From classics like Jamaican jerk chicken and rice n’ peas, to intriguing dishes like Grenadian oil down and Costa Rican rondon, here are ten Caribbean foods you simply must try if you ever get the chance to visit the West Indies. Each entry has been contributed by a travel blogger who has personally spent time in the Caribbean.
While you might imagine a Caribbean vacation to be costly and out of budget, in reality, your dream Caribbean holiday could actually be a lot more affordable than you think. Make the most of websites like Skyscanner to ensure you get the cheapest flights possible, or consider an all-inclusive cruise deal with Celebrity Cruises if you fancy island-hopping while in the Caribbean. The more money you can save on getting yourself there, the more you’ll have to splash on visiting local landmarks and attractions or, if you’re anything like me, eating out at the best local restaurants and stocking up on authentic ingredients to use in recreating your favourite dishes in the kitchen when you return home.
- 1 Top Caribbean foods
- 1.1 1) Curried chicken, Nevis
- 1.2 2) Jerk prawns, Jamaica
- 1.3 3) Rondon, Costa Rica
- 1.4 4) Fried conch, Bahamas
- 1.5 5) Brown stew chicken, Jamaica
- 1.6 6) Baleadas, Honduras
- 1.7 7) Tropical fruit juices, Colombia
- 1.8 8) Ackee and saltfish, Jamaica
- 1.9 9) Oil down, Grenada
- 1.10 10) Salbute, Belize
- 1.11 Share this:
Top Caribbean foods
1) Curried chicken, Nevis
Curried chicken is, hands down, one of my favourite Caribbean foods. Each island – in fact, pretty much each person – has their own twist on the dish, but the end result is pretty much always an absolute dream.
West Indian curries are different to the kind of curry that springs to mind when you say the word, but the concept is the same – marinate your chicken in lots of flavoursome spices and then cook it until it is tender and falling off the bone.
It’s absolutely delicious – particularly when paired with rice and peas, and some coleslaw. My grandmother used to make a killer plate of curried chicken – I’ve never been able to replicate it myself but I tasted one almost as good when I was in Nevis earlier this year.
– Julianna, The Discoveries Of
2) Jerk prawns, Jamaica
Jerk prawns – or jerk spice for that matter – is one of the best things you can try when you visit the Caribbean. In fact, I highly urge you to do so, as the spices are mixed fresh. So, apart from taking yourself on a Caribbean adventure, take yourself on a culinary adventure too! Combined with seafood or any other type of meat, it will have that wow factor one would expect when discovering the joys of Caribbean cuisine.
Cooking with jerk spice is one of the most native things to Jamaica. It’s basically a spiced mixture, usually involving a bit of heat. Typical ingredients include cayenne pepper and other ground spices. Check out my jerk prawn recipe to find out how to make homemade jerk spice from scratch!. It’s commonly applied as a dry-rub on various meats and practically works with anything, even vegetables! Some people also like to use it also as a seasoning for salads. However, the jerk prawn recipe would be my absolute favourite. Give it a go and explore the vast range of Caribbean flavours. You’ll never eat meat, fish or shellfish without jerk spice again – that’s a promise! Enjoy!
– Michelle, Greedy Gourmet
3) Rondon, Costa Rica
You’ll need to head to the Caribbean coast for this dish in Costa Rica, but it’s worth the trip. It’s one of the best Costa Rican dishes we tried. The name of the dish translates as “whatever the cook can run down” and it dates back to when subsistence diets were how people survived on the coast.
It’s a seriously rich coconut milk soup made with whichever ingredients were available for the cook to put in it. There’s always a fish head, and whatever else was caught or left over. We’ve had versions with sweet potatoes, corn, plantains and yucca. The chilli gives it a little more zing than normal. The best version we’ve tasted had an entire fish in it! You’ll find it in many of the Caribbean American countries, not just Costa Rica.
It’s the ultimate Caribbean comfort food – really tasty and it goes down well with a cold beer too!
– Sarah, ASocialNomad
4) Fried conch, Bahamas
One of the best Caribbean foods is fried conch. It’s the meat from those beautiful shells that you hold up to your ear to hear the ocean. Fried conch is also called cracked conch because of the tenderization process used to prepare it. “Cracking” is a process whereby the cook pounds the conch with a meat mallet or a frying pan to make it nice and tender. Typically, French fries are served along with the fried conch.
Fried conch is usually served with red onions and a tangy dipping sauce. Conch can also be served cooked in soups, burgers, and fritters, or raw in salad or ceviches. I tried fried conch at a restaurant at Atlantis in the Bahamas. It has a mild flavour and the texture reminded me of calamari.
Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, and Puerto Rico also use conch in their cuisines. Turks and Caicos actually has an Annual Conch Festival each November!
5) Brown stew chicken, Jamaica
As the name would imply, brown stew chicken consists of chicken browned off and cooked in a spicy, thyme-infused gravy. Ideally, the chicken should be marinated in spices for 24 hours prior to cooking and cooked on the bone to enhance the flavour of the dish.
Brown stew chicken is served at most restaurants in Jamaica, often accompanied by rice and peas, festival dumplings, plantain and slaw.
Besides Jamaica, brown stew chicken is also popular in Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Belize, Dominica and Caribbean communities throughout the world.
– Kacie, The Rare Welsh Bit
6) Baleadas, Honduras
I visit the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras every spring. After I check in to my beachfront hotel and stop by my favourite dive shop, I head straight for one of the many food stalls in Roatan’s West End that serves up baleadas.
Baleadas are by far the most popular street food on Roatan, and every local has their own particular way of making them. However, they all start with a thick flour tortilla that gets cooked on a flat grill, spread with refried beans and folded in half. As a vegetarian, I often choose a baleada sencilla, which comes with cheese and sour cream (sometimes I splurge on sliced avocado too!) It’s also easy to find baleadas stuffed with sautéed vegetables, grilled meats or even scrambled eggs.
With prices rarely exceeding 50 Honduran lempiras (or $2 USD), baleadas are the perfect way to sample Caribbean cuisine on Roatan without breaking the bank.
– Carly, Fearless Female Travels
7) Tropical fruit juices, Colombia
Colombia is a fascinating country, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. I visited many places in the Caribbean coast, like Cartagena de Indias or Parque Nacional de Tayrona, and I was surprised to find a wide choice of exotic tropical fruits with unusual names that I had never seen or heard of before. Of course, these exotic fruits make excellent tropical fruit juices!
Usually, I love pineapple or mango juice but when I saw all the strange fruits in Colombia, I wanted to taste anything except the ones I knew My favourite tropical fruit juices in Colombia were badea juice, borojó juice (also known as Colombia’s natural viagra), curuba juice (delicious when mixed with milk and sugar), guayaba juice (my favourite), or lulo juice. I also drank many glasses of maracuyá juice in Colombia. This is a tropical fruit that I knew about already, but it’s difficult to find in the Parisian markets where I live.
On Colombia’s Caribbean coast, you can find all of these tropical fruit juices anywhere in the streets, markets, and restaurants.
– Elisa, World in Paris
8) Ackee and saltfish, Jamaica
It looks like scrambled eggs and the texture feels like it too, but it’s a veggie. Well, actually, it’s a fruit and it grows on plants in the lush Jamaican jungle. The fruit has the shape of a small red pear and when it’s ripe and ready it opens up into four slices. The pulp is yellow and the seeds brown. You have to be careful when you clean it; if it’s not ripe enough and isn’t cleaned properly, it can be lethally poisonous. Don’t fret though – Jamaicans know very well how to prepare ackee!
Ackee is the Jamaican national dish and it’s normally made with salt fish and prepared with tomatoes and bell pepper and secret seasonings, Jamaican-style. It’s served for breakfast accompanied with roasted breadfruit and avocado (which is called pear in Jamaica), or boiled dumpling and callaloo, another favourite of mine. If you want the vegan version, it is totally possible and still very tasty. It was my favourite dish when I was living on the beautiful island of reggae and one of the things I miss about my island life.
– Isabella, Boundless Roads
9) Oil down, Grenada
The national dish of Grenada, oil down is a stodgy stew of meat, poultry or fish served with callaloo, dumplings, breadfruit and root vegetables cooked in coconut milk, with herbs and spices for added flavour.
I tried oil down twice while in Grenada – once at a local street food pop-up, and another time while visiting Grenada Chocolate Company. It’s delicious with meat or chicken, but I prefer it served with fish cooked over a jerk pit to produce an irresistible smoky flavour.
– Kacie, The Rare Welsh Bit
10) Salbute, Belize
One of the most delicious Caribbean foods I’ve tried is called a salbute, found on the islands of Belize in the Caribbean Sea as well as along the Yucatan peninsula. Basically, salbutes are similar to tostadas in that the main part of the dish consists of a fried tortilla, but the tortilla in salbutes is deep-fried and puffy, rather than crispy.
On top, you’ll find toppings like shredded lettuce, avocado slices, shredded chicken, sliced tomatoes, sour cream, salsas, and pickled jalapeños. Sometimes, instead of shredded chicken, cochinita pibil – a Yucatan-style version of carnitas, made of pork – is used, but chicken is definitely more common in Belize.
Typically, salbutes come in an order of two or three and are a common snack with a beer, but they also make for a not-so-light meal if you have enough of them! In Belize, they are best enjoyed with a bottle of Belikin beer overlooking the sunset – yum!
What’s the tastiest food you’ve ever eaten on your travels? Tell us all about it in the comment box below.