Caribbean foods and Caribbean American Heritage

Garth A. Rose

As eclectic as the Caribbean culture is, perhaps its most eclectic component is food. Almost every Caribbean country from where people have migrated to America, has taken with them peculiar foods and drinks that has influenced the American culture.

Because the Caribbean consist of people who are descendants of Africans, Amerindians, French, Spanish, English, Dutch, East Indians and Chinese, most of the culinary of these countries have also influenced the Caribbean cuisine, which has now fused with traditional American cuisine.

It’s not unusual to find several Caribbean dishes on the buffet table of dinners hosted by Americans.

Spicy is a trademark

One of the strongest Caribbean influences on American foods is making several of the latter dishes more spicy. Spices, including hot peppers, are a basic ingredient of most Caribbean dishes, and although some Americans at one time couldn’t tolerate spicy foods, today most are patrons of the many Caribbean restaurants found in communities like South Florida, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut with large Caribbean populations. In recent years, it’s customary to see Americans consuming spicy Jamaican foods like Jerk Chicken and Pork, curried stewed mutton (curried goat) and oxtail and beans, in Caribbean restaurants.

Jamaican Patty

It’s noticeable in America that the larger the population of a particular Caribbean country the more influence the particular cuisine from that country. Hence, it’s found that besides Jamaican jerk meats, the Jamaican patty (beef, chicken, callaloo, ackee) has become a very influential component in Caribbean- American heritage.  The Jamaican patty is not only a staple of the Jamaican-American community but is increasingly consumed by Americans generally, and has become a popular lunch item served in American schools. Jamaican patty shops are to be found in several American cities.

Along with the Jamaican patty, a folded dough, cocoa bread, has become popular in the American cuisine. A patty and cocoa bread is an inexpensive, but very filling meal.

Cuban food

Cuisine popular with the large Cuban-American population also has a strong influence on American foods. Most Cuban dishes include a variety of prepared pork dishes, Congri (red peas and rice), black beans, fried plantains, pastelitos (a pastry stuffed with guava jelly or ground meats). The Cuban sandwich, averaging 9 inches in length and packed with different meats, cheese and vegetable, is very popular and adapted by some American sandwich chain restaurants.

Conch fritters from the Bahamas, and roti from Trinidad and Tobago are also popular Caribbean foods that has made their way into the American culture.

Caribbean desserts

The Caribbean influence can also be seen in American desserts. This includes a variety of Caribbean pastries that includes guava and coconut, and cakes made with dried fruits like currants, raisins, prunes, and laced with rum. The Jamaican fruit cake is now also popular with Americans at Christmas. There’s also new flavored ice creams, like rum and raisin, coconut, papaya, and mango influenced by the Caribbean.

Rum and beer

Of course, Caribbean rum has been a fixture in the Caribbean American heritage. Rum from Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago are found and served in bars and lounges all over the US, competing with American brewed alcoholic drinks. Also Caribbean beer, including Red Stripe from Jamaica and Caribe from Trinidad and Tobago, also has a strong presence in America.

Coffee

The Caribbean influence is also tasted in the coffees and teas consumed in the US. Caribbean coffees, including the Blue Mountain brand from Jamaica, are some of the more demanding brands in America.  Also, there are a wide variety of teas blended from Caribbean herbs like ginger, mint, and ceresy,

If one is uncertain about the influence that Caribbean foods has on Caribbean-American heritage they only have to visit a Publix or Winn Dixie Supermarket in South Florida and see the various Caribbean food and drink items on their shelves.

Caribbean food festivals

In recent years Caribbean foods have influenced several popular  food showcases of festivals in the US, of which the most notable is the annual Jamaican Jerk Festival held in South Florida, New York City and Washington DC. Blended with some of the best in Caribbean entertainment the festival featuring spicy jerk dishes attracts thousands of American nationals as well as Caribbean Americans.

As part of the Caribbean Heritage Month celebrations a variety of Caribbean food and drinks can be sampled at the annual Caribbean 305 culinary and cultural show in Wynwood, Miami. Another indication of the strong influence of Caribbean cuisine on  Americans, this event attracts a large compliment of non-Americans at times outnumbering Caribbean Americans.

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