Eastern Caribbean Foods

8 National Dishes to Tempt your Taste Buds

The food of the Eastern Caribbean is influenced not just by the people who live on these island nations, but also by the availability of foodstuffs and ingredients.  Freshly available locally and home-grown vegetables combine with seafood and with salt-preserved fish that hark back centuries.  You’ll not only tempt your taste buds but also your sense of adventure as we explore 8 National Dishes of the Eastern Caribbean Islands.

Commonalities of Eastern Caribbean National Dishes

There are several common factors when it comes to the National Dishes of the Eastern Caribbean islands.  Two of the islands even claim the same National Dish and you could be forgiven for thinking that some dishes sound pretty similar. 

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The Eastern Caribbean’s cuisine and food culture focuses on influences from the first settlers of these islands, who came from the mainland of South America in what is now Venezuela but that combines with their European settlers who arrived 500 years later – and of course the West African slaves they imported to support sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries.

In the Caribbean, the main meal of the day is taken at lunchtime and many dishes are prepared during the morning and served buffet style, so you’re advised to get there early before they run out!

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The National Dish of Barbados

The food of Barbados, also called Bajan cuisine is a mix of British, Creole, Indian, Portuguese and African influences.  The Barbadian National dish combines these influences with two elements that come from readily available ingredients and so the National Dish of Barbados is Cou-cou and Flying Fish. 

Eastern Caribbean fish fry

Flying fish is extremely common in the waters around Barbados.  The flying fish is usually stewed with garlic, thyme, tomatoes, pepper and fresh onion – although it is also popular when fried.  Cou-cou, an accompaniment is made of a combination of cornmeal and okra – mixed together to form a type of savoury porridge – it can be similar to polenta or grits in terms of texture. The most famous spot in Barbados to try any variety of flying fish dish is the Oistins Friday Night Fish Fry, where locals and tourist alike get together for food, music and the occasional rum punch.

The National Dish of Antigua & Barbuda

There is a large West African influence in Antiguan cuisine – Antigua was originally settled by Europeans as a location for sugar plantations and rum distilleries, the labour for which was provided by the Slave Trade.  Fish and cornmeal make another appearance in Antigua’s National Dish of Fungee, which is pronounced foon-jee. 

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It’s served with the same consistency as mashed potatoes.  Fungee is usually served for breakfast, with an accompaniment of saltfish, which is usually stewed.  Fish was, in years gone by, salted to aid in preservation with a lack of refrigeration technology.  This method still happens today and salted fish is available in many Antiguan food stores.  The salt is soaked out of the fish prior to it being added to the dish.  It’s a savoury and rather interesting start to the day.

The National Dish of St. Kitts

St Kitts was first settled by Native Americans 500 years before Europeans arrived and as such has one of the longest recorded histories of the Caribbean island countries.  The National Dish Of St Kitts is a testament to the naturally occurring ingredients available.

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St Kitt’s National Dish combines locally available vegetables, coconut and salted codfish with spices to create Stewed Saltfish, which is served with plantains, coconut dumplings and breadfruit.  If you’ve never had a coconut dumpling then you’ve never truly lived.  Done right, they’re hearty come cooked food – heavy, tasty and destined to send you into a food coma.

The National Dish of Dominica

Dominica’s National Dish used to be “Mountain Chicken” – the legs of the Crapaud frog, which is endemic to Dominica and the island of Montserrat. 

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However, the Crapaud is now a protected species and so the island voted on a new Dominican National Dish in 2013 and decided that the new National Dish of Dominica would be Callaloo Soup.  Callaloo is a hearty soup made primarily from the green leaves of the root vegetable dasheen with coconut milk, although some Dominicans will also use water spinach as a substitute.

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The National Dish of St Vincent & the Grenadines

St Vincent and the Grenadines national dish combines the availability of local fish, the jackfish, and a vegetable that was introduced to the island by William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame.  The breadfruit first arrived in St Vincent in 1793 and fast became a Caribbean staple, most especially for feeding slave workforces.  Today it’s known as one of St Vincent’s superfoods. 

Fish is marinated in lemon juice, then dusted in flour and fried until crispy.  The breadfruit is traditionally roasted over an open fire until slightly charred on the outside but tender on the inside.  It is moreishly delicious!  You will normally be served SVG’s National Dish with a tomato and onion based sauce that’s flavoured with garlic, thyme and other herbs.

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The National Dish of Trinidad & Tobago

Of all the countries in the Eastern Caribbean, the food of Trinidad and Tobago is the most different.  Trinidad truly embraces a spicy Indian style vibe to their dishes. 

In some places, you’ll read that the National Dish of Trinidad is Calallo, the hearty soup or stew made from the dasheen leaf, served, in Trinidad & Tobago with crab. 

It is, however, the breakfast dish “doubles” that Trinidad is famous the world over for.  Doubles are the best breakfast you’ll have in the Caribbean.  Trinidadian doubles are made with two flat “baras” – very thin, fried flat dough, topped with curried chickpeas (channa) and served with a tamarind sweet sauce.   Doubles are normally served as street food and in the best spots, you’ll need to be there by 0700 before they sell out.  It is worth setting an alarm for.

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The National Dish of Grenada

When the national dish of the country named the Spice Isle is called “Oil Down”, it makes you a little wary.  Oil Down is indeed the Grenadian National Dish and is so named because the coconut milk that forms the basis for this hearty stew simmers down and release its rich oil into the other ingredients.

Grenada’s National Dish contains breadfruit, chicken, dumplings, meat, callaloo and any other vegetables that are to hand. Eventually, most of the liquid is cooked down –and so the name Oil Down stuck. The recipe for Oil Down tends to vary depending on the household and neighbourhood, but at traditional events, it is usually the men who cook it.

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The National Dish of St Lucia

The first people of St Lucia were the Caribs and the Arawaks, hailing from the current Venezuelan area of South America and they brought fruits with them and this influence remains in the St Lucia National Dish of “Green Figs and Saltfish”.   The green figs in this instance refer to green or unripe bananas and this is one of the most delicious Eastern Caribbean National dishes around. While traditionally it was salted cod that was used, any type is used today and it is sauteed with the bananas, onions cabbage, pepper, tomatoes and garlic.

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Final Words on National Dishes of the Eastern Caribbean

The food of the Eastern Caribbean focuses on available fresh produce – vegetables along with fish and seafood plentifully available in island nations combined with historically relevant recipes from the settles of these island nations. 

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There are similarities between the cuisines of the Eastern Caribbean islands, and indeed some cross over of recipes.  One thing is for sure, the national dishes of the Eastern Caribbean bring with them a wealth of heritage and will absolutely ensure that you don’t go hungry!

Written by

Sarah Carter of Lets Grow Cook combines a love for home-grown ingredients with a love for travel and the cuisine of regions that she travels to. Food is after all much tastier, in her view, when someone else does the washing up!

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