The Caribbean is a perpetual feast for the senses, not least when it comes to the incredible and varied cuisine on offer across the region. We’ve rounded up the essential dish to try on ten of our favorite islands. Dig in!
Barbados: Coucou and Flying Fish
Given that this beautiful West Indies island is sometimes referred to as “The Land of the Flying Fish,” you shouldn’t leave town without trying this popular local seafood, found in the warm waters around Barbados and used to make the national dish, coucou and flying fish. The fish is steamed and cooked with onions, lime juice, spices, and vegetables, and served on a bed of polenta-like cornmeal; or fried and served with a spicy sauce.
Trinidad & Tobago: Crab & Callaloo
This dual-island nation near Venezuela is a hotspot for Creole cuisine, and the dish not to miss is crab & callaloo, a flavorful treat with origins in West Africa. A locally-sourced leafy green similar to spinach, callaloo is generally blended with coconut milk, spices, chilies, and sometimes additions like okra and red meat, then topped with crab.
Bahamas: Conch Fritters
While conch—a large-shelled sea mollusk related to the snail — can be found across the Caribbean, it’s particularly prized in the Bahamas. Conch fritters, a popular Bahamian dish, is the ultimate way to try it. Along with shredded conch meat, these patties are made from a batter that might contain onion, bell pepper, spices, chili, or celery (like many traditional dishes, every family and restaurant seems to have its own recipe) and then deep-fried. Think a delicious crab-cake with Caribbean flare.
Antigua and Barbuda: Fungee and Pepperpot
This country in the Leeward Islands is known for its pristine beaches, verdant hilly landscapes and laidback lifestyle. The two main islands are also home to the distinctive dish known as fungee and pepperpot, a fragrant meal consisting of cornmeal cooked with okra and served with a rich stew of vegetables, spinach, spices, onion, and meat — traditionally, salted beef and pig tail.
Puerto Rico: Mofongo
Hearty, flavorful, and unlike anything else you’ll try in the islands, mofongo is a mash-up of tastes and textures that’s pure Puerto Rico. The dish features mashed fried green plantains flavored with garlic and pork rinds, and is traditionally created using a wooden mortar and pestle known as a pilón. Mofongo can be eaten as either a side dish or the main star, with meat, vegetables or chicken broth. Like much of the island’s cuisine, the dish has roots in Spanish, African, and Ta'no cooking traditions.
Dominican Republic: La Bandera
While Dominicans have their own, fiercely-defended, version of mofongo, the dish you can’t miss—mainly because it’s on pretty much every menu — is what’s known as la bandera (the flag.) A hearty, colorful, working-class lunch consisting of rice, red beans, meat, and salad, the dish provides the perfect fuel for exploring this fascinating island. Be sure to order another national favorite, tostones (fried green plantains) on the side.
St Lucia: Creole Bread
What’s a little carb-loading when you’re vacationing on one of the world’s most beautiful islands? This lush, romantic Caribbean hideaway is the place to get your hands on creole bread, a local treat served at many of the island’s family-run bakeries. The soft-crust loaves are shaped like short, skinny baguettes and cooked in a wood-fired oven, which gives them a delicious, subtly smoky flavor. Head to the fishing town of Soufriere in time to snag a loaf from the early-morning baking session, and eat it while it’s still steaming-hot while sitting in the shadow of St. Lucia’s iconic, mighty Pitons.
St Kitts & Nevis: Stewed Salt Fish with Dumplings, Spicy Plantains, and Breadfruit
If seafood makes it into your top three reasons to visit the Caribbean, you’re sure to be enamored of stewed salt fish with dumplings, spicy plantains, and breadfruit, a staple on the beautiful islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Like many Caribbean stews, this one is hearty and filling, but the inclusion of fish, spicy plantains, breadfruit, and coconut dumplings lends the popular fare a unique, addictive flavor. With its beautiful colors, the plate is also a treat for the eyes.
Jamaica: Jerk Chicken
Along with reggae, jerk chicken is one of this country’s most famous and well-loved exports. A style of cooking native to Jamaica, jerk consists of meat dry-rubbed or wet-marinated with a spice mixture that contains the perfect balance of hot, sweet and spicy. The dish is ubiquitous across the island, served everywhere from beachside shacks to fancy resorts, and best appreciated while watching one of Jamaica’s famous sunsets with a Red Stripe in hand.
Montserrat: Goat Water
Don’t let the name put you off: Goat water, the favorite local dish on this mountainous isle in the Lesser Antilles chain, is a crowd-pleasing mélange of stewed goat meat spiked with spices, vegetables, onion, tomato, and sometimes green papaya and breadfruit, then served with rice or bread. Similar to an Irish stew, this hearty mainstay is a staple at family celebrations and can be found all around the island.