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Caribbean Food: Much Variation from Island to Island?

I'm no expert on Caribbean cuisine, but from what I've seen, there isn't a great deal of variation from island to island. The food in Guadeloupe is apt to be pretty similar to what you'll find in St. Vincent. You'll eat similarly in Barbados as you will in the Caymans.

Again, I'm not an expert and am happy to be proved wrong in my view.

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  1. Been a long time but I spent many years cooking on sailboats in the grenadines. I think the french islands had the better markets and restaurants and the english islands were pretty similar based on the fish and local vegetables. I remember when provisioning for the boat there were certain things that were specific to an island or a market but it's been way to long to remember those items. I do remember very crispy peanuts sold in green beer bottles and passionfruit syrup sold in old rum bottles in grenada - both bring back good food memories:).

    1. Way over generalization and flat out wrong. Islands were settled by english, french, spanish, dutch, etc. Then they often traded hands. Results in very different food. Food on St Barts is not remotely like what you get in the BVI which is way different than Puerto Rico. There are some things that cross over with local variations. Like codfish fritters, but the same can be said of many cuisines. I'm kind of stunned by your statement. Do you think all european food is pretty much the same? You expect to find the same food in Madrid, Paris and London? I suppose you could probably eat the same in all 3 places if you wanted to, but that would take a conscious decision to do that. Hang out in the basic tourist places and they all have burgers and pizza. But that is not the local food.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Bkeats

        Take a deep breath and do some limin' keats.

        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          I'm easy mon. How many islands have you been to? I've been to PR many many times for business. An old girlfriend's family had a house in the Bahamas (not technically in the Caribbean but I think most people include it) so went fairly regularly. I've been to several of the French islands numerous times. Sailed a lot out of the USVi, BVI, St Martin, Anguilla, St Kitts, Nevis, etc. Basically have gone at least once a year since I was in college. Food varies a lot. Some common themes since they are islands and were dependent on the sea, but there are significant differences. For example, there are lolos all over St Martin. They serve grilled ribs, chicken with sides that would easily be compared to American soul food. 10 miles to the southeast is St Bart's where you won't find a lolo anywhere and grilled ribs in that style are rare. It's French creole style cooking. You do find some of that in SXM because the island is half French, but my point is that islands separated by small distances went their own way with food. If you're familiar with the old Time Life cookbooks of the world series, you should check the book on Caribbean food. It highlights the differences between many of e islands. I hate over generalizations based on a little experience. But as I said first, I'm easy mon.

          1. re: Bkeats

            Well that's a little more like it. At least you provided some information.

            Now that said, I never generalized at all. I asked a question and hazarded a very guarded and conditional opinion. What's more, even if I had asserted that Caribbean food is all the same, that's not really a criticism. Hence, it's hardly the same as saying the food is bad.

            As to my actual Caribbean experience, I've only been to St. Kitts and Nevis. And while in SKN I had quite possibly the best fish I've ever eaten--grilled snapper at the Fisherman's Wharf on the outskirts of Basseterre. I was basing my supposition on fairly extensive Internet research. Based on that research, it seems to me that there are far more culinary commonalities from island to island than differences. But again, I'm willing to learn and have that supposition disproved.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              I suggest you look at callaloo. It is a soup that is common to many islands. Even though its called the same thing and its a soup, the contrast between islands is huge. Like chowder. Compare Manhattan to New England to Rhode Island chowders. They're all clam chowders but the results are very different.

              1. re: Bkeats

                Interesting, Bkeats! We are frequent travelers to Jamaica (which no no way makes us experts on their traditional cuisine, though we DO love to eat there), and whenever we are served callaloo, it is a sauteed or braised leafy green. Wonderful as a side or in omelets etc. Now I'll have to search out the soup!

                1. re: iowagirl

                  It can range from something thats almost gravy like and eaten as a side to something more like a traditional soup. The name is applied to both the plants and the dish, though its can be different plants too.

                  1. re: iowagirl

                    Callaloo like Jerk and salt fish cakes has now appeared on Caribbean menus from Miami to Belize.
                    Crab and Callaloo is Trinidad's national dish and has always been my favorite, as Bkeats indicated is can take many forms and be a main or side dish.
                    In TT we make it from Bhaji or Dasheen leaves which is from the Taro plant but the best ones we could pick wild along river sides which is supposedly bigger and sweeter. Cleaned ,deribbed and boiled with coconut milk,okra,thyme,scotch bonnet peppers and sometimes salted pig tail or hocks. It's then broken down with a "Swizzle stick, which looks like the old Spanish utensil used to thicken hot chocolate and then quartered Creole or Mangrove crab is added along with the ever present Green seasoning, another whole Scotch bonnet pepper is left to float, covered and eventually served as a thick,savory and very spicy soup or even over rice.

          2. The differences probably seem minor, at least form the outside, but from the INSIDE I bet you will hear a lot of differences in opinion about what is "good" and "right". My husband is from Jamaica, and my mom from Nevis, and our differences about "peas and rice" vs "rice and peas" are heated debates Similar idea around say, bajan hot sauce, or how much codfish in a "fritter" vs "cake". Puerto Rico has some unique things as well. If you look at who ruled them when, and where the Islands fall, it is reasonable to expect different influences.

            1. Oh and don't get me started on the rums. Buy a bunch of rums from the different islands. Makes sure to get rhum agricoles from the French islands. Taste them side by side and see how pronounced different islands make their rums from the same sugar cane.

              1. Sorry, but I can't stop. Even apart from the colonial and african influences, add in the some asian to the mix, and things get really interesting. There's the chinese community in Cuba that resulted in Cuban Chinese restaurants being the rage in NYC in the early '90s. There's the east Indian influences in Trinidad and Tobago which makes food from there very different than most other former english colonies. The wife and I have visiting every caribbean island as a goal. Want to see the different geography, beaches and sample the food. Remember the islands range from places like tiny Bequia to Cuba. Bequia is so small that you can't grow much there. Cuba is as large as many states. Cattle is raised in Jamaica so there's more beef used there. Smaller islands will use more goat and pork. Get out there and explore more island food. I know you will be pleasantly surprised.