India vs West Indies: Bond Between Caribbean and Indian Cuisine

India's tour of the West Indies kicked up on July 12 in Dominica with the first match. While everyone on the team is working hard to score a run, we thought it would be interesting to highlight the ways in which Indian and Caribbean cultures have influenced cuisine. 

The similarities between West Indian food, which focuses on Caribbean ingredients, and East Indian food are striking. You may immediately picture Chicken Tikka Masala, flatbreads, and Chana Puris when we mention Indian food. Many of these recipes have close culinary cousins in Caribbean cuisine, particularly Jamaican and Trinidadian fare, which use many of the same ingredients and cooking methods but add their own unique spin. It may come as a surprise, but the British Empire still required labourers for its Caribbean plantations and fields in the nineteenth century, long after slavery had been abolished. Still needing this labour force after abolition, they brought in indentured workers from India. These peoples contributed to the development of modern Caribbean Creole cuisine by bringing their own culinary traditions to the region. They took their traditions and practises with them, although they sometimes found themselves without access to the same spices and other ingredients they had in India. Since the people of the Caribbean had to make do with what they had available, you'll notice that many dishes share the same name but feature distinct ingredients and preparation methods.

Curry, along with many other Indian dishes, has become a symbol of Trinidadian food's identity. This is despite the fact that Trinidadian cuisine blends components of numerous Chinese, European, and Middle Eastern cultures. Because the majority of Indo-Trinidadians originated from the north-east and central regions of India, several Indo-Trinidadian foods can trace their roots back to those regions. Although the word "roti" derives from the Hindi word "bread," which refers to a dish made from flour made from whole wheat, Trinidadian roti consists of more than just wheat and water. It resembles a paratha more than anything else, except each piece is cut into smaller pieces.

In order to accommodate the newly arrived Indian immigrants, some of the ingredients had to be changed. Despite the fact that they were supplied with rations of dal, rice, coconut or mustard oil, turmeric, sugar and salt, and even onions, they were starving. However, components such as coriander, mint leaves, and curry leaves were not produced in the surrounding area. Even the chilies had to be cooked by the labourers using scotch bonnet, which imparts a peculiar nutty flavour. As a replacement for coriander, the labourers found a substitute that they called shado-beni (cilantro), which grows wild in drainage ditches. 

In the Caribbean, Indians have spread their spice blends, including cumin, garam masala (a spice blend sans chilli and turmeric), and fenugreek seeds. In 1956, a Sikh started a company called "Turban Brands" that made real Indian curry powder, commercially establishing a unique flavour for Indian food. Jamaica's cuisine has been influenced by Indian flavours despite the country's relatively small Indian population of only 2.7 million. On special occasions, Jamaicans will prepare curry goat with roti and Callaloo. Curry is made with a blend of Indian spices and scotch bonnet pepper, cooked in coconut milk. Vegetables such as eggplants and okra are among the many new additions to Jamaican cooking. Another staple, pilaf, was given a Caribbean twist through fusion cooking. However, it's important to remember that Indians were the first people to cultivate rice in Jamaica, creating the first successful rice mill on the island in the 1890s.