Caribbean Food Origins
The Arawak, Carib, and Taino Indians were the first inhabitants of
the Caribbean islands.
These first inhabitants occupied the present day islands of British Virgin Islands,Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad, and Jamaica. Their daily dietconsisted of vegetables and fruits such as papaw, yams, guavas, and cassava. TheTaino started the process of cooking meat and fish in large clay pots.
The Arawaks are the first people known to make a grate of thin green wood strips on which they slowly cooked meat, allowing it to be enhanced by the flavor of the wood.
This grate was called a barbacoa, and the word we know today as barbeque is taken from this early Indian cooking method.
The Carib Indians added more spice to their food with hot pepper sauces, and also added lemon and lime juice to their meat and fish recipes.
The Caribs are said to have made the first pepper pot stew. No recipes exist since every time the Indians made the dish, they would always add new ingredients. The Carib had a big impact on early Caribbean history, and the Caribbean Sea was named after this tribe.
Once the Europeans brought Africans slaves into the region, the slave’s
diet consisted mostly of food the slave owners did not want to eat. So the
slaves had to be inventive, and they blended their traditional African foods
with staples found on the islands.
The Africans introduced okra, callaloo, fish cakes, saltfish, ackee, pudding
and souse, mangos, and the list goes on.
Most present day Caribbean island locals eat a present diet that is reflective
of the main ingredients of original early African dishes, and includes cassava,sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, bananas and corn meal.
African men, being hunters in their homeland and often away from home for
long periods of time, learned to cook spicy meats over hot coals.
When English soldiers arrived on the island of Jamaica, they brought the
technique of preserving meat over rocks in the hot sun. Both the African and
English meat techniques were refined by the early slaves in Jamaica into the
present day technique is known as “jerk” cooking. The secret involves a
slow meat cooking process. Jamaica is famous for jerk chicken and pork, andyou’ll find jerk all over the island.
After slavery was abolished, the Europeans went to India and China for
labor, and more cooking styles were introduced. Much of the Indian cooking
culture remains alive and well in the Caribbean today with the introduction of curried meats and curry powder.
Indians call it kari podi, and we have come to know this pungent flavor as
curry. The Chinese introduced rice, which is always a staple in home cooked
island meals. The Chinese also introduced mustard, and the early
Portuguese sailors introduced the popular codfish. Most visitors to the Caribbean have no idea that the fruit trees and fruits so familiar to the islands were introduced by the early Spanish explorers.
The fruit trees and fruits brought from Spain include oranges, limes, ginger,
plantains, figs, date palms, sugar cane, grapes, tamarinds and coconuts.
Another ship was more successful in bringing breadfruit from Polynesia to
Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Today breadfruit is an
important staple of the Caribbean diet.
America is responsible for introducing beans, corn, squash, potatoes,
tomatoes, and chili pepper to the Caribbean. In fact these particular foods
had never been seen in Asia, Europe or Africa, so America actually
introduced these foods to the rest of the world via the Caribbean.
So it's no wonder Caribbean cooking is so rich and creative with the flavors of Africa, India, and China, along with Spanish, Danish, Portuguese,
French and British influences.