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Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Taste of Paradise: Cuisine of the Caribbean

Whether you are enjoying a bareboat sailing vacation or a crewed yacht charter, visit a while in the sunny Caribbean and you will discover a rainbow of cultures and a rich and exciting history. No where is this more apparent than in the cuisine of the Caribbean.

The food of the numerous islands that make up the Caribbean is a mixture of so many styles that it is almost impossible to define it. The islands generally have a separate and distinct cuisine from each other, depending on who they were colonized by. Islands like Puerto Rico and Trinidad have distinct Spanish-influenced cuisine with fish cooked in tomato, lime, peppers, garlic and avocado. The French brought their “patisserie”, tomato and herb fish stews reminiscent of Southern France, and escargots in garlic to Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique. The various British colonies- once major slave trading centers- are rich in African flavors.

The Dutch islands enjoy an Indonesian taste to their dishes due to the Netherlands’ early trade connections with the Far East. This ethnic diversity, combined with the Caribbean’s balmy climate, rich agriculture and waters teaming with every variety of fish, has created a cuisine of vibrant flavors that match the intensity of the tropical sun. It is yours to discover on a Caribbean yacht charter.

The Caribbean diet is generally healthy, based on an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a plentiful supply of fish and shellfish. Cooking is colorful, simple and full of the flavors of aromatic spices, hot pepper sauces, fragrant marinades and fiery spice rubs.

Meals tend to be made with recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Most cooks have their own secret ingredients which make their recipes unique. Similarly unique are the restaurants of the Caribbean. Barbecued ribs may be served in baskets at an upturned steel drum table on the beach; whole grilled fish with all the sides may be served on a large banana leaf on a table set among banyan and palm trees draped with last year’s Christmas lights, or a five-star meal may be served on fine china and linen on a romantic candle-lit seaside terrace. Crewed yacht charters also offer a tast of the Caribbean.

Seafood is one of the most common cuisine types in the islands. As a result of the generally short distance from the sea to the table, it is served particularly fresh, contributing to its intense flavor. Caught daily in the warm waters of the Caribbean, fishermen bring in hundreds of varieties of fish including sea bass, swordfish, pompano, kingfish, yellowtail, tuna, wahoo, snapper, grouper, dolphin(locally known as dorado) and flying fish. They are grilled, baked or served in chowders and stews. In addition, salt codfish is a Caribbean specialty, commonly served in salads and stews. The Caribbean waters also contain plenty of shellfish including spiny lobster, conch( known as lambis), shrimp(frequently referred to as “giant prawns”) and sea urchin. Each island gives the shellfish its own special Caribbean touch resulting in an exciting array of fresh ingredients, prepared in a variety of tantalizing exotic culinary ways. Popular dishes include conch curries and fritters, and shellfish steamed in coconut milk.

Poultry dishes are widespread throughout the Caribbean, mostly because chicken is the most economical meat. Free range chicken is often marinated with ginger, lime and chilies before grilling. Goat and pork dishes are also common in Caribbean cuisine, while the less popular lamb is used on some islands. A certain amount of beef is imported, but is mainly served in the form of a cheeseburger to appeal to the teenage tourist set on a yacht charter. Most cooking is done over an open fire, and many recipes involve “one pot” meals which include a variety of tasty soups and flavorful stews.

The islands produce an abundance of fresh fruit. There are apples, coconuts, pineapples, passion fruit, papayas, mangoes, bananas, melons, figs, pomegranates and limes. Other exotic fruits not as familiar to those who have not had the good fortune to travel in the Caribbean include breadfruit, tamarind, soursop, plantains, loquats, guavas, as well as numerous others. Many fruits are enjoyed right off the trees as part of a meal or snack. In Dominica, for instance, most locals carry machetes for that very purpose. Other fruit is used in a variety of both savory and sweet dishes.

Mangoes and papayas are often used in drinks, desserts and in spicy chutneys. Coconuts are used for bread, ice cream, flan, shrimp coatings, and of course, Pina Coladas. Coconut milk is used in meat and mussel sauces, as well as to season rice. Plantains, which are similar to bananas, are eaten grilled, fried like potato chips or baked in meat dishes. If you are on a crewed yacht charter, your personal chef will even find numerous ways to incorporate the fruits of the islands into delicious breakfasts that may include pancakes, breads, scones, muffins, jams and fresh squeezed tropical juice. Fruit tends to ripen quickly onboard, so do not buy too much of the same ripeness at once. It is always available for your yacht charter.

Vegetables are also plentiful on the islands, especially root vegetables. Yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, yucca, callaloo, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, several varieties of beans and peas mixed with rice, and christophene are all used to their full advantage. Vegetables are often stuffed, mashed or made into stews and curries.

Herbs and spices season most dishes. Allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg are popular spices, as well as cilantro, onions, garlic, thyme, peppers, mint and chilies. The air on some islands is so pungent with the odor of fresh spices that you can smell it several miles off shore.

Meat, chicken and fish are often marinated or rubbed with seasonings before cooking. Each island has its own seasoning blends as well as its own version of hot pepper sauce. A bottle of this fiery concoction is a nice souvenir to bring back from your yacht charter.

Since the 17th century, sugar cane has grown on many of the islands. Like their rum drinks, people from the Caribbean like their desserts very sweet. Blending island fruits and spices, dessert comes in every form from cakes and cheesecakes, bread puddings, flan and soufflé to ice creams and sherbets. And not surprising, most desserts have more than just a hint of rum.

Caribbean cooking is a unique fusion of culinary influences from the Spanish, French, African and Amerindian cultures. You may already know about the impossibly blue waters, pristine beaches and balmy temperatures of the Caribbean, but whether you are on a sailing vacation or yacht charter, eating fruit right off a tree or enjoying freshly caught Anegada lobster, you will be delighted to discover the cuisine of the Caribbean. For your own taste of paradise, contact Melody Delgado or Gail Hartman at Virgin Island Sailing, Ltd. to arrange the perfect island vacation.

Whether you are enjoying a bareboat sailing vacation or a crewed yacht charter, visit a while in the sunny Caribbean and you will discover a rainbow of cultures and a rich and exciting history. No where is this more apparent than in the cuisine of the Caribbean.

Donna Wolfson also know as “Sailgirl” at Virgin Island Sailing, has been sailing in the Caribbean and writing about it for years. Learn more about a Yacht Charter.

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