This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Learn more
Loved for their intense flavors and gorgeous colors, these Caribbean foods are a testament to the beauty, passion, and ingenuity of the countries and islands that make up this magnificent region of the Americas.
Food in the Caribbean is so much more than fuel for the body: it’s culture, family, creativity, and a coming together of people, no matter what the occasion.
Together, let’s embark on a unique culinary journey like no other and discover 28 of the Caribbean’s must-try dishes to seek out on a future trip to one of the countries or islands.
Caribbean Foods to Try
1 – Jerk Chicken
Jerk chicken – and the spice blend of the same name – is today synonymous with Caribbean barbecues and grilled meats. However, this spicy and potent combination originally came from Jamaica.
Jerk chicken uses a combination of spices and herbs with spicy and zesty New World additions, such as Scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, and brown sugar.
The marinade for jerk chicken is made by blending these various ingredients into a paste, to which lemon juice is added. The chosen meat, most famously chicken, is then left to soak in the marinade for at least half an hour, before going into hot coals to cook.
2 – Curry Goat
Jamaican curries have evolved differently from Indian curries, even if many of the base ingredients seem similar. They use more cumin and apply garlic and onions more liberally, which lends them a more savory, aromatic profile. This also mixes well with the flavor of goat meat.
Curry goat is made by mixing the spices together, and slow cooking them with ginger, tomato paste, hot peppers, goat meat, and some coconut milk. The dish is traditionally served with potatoes or black bean rice.
3 – Jamaican Patties
As the fun cousin of Cornish pasties, there’s a high chance Jamaican beef patties will be the first snack you try when you arrive on the island.
These delicious pastries are made from turmeric-infused flaky dough and filled with heavily seasoned meat trimmings, then either deep-fried or baked.
When it comes to the filling, family recipes naturally abound, but most include minced beef, cumin, curry, and cayenne pepper.
4 – Flying Fish and Cou Cou
This rich, bold, and sizeable dish is a staple Barbadian Sunday lunch and is prepared to provide a hearty base for a lengthy rum-fuelled social occasion.
Flying fish is a type of local white fish, which is seasoned and steamed until the meat is tender. The fish is then smothered in gravy and served alongside cou cou balls or boiled okra and cornmeal patties.
5 – Conkies
At first glance, conkies are a Caribbean version of Central American tamales. In truth, while the plantain leaf wrap may look similar, conkies are instead a sweet dish, not savory. They are made from coarsely ground cornmeal, seasoned with raisins, coconut, and pumpkin.
All the ingredients are mixed together, flattened, and wrapped in plantain leaves, and then steamed. Expect to see this dish everywhere between Bonfire Night (November 5th) and Christmas.
6 – Sea Eggs
As mysterious as sea eggs may sound, this is actually a simple, delicious dish of deep-fried sea urchins.
Delicately seasoned and dipped in tamarind or tartar sauce, sea eggs are only available between September and November, when they wash up on the shores.
7 – Guava Cheese
This unusual dairy-free dessert is rife with the aroma and flavor of Barbados’ most popular fruit. Guava cheese is usually made from fresh guava pulp, sugar, and a dash of allspice.
These ingredients are simmered carefully together to make a very thick jam and then mixed with a dash of gelatin. Finally, the mixture is left to cook in square containers and is served as slices.
Trinidad and Tobago
8 – Doubles
The national street food of Trinidad and Tobago owes its creation to its Indo-Trinidadian community and the need of early oil rig workers to get a hearty breakfast from cheap ingredients.
Doubles (yes, they’re always plural) is a small sandwich made from two disks of bara, a type of fluffy dried dough, filled with a mashed chickpea stew, seasoned with curry, pepper sauce, and tamarind.
9 – Bake and Shark
The quintessential beach lunch in Trinidad and Tobago consists of fried shark fillets with a crusty loaf of fried bake, a type of coconut bread made in a dirt oven. These ingredients are assembled into a sandwich and topped with fresh salad, chopped pineapple, and garlic mayonnaise.
Since the population of hammerhead sharks in the Caribbean is now dwindling, most beach vendors are now encouraged to replace their sharks with kingfish fillets.
Discover more Trinidad and Tobago foods.
10 – Green Figs and Saltfish
The national dish of St Lucia is a humble and delicious affair. It is a dish of salted cold, carefully desalted and cooked with lime juice spices, and chopped vegetables.
While the cod is being prepared, green (unripe) plantains are sliced, boiled, and panfried with butter and herbs, and served next to the fish and a slice of coconut bread for a humble yet sumptuous island dish.
11 – Avocado Balls
Avocado balls are made from overripe pureed avocados, mixed with farine (cassava flour) and spices. This mixture is shaped into small balls, which are then coated in chopped nuts or sesame seeds.
This unique and delicious appetizer used to be a well-kept secret, reserved for food carts around Creole Heritage Month. Now that their Instagram-worthy appeal has been discovered, expect them to be served as an appetizer on any of Marigot Bay’s swankiest bars.
12 – Buoyon
Bouyon is a hearty stew that adds Caribbean tubers and leafy greens to a gumbo-like seafood broth.
Buoyon is usually made from the catch of the day, along with yams, cassava, potatoes, carrots, black lentils, and the local wild spinach known as bhaji. Once the ingredients are in the pot, they are seasoned with pork renderings, hot sauce, and bay leaves.
13 – Metamgee
Sometimes known also as Metem, Metamgee is a thick fish and pork stew, that combines both African and American flavors.
It is a close cousin to Grenadian or Trinidadian oil down, adding thyme and scallions to a similar combination of onions, hot peppers, cassava, okra, coconut milk, and meat.
The main difference? The cassava and okra are partially mashed, so they can soak up all the broth and its accompanying seasoning. Utterly delightful!
14 – Garlic Pork
Garlic pork as is dish is so much more than its ‘on-the-nose’ name first leads on. This dish is usually made from chopped pork ribs, sauteed with generous amounts of garlic, julienned carrots, peppers, and a few sprigs of thyme. Then, a mixture of apple cider vinegar and sugar is slowly added to caramelize the pork.
15 – Ropa Vieja
As one of Old Cuba’s most popular staples, ropa vieja is today ubiquitous around Florida and Puerto Rico, also. This dish is a juicier, spicier alternative to All-American pulled pork.
True to their Spanish origins, they are seasoned with garlic, bay leaves, cumin, and a dash of olive oil. The resulting juice is then poured over white rice, or used to flavor day-old bread.
16 – Chicharron
Chicharrones are small pieces of pork skin, deep-fried to a rich, salty crust. Despite their apparent simplicity, they are actually pretty hard to make: there’s a very small window of time between ‘fully cooked’ and ‘charred and bitter’.
This indulgent appetizer is the perfect pairing for an ultra-cold beer or a margarita. If you’d rather have them as a main dish, accompany them with banana fufu, or mashed boiled bananas.
17 – Yuca con Mojo
Yuca con mojo is a surprisingly filling Cuban starter. It is made from boiled, then fried pieces of cassava (or yuca), mixed with the ever-present mojo sauce.
The latter is a marinade made from olive oil, garlic, orange juice, cumin, and oregano. It is equally useful as a quick dressing for cassava or a fresh salad or to marinade grilled meats.
18 – Breadfruit Chips
Breadfruit trees may be native to Tahiti, but they found an equally-picturesque new home across the Caribbean. In Grenada, they became particularly popular because they grew well next to cinnamon and nutmeg plantations, and could even be used to protect them from local birds.
Breadfruit chips are a cheaper local alternative to french fries, even if they are a bit more labor-intensive, as you need to slice the fruit and then steam it, before grilling it.
19 – Cocoa Tea
Can you really enjoy a steamy, rich cup of hot chocolate in the middle of the summer? If you’re in Grenada, it turns out you can: especially if you are willing to tweak the recipe a bit!
Cocoa tea is the Spice Isle’s quintessential Christmas drink. It is a drink of diluted milk, rather than full-fat milk, in which ‘cocoa balls’, made from dried cacao beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and pepper, melt. The resulting drink is warm, not too hot, and sweetened with brown sugar.
20 – Oil Down
The ownership of oil down is a hotly-contested debate between Grenadians and Trinidadians. In both islands, the dish seems to have similar origins: the semi-public ‘cookouts’ organized by local Baptist Churches where everybody could bring something for a massive pot.
The basic oil down recipe usually combines several types of meat, local tubers, such as okra or cassava, chopped vegetables, and lots of fresh Scotch bonnet peppers, creating a delicious and filling stew Grenadans across the island enjoy.
21 – Mofongo
A very tropical spin on mashed potatoes, mofongo is made from green plantains, boiled in chicken or pork broth, seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper.
The wholesome combination is rarely eaten by itself, as mofongo is technically a side dish. However, when you’re looking for a quick and comforting meal, you can throw a few pieces of salted pigtail into the mix, and top it with local vegetables.
22 – Pastelón
At first glance, Pastelón is lasagna with a deep yellow color, renowned for its strong flavors and just a hint of sweetness.
However, instead of pasta layers, pastelón is made from a thicker plantain dough, sandwiched with layers of a mixture of fried pork, beef, tomato paste, black olives, and sofrito (chopped garlic, onion, salt, and a dash of vinegar).
The layers are assembled in a large baking dish, covered in shredded cheese, and baked until the top is crunchy. Pastelón is a beloved Puerto Rican dish and fuses an incredible range of flavors and textures together.
Discover more Puerto Rican foods.
23 – Conch Fritters
Sea snails are abundant in the reefs around the Bahamas, so naturally, their tender meat is a staple in the Bahamian diet.
On the island, the term ‘conch’ or ‘conk’ can be used to refer to any type of local sea snail, but especially the larger ‘Queen conchs’.
Conch fritters are made from conch meat, chopped onions, bell peppers, and a little cornflour. These are made into small balls and deep fried for a quick and delicious appetizer.
24 – Pepper Pot
Depending on the island and the family cooking it, pepper pot can gravitate between a stew and broth. Nevertheless, many countries and regions consider pepper pot to be part of their national identity, with both St Lucians and Jamaicans being particularly passionate about this dish.
Pepper pot is made from chopped and steamed bhaji or wild spinach, mixed with coconut milk and at least three different types of spicy peppers.
Small pieces of boiled okra are then added into the mixture, and either left to simmer to offer a little crunch, or mashed into a puree that holds the stew together wonderfully well.
25 – Black Pudding
Sometimes called black sausage or boudin, black pudding arrived in the Caribbean via Irish and Scottish ship crew members.
Eventually, each landing port added its own twist to the same basic recipe: a combination of pork and poultry blood, dried and turned into a sausage. Black pudding was ideal for long sea voyages, as it could be stored for months at a time.
It is sometimes mixed with local spices, chopped cassava, or boiled rice. It can be boiled or fried, made into a sandwich, or a main dish in its own right when served with coconut bread or mofongo.
26 – Pigtail
Salted and seasoned with vinegar and pepper, pigtail keeps well even in the hot weather and can add a quick dose of fat and protein to any vegetable-based dish.
27 – Fried Plantain
In the Caribbean, each island enjoys at least five different varieties of banana and plantain. Somehow, on each island, locals always manage to develop a starchier cultivar, that’s less sweet and provides a crunchier result when fried.
Known as tostones in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, maduro frito in Cuba, fig chips in Trinidad and Guyana, or plantain chips in Jamaica, you don’t have to look too far in the Caribbean to find this beloved and filling dish.
28 – Accra
Salted cod and other types of saltfish became a Caribbean staple during World War 2 rationing, but creative cooking helped use these types of seafood for the basis of a range of sought-after dishes.
Accra, for example, can be found across the Caribbean. These small fritters are made from salted cod, thinly chopped veggies, and a beer-based batter.
Caribbean Foods Summary
The Caribbean is one of the world’s most diverse, colorful, and breathtaking regions, and that’s very much reflected in the foods throughout the various countries, territories, and islands.
Whether you’re vacationing on the glistening white sands, enveloped within the bustle of the ports and cities, or exploring the vast, luscious rainforests, mouthwatering food is all around you in the Caribbean.
On your next visit, soak up the culture, embrace the passion, enjoy more than a little sun, and try as many of these dishes as you can. You are in for quite the culinary whirlwind!
You Might Also Like to Read
Save and Pin for Later
Get inspired to try as many of these Caribbean foods as you can, by saving this article to one of your Pinterest boards for safekeeping.
Author: Ximena Lama Rondon is a bilingual translator and content writer, based in Trinidad and Tobago. With a wealth of experience living and traveling through the Caribbean and South America, she is deeply passionate about sharing the cuisines and cultures of these regions with others, through her writing.
Images licensed via Shutterstock