The multicultural fusion that is Indo-Caribbean cuisine

Caribbean Indian immigrants brought their culture and food with them to the new world. However, the ingredients were not the same as those found in India, so they had to adapt. Some dishes are very similar to those of India, while others have evolved into new specialties. In fact, Indian cuisine and Caribbean cuisine share a bond, but have different ingredients and flavors that take them in new, different but equally great directions.

The Caribbean islands are a melting pot of many influences, especially African and European. The first to plant rice in Jamaica were Indians, who then set up the first successful rice mill on the island. These influences have merged to form a unique regional cuisine influenced by both cultures.

The metaphor of the melting pot extends in all directions in the Caribbean. Latin American cooking styles have also influenced these islands. These, in turn, continue to transmit the cultural values ​​of Africans and other peoples of the Americas. Today, many nations claim African culinary traditions as their own, but these contributions are routinely subject to social repression and racism. For this, it is crucial to understand the origins of these cuisines.

African influence on Caribbean cuisine

Africans have long influenced the culinary traditions of the Americas and the Caribbean. The slave trade in particular brought African culinary practices to the Americas. The first slaves learned to make bread and flour from cassava, a plant native to the Caribbean. Slaves carried the seeds as a good luck charm when forced onto slave ships. Today, this seed is the national fruit of Jamaica. The ackee, originating from West Africa, made its debut in Jamaica at the end of the 18th century, at the height of the slave trade. More than a million Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves.

In Jamaica, African cuisines have been introduced to cities and rural areas. Iron-making communities moved to Jamaica, introducing African dishes like curried goat and grilled boneless jerk chicken, bringing many new ingredients and flavors. Caribbean immigrants attempt to maintain a sense of national identity through food. But preserving national identity through food can be difficult. While the Caribbean is often seen as just black, the truth is more mixed. While the first batch of Caribbean immigrants were originally freed African slaves in the 19th century, plantation owners brought in indentured Asians and Indians to work as laborers on their estates, leading to a second wave of migration to the islands.

Indian influence on Caribbean cuisine

In the 19th century, Indian immigrants were often sent to the British West Indies as indentured labourers. During this period, over 1.5 million Indians migrated to the British Empire, including Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. As a result, they brought with them a new way of cooking and new ingredients. Most of the villagers worked in the sugar cane plantations and a few worked in the cocoa fields.

Gajar ka halwa is popular throughout the Caribbean | Freepik

In Trinidad, the cuisine blends elements from many different cultures. Several dishes have Indian influences and have become synonymous with Trinidadian culture. For example, roti is a bread-like dish that originated in northern India. The Trinidadian version of roti is made with whole wheat flour and resembles a paratha. Originally however, Indian immigrants had to use substitutes to make their rotis.

Caribbean food assimilated food brought by Indian immigrants. They embraced spices and other ingredients. There are variations of Indian dishes such as chicken tikka masala, meduvada, gajar ka halwa, bhaji etc. The very popular “double” is basically a mix of puri and channa (chickpeas). Versions of the food from the Bhojpur region are invariably found throughout the Caribbean, adapted to the new environment using ingredients, sauces, etc. available locally. I suspect we will hear a lot more about this cultural fusion in the future.

Chinese influence on Indo-Caribbean cuisine and famous dishes

Chinese influence on Caribbean cuisine dates back more than 100 years. Although not immediately apparent, it is a noticeable influence on the cuisine. The Chinese came as immigrants to the Caribbean and brought with them some of their home country’s most iconic dishes. As you might expect, these dishes quickly became popular in the Caribbean. The Chinese were able to adapt easily to local tastes because basic ingredients were widely available. Chow Mein, in particular, has been very well received in the Caribbean islands due to this famously delicious and complex blend of flavors.

Today, rice is a major ingredient in Chinese cuisine in the Caribbean, but, as with Indian cuisine in the islands, a blend is often found that takes the original dish in a new direction. Jamaican mofongo is often served with mashed plantains and bacon. The Chinese influence on Caribbean cuisine is most evident in Jamaica. His food preparation methods, such as frying, stir-frying, and steaming dishes, have become a local favorite. A Korean dish adapted to local tastes is the surprisingly good kimchi tacos.

Michael M. Tomlin