Caribbean Dining – Creole Cuisine
Between American fast-food joints and the international haute cuisine of the big hotels, there is the delicious food of the Caribbean to be enjoyed. As the word creole generally means ‘born in the islands but originating from the outside world’, it seems appropriate collective name for the regions’ home cooking. However, despite the common thread uniting the creole cuisine of the islands, the miles of water that separate them, along with their diverse historic influences from the outside world, ensure that the food of each one is usually quite distinct and often unique.
The common thread is provided by the region’s rich Amerindian and African heritage; the readily available fresh produce of the fertile land, with its year-round growing season; and the abundance of superb seafood from the surrounding Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, the wonderful variation within the styles of cuisine has been created by the diversity of the European countries that colonized the islands, the introduction of indentured labor from the east, and the wide range of differing topography throughout the region.
Fresh from land and sea
Caribbean seafood can be rated as some of the best in the world. As a result of the generally short distance from the sea to the table, it is served particularly fresh, contributing to its intense flavor. Grouper, barracuda, kingfish, swordfish, sea bream, jacks, parrot fish, snapper, tuna, albacore, bonito and dolphin are the names of fish most heard of in these islands. Dolphin (also called dorado) is an ugly, scaly fish not to be confused with the friendly mammal which is known as a porpoise, often referred to as a dolphin. Flying fish are only widely served in Barbados, where the intricate skill of deboning them has been perfected and passed on down the generations.
The Caribbean waters also contain plenty of sea crab, spiny lobster, conch with their large beautiful shells, sea egg (sea urchin), octopus. In the south, very large shrimp, also referred to as ‘giant prawns’. The end result of this exciting array of fresh ingredients, prepared in a variety of tantalizing ways, is an exotic culinary extravaganza.
Caribbean sweet tooth
Since the 17th century when the European settlers set about planting sugar cane, the Caribbean people have developed a very ‘sweet tooth’ blending the sought-after resulting product with island fruits to create such delicacies as tamarind balls, guava cheese, coconut sugar cakes, toolum, comforts and shaddock rind-unique candies that have been prepared for generations of children. The preserves of lime and orange marmalade, guava jelly and nutmeg jelly, chutney and fruit jams are of a very high quality because the golden crystals of Caribbean sugar are bursting with tangy flavors.
Traditional desserts tend to come from a combination of British heritage and Caribbean style – bread and butter pudding, rich fruit cake laced with rum, banana and coconut bread, jam puffs, chocolate pudding and coconut turnovers. And restaurants everywhere include their own versions of the delicious coconut pie of their dessert menu.