Caribbean islands were first of all inhabited by The Arawak, Carib, and the Taino Indians. These inhabited the present day British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad, and Jamaica. And what they ate at that time? They ate mainly vegetables and fruits like yams, guavas, papaw, and cassava. The Taino were the ones who actually begun the tradition of cooking meat and fish in large clay pots.
If you ever thought about the word barbeque, let us take you to the history of this word. The Arawaks were the first people who used thin green wood strips to make a grate. They used to cook meat on it slowly to let the flavor of wood get added to it. And this grate was called a barbacoa which is the origin of the word barbeque.
And if you think that spice is what makes food worthwhile, well you should have eaten what the Carib Indians used to eat. They added more and more spice to their food with hot pepper sauces, lemon and lime juices to their meat and fish. It is believed that they were the ones who made the first pepper pot stew. What is interesting to note here is that there are no recipes of the food that they prepared because they always used to add new ingredients to their food. The impact of Carib could be understood from the fact that Caribbean Sea was named after this tribe.
And when Europeans brought Africans as slaves to Caribbean islands, they ate whatever their masters let them eat or what they themselves didn’t want to eat. So, they had to be a little ingenious and they mixed traditional African foods with what they found on the islands. So, they introduced callaloo, fish cakes, okra, saltfish, ackee, pudding, and souse, and mangoes and a lot more.
As of now, Caribbean food reflects the food habits of original African dishes. It still includes sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, plantains, corn meal, and bananas. African men used to be very good hunters and they used to cook spicy pork over hot coals. The same habit was adopted by early slaves in Jamaica. Today we call this technique as “jerk cooking" and it is meat cooking slowly. So, still now, Jamaica is famous for jerk chicken and pork.
And when Europeans went to India and China, more and more cooking styles were introduced. The Chinese are credited with introducing rice which has turned out to be the staple diet here. Chinese also introduced mustard and Portuguese introduced codfish.
One could also look at the curried meats and curry powder as their gifts. They call it kari podi and we termed it as curry. It is also a surprising fact that most of the fruits that are common to these islands were actually introduced by the early Spanish explorers. Some of the fruits they introduced include grapes, tamarind, coconuts, orange, lime, plantains, date palms, figs, and sugar cane.
James Penn runs a highly informative Caribbean website which details exactly how to find Caribbean beach resorts and also the ten best activities in the Caribbean for families and couples alike.