A Taste of the Caribbean
To honour Black History Month, we are exploring the delights of Caribbean food. Read on to learn more about its origins, cultural influences, the culinary impact of the Windrush generation, and where you can try delicious Caribbean food, right here in East Anglia.
Food is an invitation to revel in the taste of a culture. It is one of the significant manifestations of a culture’s innovativeness. The food we eat is a tribute to the ingenuity of our ancestors. It continues across generations of individuals. It forms part of our identity, culture, and history.
The Caribbean is an exquisite place. Its beauty comes from more than the tropical weather and expansive white sandy beaches and blue clear sea water. Its uniqueness is created by the range of people, cultures and most significantly, its food.
So, what is Caribbean food? Caribbean cuisine is an enjoyable blend of culinary influences from Africa, Asia and Europe and all the people that made it their home. It’s a combination of the authentic food cooked by the original inhabitants the Arawaks, Caribs and Tainos. It combines plenty of fresh seafood from the waters of the Caribbean, an abundance of fresh vibrant fruits, vegetables, and traditional meats.
One thing to remember about the Caribbean is that each island while using similar ingredients has different dishes, unique to its culture, people, and traditions. These countries are made up of Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, St. Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, Montserrat, Guyana, and St. Lucia.
Some of these unique dishes are:
- Ackee and salt fish- Jamaica’s national
- Roti- a traditional snack packed with meat, or used instead of rice, originating from Trinidad.
- Cou-cou and flying fish, Barbados’ national
- Breadfruit- delicious mashed, roasted, or as chips, a rich source of protein and gluten- free
- Rice and peas /peas and rice- kidney beans or gungo peas/pigeon peas or dry peas, lentils, or black eye peas are used for this
Some of the earliest Caribbean immigrants to post-war Britain, the Windrush generation, found a difference in diet and availability of food in shops compared with their cultural food in the Caribbean. As the community increased, imports began to cater for their needs and become more accessible. Shops specialising in Caribbean products opened on many High Streets. Today, visit any major supermarket chain and you will find an aisle or shelf-dedicated to selling Caribbean food products.
Today Caribbean restaurants can be found in most cities in Britain, where West Indian communities reside, serving unique dishes like pumpkin or chicken soup, curry chicken, and fried dumplings with a range of fillings as well as fishcakes. Restaurants use a range of spices from the Caribbean like the famous ‘jerk’ seasoning and cook traditional Sunday Caribbean meals like rice and peas and macaroni pie, with favourite family recipes often passed down from generation to generation.
One of my most memorable experiences is visiting a Caribbean indoors market. Your sight is assaulted by a wide variety of colours, smells, and sounds. From the tantalising smell of ripe mangoes, bananas, and pawpaw to the range of vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and aubergines. Flowing down between the stalls is the mouth-watering smells of fried chicken and fish, beef patties, rice and peas, and mellow plantains. You can easily spend an hour or two experiencing the market with its range of food. Of course, the rapport with traders, adds to the authenticity of shopping. A visit to Green Street Market in Newham or Walthamstow market or to one of the ethnic shops in Ipswich like, ‘Tropical Fruits’ will provide a similar experience, even if the sunshine and heat is missing.
Caribbean fruits include mangoes, bananas, coconuts, guave, avocado, pears, soursop, gineps, tamarind, papaya/pawpaw (rich in vitamins A, B and C, iron and calcium). Vegetables include yams, sweet potatoes, eddoes, christophene or cho-cho, okras (ladies’ fingers), cassava, green bananas, and delicious avocado pears.
So, what can we find in Suffolk? Incredibly, quite a lot. Just last week as I walked through Ipswich market, I smelled the most delicious food, that brought back memories of my grandmothers’ cooking. Just outside of the Ipswich’s Town Hall is a small market. I saw a long queue at one of the stalls and seeing it was Caribbean food, thought tonight is takeaway night.
As I queued, I spoke to one of the customers. She told me, ‘I went to Trinidad on holiday and now I’m here every week’. She ordered a saltfish Pattie and salsa rap. Behind the counter was a husband-and-wife team. The stall is called ‘Manna Grill Street Food’, it’s in Ipswich on Tuesdays and Thursdays and in Bury St. Edmunds on Wednesdays. They sell a range of tasty home-made Jamaican patties- jerk chicken, lamb, beef, vegan and vegetarian. They have adapted Caribbean food to include jerk chicken, Cajun, Caesar, lamb kofta and vegetarian raps, as well as curry goat and jerk chicken. I was very pleased with my tasty spicy jerk wrap.
So, who said you need to go on holiday to experience the sweet, succulent taste of Caribbean food!
In addition, East Anglia has a good number of Caribbean restaurants. Jamaica Street in Ipswich, Jamaica Snack Shop in Norwich, Manna Grill and Jerk Station in Colchester, Jam rock Caribbean Cuisine in Clacton and D& G Jamaican Take Away in Mildenhall. So, begin your journey by visiting one of these restaurants.
British varied food culture now incorporates a range of different cultural foodstuff symbolic of the people who have migrated here from other nations. They have brought with them traditional cuisine and authentic ways of cooking, passed down from one generation to the next. Food operates as a representation of cultural identity. Food and culture are inextricably linked. Food is an expression of our multicultural and multiracial identity. Knowing about, trying, and experiencing other peoples’ cultural traditions and food is the way forward towards appreciating, respecting, accepting, and valuing differences. The connections that food can create between people are much too valuable to be ignored.
Why not have a go at cooking Caribbean food at home? Check out these Caribbean cookbooks.
- Sally Miller, Bajan Cooking in a Nutshell, Miller Publishing Co. Ltd, Barbados
- Rita G. Springer, (2000) Caribbean Cookbook, Ian Randall
- David and Gwendolyn Daley (2013) Caribbean Cooking Secrets, Right Way
- Ainsley Harriott (2019) Caribbean Kitchen, Ebury Press
- Levi Roots (2009) Caribbean Food Made Easy, Mitchell Beazley
- Taymer Mason (2017) Caribbean Vegan, The Experiment.
Written by Ivy Scott
Educational Consultant (EAL & Black History), teacher; Research Lead Suffolk Windrush Committee and member of Suffolk Black Community Forum
Photographs © Ivy Scott 2021
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