers to a popular Puerto Rican dish made with long-grain rice, pigeon peas, sofrito, annatto oil, and some type of meat like ham, bacon, salchichon, or chorizo.
A national dish of Puerto Rico, it’s commonly prepared during the Christmas season or for special occasions, usually as a side dish with grilled meats like pernil, pollo asado, or carne guisada.

Photo by Damaris Zoe

13. Tamarind Balls
Tamarind balls are a popular sweet-and-sour snack in many countries throughout the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. They’re made with tamarind pulp and sugar mixed with more flavorings like hot pepper, citrus zest, and vanilla.
I used to love these as a kid, and I still do. Pop one in your mouth, suck the sugar away, and then chew on the soft texture of the sweet and sour tamarind ball. Like all-natural Sour Patch Kids!

Photo by Yessi Frenda

14. Hummingbird Cake
Travelers from the southern United States will be familiar with this next dessert. Hummingbird cake refers to an airy sponge cake made with bananas and pineapples blended with chopped walnuts, pecans, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. It’s especially popular in the American south where it’s often referred to as a “Southern Classic”.
But did you know that the hummingbird cake actually has its roots in Jamaica? Originally known as “Dr Bird cake”, it was named after the island’s national bird – the swallow-tailed hummingbird – which is known colloquially as “Dr Bird”.
In the 1960s, the Jamaica Tourist Board used the island’s fruits to create a cake to promote Jamaica’s flavors to the world, and so the hummingbird cake was born.

Photo by Lilly Trott

15. Rum Cake
Last but certainly not least on this list is rum cake, a classic holiday dessert in the Caribbean. Also known as “black cake“, it refers to a dark boozy cake made with dried fruits that have been soaked in rum for weeks, even months. It’s similar to a fruitcake but with a lighter texture.
Rum cake is a popular dessert that’s commonly prepared to celebrate Christmas, weddings, and other special occasions in the Caribbean.

There is so much delicious food to be discovered in the Caribbean that this brief introduction doesn’t begin to scratch the surface.
If you like hearty stews, then stewed salt fish (salted cod), ropa vieja, and chivo guisado (stewed goat meat) are three more dishes you may want to look for. If fritters and beer are your thing, then you should definitely try salt fish or conch fritters.
There are too many delicious dishes to talk about so we’ll end it here. This is far from an exhaustive list but we do hope that it whets your appetite and gets you even more excited to visit the Caribbean.
Have a great time and don’t forget to pack the sunscreen!
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Cover photo by Brent Hofacker. Stock images via Shutterstock.

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