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Friday, June 9, 2023

The Secrets of the Caribbean Cuisine

How many restaurants of ethnic Caribbean food have you visited in West Palm Beach or nearby? This feature article will help you decide next time!

There are many restaurants in West Palm Beach, but in contrast to cities like Miami, Orlando or Tampa, we do not have a huge presence of Latin American or Caribbean Food restaurants. But out of all the ethnic food restaurants in the city, if you might wonder what the best restaurant is, this is yet a question without a single answer.

So today we want to mention some secrets of the Caribbean Cuisine, backgrounds and influences to get people ready to accept and enjoy a little bit more a melange of cultural effect in our beautiful West Palm Beach.

The Caribbean has seen many visitors from different continents for centuries, most of whom have stayed back and formed grand lineages. One of the greatest cultural impacts of this migration has been on the food. The islands in the Caribbean have been fought over and owned by various European powers in the past, mainly the British, French, and Spanish. All of these cultures, as well as their respective culinary traditions, have played a role in forming the multi-national cuisine of the Caribbean as it is nowadays.

The Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of African, Amerindian, European, East Indian, Arab and Chinese cuisine. The indigenous population of the Caribbean added their own touch as well.

When Columbus arrived in 1493, the Spaniards introduced other foods, notably coconut, chick-peas, cilantro, eggplant, onions, and garlic. European colonists, including the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, British, French, and the Swedes came later to the islands with their culinary trademarks. Some of the foods introduced by them were oranges, limes, mangoes, rice, and coffee.

Ingredients used in most of the Caribbean Cuisine food preparations

The Caribbean food has a distinct flavor and rich history. To decode its secrets, one must first give a respectful nod to the presence of its most vital ingredients: rice, plantains, beans, cassava, cilantro (coriander), bell peppers, chickpeas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and coconut among others. This blend creates flavors as vibrant as the colors of the islands themselves.

A peculiar seasoning tradition used in the region is based on green herbs and oil-based marinades called Mojo. Ingredients may include garlic, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, celery, green onions, and herbs like cilantro, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. Used for many dishes, this Mojo is by far one of the greatest secrets of Caribbean cuisine and it is worth your time.

Caribbean Cuisine is rarely oily and deep fried. Barbecue, Roast or Grill are the go-to choices most people prefer. Meat is dry-rubbed or wet-marinated with Mojo or hot spices as in the example of the Jerk food. The signature flavor of Jamaica and one of the Caribbean’s most famous dishes, jerk refers to a very spicy dry or wet rub applied to chicken or other meats. After absorbing the flavors, the meat is smoked and/or grilled to fiery perfection. Variations are many, with influences from Africa to Portugal to Latin America, but Jamaica’s Jerk Cuisine beats them all.

As the Caribbean is all about sandy beaches, azure sea, lively culture and balmy weather and traditional cuisine in the countries bathed by the Caribbean sea include seafood, chicken and steak; but the seafood is specially highly treasured. Regional seafood, and with so many delicious options to cook, creates only a challenge – deciding which one you like best. Seafood options are served grilled with butter and garlic, steamed, or boiled, and include spiny lobster, a clawless, warm-water crustacean also known as “langouste” or “rock lobster”, crayfish and shrimp. A delicacy is the conch. This sort of sea escargot comes in many different large sea snails that are housed in often beautiful shells. Something like a huge clam, the meat makes fabulous fritters – a staple in the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and cruise-ship ports everywhere in the islands. Conch also appears in salads, soups and stews.

Beans and legumes with their protein content make an appearance in almost every variation of soups, rice dishes and stews in most of the Caribbean Cuisines. Great in taste and protein value they also can keep you full for long. Kidney and lima beans, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, and other legumes are used in soups, stews, and rice dishes. Accra fritters, made from soaked black-eyed peas that are mashed, seasoned with pepper, and then fried, is a dish of West African origin similar to the Middle Eastern falafel. Sancocho is a hearty Caribbean stew made with vegetables, tubers, and meats.

Cuban Cuisine traditions use plenty of beans and legumes in their base dishes. One of the staples of the traditional Cuban cuisine is the Congri rice, a mixture of black beans and rice seasoned with garlic, onion, salt and other spices fried in oil in advance. Cuban Cuisine is based on chicken as one of the predominating meats. Craved by locals even decades after they’ve emigrated, Arroz Con Pollo (Chicken with Rice) is the ultimate island comfort food. Wildly popular where Spanish influences remain strong, this deceptively simple dish is a savory mix of flavors that include tomatoes, garlic, peppers and more.

The way the meat is marinated by Caribbean people is one of the secrets in their cuisine as well. The way of cooking in the Caribbean is one of the healthiest ever as they don’t require added oil or butter. This is because of the use of marinating the meat way in advance. The meat is also served with a gravy made out of the same meat while being stewed. One of the most famous is the goat stew, coming from islands like Aruba and Bonaire. They make a very hearty broth, a thin, clove-scented stew called goat water.

Coconut Milk is a magic ingredient in the Caribbean cuisine. Forget the use of heavy milk cream. The creamy flavorful texture is brought to the preparation by fresh coconut milk. Made from scratch extracting coconut pulp and mixing it with water, it adds body, taste and texture to food in a minute.

Fried Yucca and Cheese Balls
Fried Yucca (Fritters) and Cheese Balls are very popular items in Caribbean food restaurants

Food is a very important aspect of many family traditions and Caribbean culture. People from countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Trinidad just to mention a few, spend considerably longer times cooking than most millennials would frequently be used to. No wonder when you visit any of these ethnic food restaurants in West Palm Beach, you will find yourself at easy when your server takes time to explain what you are about to order in case you have questions, or when the chef roams around asking patrons what they think.

So next time you are out there trying new foods, take time to stop at a Caribbean food based restaurant in the city and try their favorite items in the menu such as: Ackee which is popular in dishes featuring salt-fish, onions, and hot peppers; Asopao, a famous Puerto Rican soup comprised of capers, olives, peas, ham, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, rice, and chicken; Boniato, a partially-sweet potato grown throughout the Caribbean, specially in Cuba; Curry, a spicy or very seasoned sauce that originally comes from India but very popular for chicken in Tobago, Trinidad, and Jamaica or Yuca, also called manioc or cassava which is very tasty whether fried, baked, or boiled.

Lots of people will tell you what a great meal the Caribbean cuisine is, especially in the age of the foodie. So Bon Appetit!

Learn a Few Facts about the Secrets of the Caribbean Cuisine, How the Food is Prepared, the Most Traditional Dishes and Reviews of Authentic Caribbean Foods


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WPB Magazine is a quarterly publication focusing on arts, entertainment, places of interest, things to do, and the latest news about West Palm Beach as a preferred travel destination and a great city to live and work in.

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