Look beyond the turquoise water, white sand, and lush green forests of the Caribbean and you’ll find a cuisine just as vibrant and enchanting as the landscape. Food here is an amalgamation of French, African, Chinese, Indian, English, Portuguese, and Spanish influences, and it’s full of variation from island to island. Some dishes are commonplace—everyone has their take on rice and beans—while other specialties are prized as national dishes, their recipes jealously guarded.
Once you leave the islands, though, your choices slim down. Here are some essential dishes to seek out while you’re there.
Ackee and saltfish fritters combine two beloved Caribbean ingredients into a single dish. Prepared and served separately, these two foods are the national food of Jamaica. Saltfish, a salted and dried white fish similar to salt cod, gets simmered until soft, then mixed with mild, creamy ackee, which is actually a fruit. You can eat it plain or ball it into fritters and fry it.
Eggplant (baigan) choka is a popular Indo-Caribbean dish that came to the region when indentured laborers from British India were brought over by the French, British, and Dutch. Here, eggplant is cooked with tomato and garlic and commonly served with roti.
Trinidadian cuisine is full of Indian influence, and cooks there are practiced in four kinds of roti: paratha (locally called “buss up shut”), sada, dosti, and, the most labor-intensive: dhal puri roti, which features ground split peas folded into the dough for extra texture.