How The Caribbean Got Its Color & Taste

Learn more about the color and flavor of the Caribbean

Join Us for Caribbean Restaurant Week June 18-25th 2017

All of the Color & Flavor of The Caribbean Right Here in NYC

How The Caribbean Got Its Color & Taste

Did you know that the Caribbean islands were colonized by the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Dutch? Some islands traded hands several times in their history as European nations fought to expand their influence and wealth. British traditions like baked ham, turkey, plum pudding (fruit-cake or rum cake) became staples in Caribbean homes for Christmas. When sugar was king, the crop was a hugely viable commodity for the British who forced Africans into slavery to work the sugarcane plantations.

The African ethnic group thus formed the largest part of the population of most of the Caribbean islands and their culture and heritage are the most prevalent in the region as a whole. Use of root crops such as cassava, eddoes (taro), and dasheen, yams, and plantains from kitchen gardens supplemented by the prolific breadfruit from trees all over the island. Oh the Coo-coo, callaloo, ackee, pepperpot and oil-down!

 

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What could be home-raised, hunted or fished made for delicious ingredients. They made use of the bounty of land and sea as well, as dried coconuts were used in candy, breadfruit from island trees as a staple, and conch, shrimp, fish, prepared in a variety of mouth-watering ways. Even the anise-flavored “mauby” from the bark of trees in Haiti made for a delicious and cooling beverage while the piles of crimson sorrel (from the hibiscus family) in the markets heralded Christmas and the seasonal drink.

After Emancipation was proclaimed, many of the former slaves in the larger islands refused to work for wages on the plantations. The British sought alternate paid labor, recruiting Europeans and Chinese. These efforts failed as the new immigrants could not adapt to the climate and field work. Some succumbed to illness, returned to their native country but a few made their home in the islands. The Portuguese “Bacalao” or salted fish form part of the bake and saltfish, and “accra” (salted fish fritter).

British colonial eyes turned to India and soon hundreds of Indians seeking their fortune piled onto the sailing ships to make their way to the Caribbean, primarily Trinidad and Guyana. Most of the Indian immigrants remained in these islands and make up almost half the population in Trinidad and Guyana. With the Indians came the curries, “talkaries” and spices like cumin, coriander and masala and delicious ways to prepare goat, duck, and vegetables.

Syrian and Lebanese people, fleeing the turmoil in their homelands, also made their way to some of these islands, bringing hummus, tabbouleh, and kibbies among others. Cantonese and Szechuan style Chinese food are also part of the Caribbean smorgasbord. Though these ethnic groups are less than 5% of the overall population, you can find a few Chinese restaurants in almost every town in the larger islands.

Quite the heritage, and what a culinary feast awaits you!