If you see yourself as a culinary fan who has tasted foods from all over the world but has not yet explored Caribbean dishes, are you really a true culinary fan? In Caribbean culture, food is an integral aspect of life with many people spending days upon days preparing their food.
Over the years, many countries have contested the Caribbean islands and, in the process, bestowed upon the islands myriad exotic ingredients to work with. This, along with their love of cooking, has allowed a spectrum of flavour that is impossible to describe. Not only this, each and every island has its own distinctive dishes and cooking techniques allowing a world of flavour concentrated in a comparatively small collection of islands. As Brits we are lucky, being one of the few cultures to have Caribbean food brought straight to our doorstep, starting with the Windrush immigration over 70 years ago.
I saw myself as being one of the lucky few growing up fortunate enough to live nearby an authentic Caribbean restaurant located in Abbey Mills, Merton, known as Ting ‘N’ Ting. In 2002, Garfield Davidson (an award-winning Grenadian chef) opened Ting ‘N’ Ting with the aim of introducing Caribbean foods to as many people in the UK as possible.
After first visiting Ting ‘N’ Ting with my parents and sister for my 7th birthday in 2006, we would return, normally for one of our birthdays, many times. From that very first visit, not only did we find the food to be delicious, but Garfield also always made us feel like we were part of his family. While our food was being barbecued outside, after being marinated for days, or finished off in the Pot, I would join the local men for a game of dominoes and sing along to Reggae, Ska and other traditional Caribbean music. One year when we when we visited, I had broken my arm. They all fussed around me telling me that the food will make me feel better, and it did. As the years went on, we noticed that Ting ‘N’ Ting became more popular. Where we used to go into a mostly empty restaurant with only my family and the locals inside, it was now brimming with life. As well as hiring more staff, they extended the shack to include an outdoor seating area too.
Back then, when it came to Caribbean food, choices were few and far between, but now there are a huge range of restaurants & takeaway places to choose from, with the majority of these having opened in the past 10 years or so. From many visits to Ting ‘N’ Ting over the years, I’ve learned what good Caribbean food should taste like and have gone on to cook my personal favourite, and UK’s most popular Caribbean dish, Jerk Chicken with Rice ‘n’ Peas a recipe for which you can find here. While I was at university, I offered to cook this for my flatmates and was astonished to hear the responses of ‘what is that?’ or ‘I have never had that before’. So, of course, I cooked it for them. Although many of them were sitting with tears streaming down their face from the spicy heat (I didn’t hold back on the heat!), they absolutely loved the flavour. But even I can admit that my versions of Caribbean dishes are nothing compared to those made by those originally from or whose who’s families were originally from the Caribbean.
What is actually in Caribbean food though? You will often find an amalgamation of many different vegetables including sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as coconut being used in some form in many of the dishes. Jerk is an extremely popular way of cooking in the Caribbean, which is a method of marinating and grilling the meat. The meat is rubbed with a mixture of seasoning and spices which is usually the cook’s own recipe and left to marinade for at least 24 hours. This will usually be served with a portion of rice ‘n’ peas, coleslaw and either fried plantain or dumplings. Fish is also a popular part of Caribbean dishes, with each island usually having their own variation, however, Ackee and Salt Codfish is Jamaica’s national dish, so you will find that this is the most common. There are also many vegetarian options available, including delicious patties. And you can always wash it down with some Caribbean Rum, Beer or a variety of Rum Punches, and there’s even Caribbean soft drinks such as grape soda, ginger beer or fruit punch.
Sadly, Covid has meant that we will have to wait until once again we can take advantage of one of the best ways to sample the food & drink of these exotic islands at Notting Hill Carnival. Meanwhile, however, if you are one of the lucky few who can afford to travel to the Caribbean (when/if Covid travel restrictions allow and you feel safe enough to do so) I would certainly recommend taking a trip out there and trying the local fare. However, if travelling to the Caribbean isn’t in your plans and whether or not have tried Caribbean dishes before, why not seek out a local restaurant or even find a recipe online to follow and attempt making your own. You may just find a new favourite dish.
Although the choices & variations from around the Caribbean are endless, here are some of my recommendations:
- Jerk Chicken
- Oxtail or Chicken Stew
- Goat or Mutton Curry
- Caribbean Patties
- Salt Fish Fritters & Ackee
- Rice ‘n’ Peas
- Fried Plantain
- Fried Dumplings or Festivals
- Mac ‘n’ Cheese
So why don’t you go out, try some of these dishes and share with us by tagging us on Twitter or Instagram using @JellybeanAgency. I look forward to seeing your culinary creations.