If you went anywhere near the Notting Hill Carnival or the other one this weekend, you may have acquired a taste for Caribbean food. The Caribbean is a broad group of countries and islands - though there is much good eating out there in London that is called Caribbean, you're quite likely to find restaurants offering cuisine from the specific places that form the area overall area ie. Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Antigua, Dominica etc.
The tastes, the ingredients and the style of Caribbean cooking are a heady blend of influences from the folks who have passed through this particular part of the world: look carefully and you'll spot hints of Indian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Southern American and French cookery in Caribbean cuisine. All these influences come together to create something unique and vibrant in a culinary genre of its own - but what is a person to order when faced with a Caribbean menu? Read on for more details...
First of all, for those new to Caribbean food, the common fruit and vegetables you are likely to see include okra, ackee, callaloo, yam, breadfruit, mango, papaya, passion fruit and tamarind. Common flavouring in Caribbean cooking includes hot chilli peppers like Scotch bonnet, habaneros and jalapenos, pimento / allspice, ginger, turmeric, limes, thyme, bay leaves, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut, almond, vanilla and cloves. All types of meat are involved in particular goat, chicken, pork and beef.
Mains - meat
jerk chicken / pork - a seasoning for meat that can include about 20 different ingredients, spicy and fragrant
chicken / beef / lamb / goat curry - similar to Indian curries
oxtail stew - slow cooked oxtail in rich gravy
mofongo - classic Puerto Rican dish of mashed plantains, fried pork rinds and garlic
callaloo - soup made from the spinach-like callaloo plant, usually made with okra, chillies, pork and crab
Mains - fish
ackee and saltfish - Jamaica's national dish: dried salted fish served with the mild ackee fruit. Ackee is a bright red fruit that splits open when ripe to reveal three black seeds and yellow edible flesh
escovitch fish - originally brought to the Caribbean by Spanish Jews this dish is fish cooked in vinegar, onions and spices
blaff - Boiled fish, usually snapper, marinated in limes, chillies and spices, then boiled with herbs and served with rice. Named after the sound the fish makes when it's thrown into the pot
stamp and go - spicy codfish fritters
coconut rundown - a common cooking sauce for meat and vegetable dishes, giving a creamy coconut flavour to temper chillies, ginger or lime
Mains - vegetarian
pepperpot - a soup that varies from place to place within the Caribbean, ranging from a thick vegetable soup, vegetable stew with cassava juice, or vegetable soup with callaloo
Look out also for ital food - this is the Rastafarian vegetarian cuisine that does not use salt
plaintain - fried or roasted
cassava - a starchy root that is made into flour and cooked as crisp bread or boiled as a side dish
boiled yam - a root similar in texture to potato
rice and peas - rice cooked with kidney beans, black-eyed peas, black beans or lentils; NOT green garden peas
cho cho - small pear-shaped vegetable similar in texture to squash
roti - Indian style flat bread, very simlar to naan
bammy - deep fried cassava bread, eaten mostly with fish
dasheen - a yam-like root that is eaten boiled
bun - spicy bread
bulla - small, round, brown sugar cookie
cassava pone - cassava pudding
patties - savoury baked goods with spicy vegetarian or meat fillings in yellow pastry
channa - spicy, crunchy chick peas
Irish moss - drink made from jelly-like substance obtained from seaweed, with a delicate, subtle flavour
And of course, rum.
It's quite clear that there is something for everyone and for every sort of upbeat, lively occasion. Put on your party hat and eat up!