The Multi-Cultural Fusion That Is Indo-Caribbean Cuisine
Image Credit: Curry goat is an African delicacy, popular in Jamaica | Instagram - @jamaicavybzfood

Indian immigrants to the Caribbean took their culture and dishes 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 from India, while others evolved into new delicacies. In fact, Indian cuisine and Caribbean cuisine share a bond, but have different ingredients and flavours that take them in different but equally great new directions.

The Caribbean Islands are a melting pot of many influences, including Africa and Europe. The first people to plant rice in Jamaica were Indians, who then set up the island's first successful rice mill. These influences merged to form a unique regional cuisine that was influenced by both cultures.

The melting pot metaphor extends in every direction in the Caribbean. Latin American cooking styles have also influenced these islands. These, in turn, continue to pass on the cultural values of Africans and other peoples in the Americas. Today, many nations claim African culinary traditions as their own, but these contributions are routinely subject to societal repression and racism. To this end, 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. Early slaves learned to make bread and flour from cassava, a plant native to the Caribbean. Slaves wore the seeds as good luck when forced on to slave ships. Today, that seed is the national fruit of Jamaica. Ackee, which originated in western Africa, made its debut in Jamaica during the late 18th century, during the height of the slave trade. Over one million Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves.  

In Jamaica, African cuisines were introduced to towns and rural areas. Iron-manufacturing communities moved to Jamaica, introducing African dishes like curry goat and grilled deboned jerk chicken, bringing many new ingredients and flavors. Caribbean immigrants try to maintain a sense of national identity through food. But preserving national identity through food can be challenging. While Caribbeans are often perceived as merely black people, the truth is more mixed. While the first lot of Caribbean immigrants were originally African slaves who were freed in the nineteenth century,plantation owners brought over indentured Asians and Indians to work as labourers on their estates, leading to a second wave of migration to the islands.  

Indian Influence on Caribbean Cuisine  

In the nineteenth 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 villagers worked on sugarcane estates and a few worked in the cocoa fields.

Gajar ka halwa is popular all over 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 originates from northern India. The Trinidadian version of roti is made with whole wheat flour and is similar to a paratha. Originally though, Indian immigrants had to use substitutes to make their rotis.  

Caribbean food assimilated the food brought over by Indian immigrants. They embraced the spices and other ingredients. We find variants of Indian dishes like chicken tikka masala, meduvada,gajar ka halwa, bhaji etc. The wildly popular ‘doubles’is essentially a mix of puri and channa (chickpeas). One invariably finds versions of food from the Bhojpur region all over the Caribbean, adapted to the new environment using locally available ingredients, sauces etc. I suspect we'll hear much more about this cultural fusion in the future.  

Chinese Influence on Indo- Caribbean Cuisine and Famous Dishes  

The Chinese influence on Caribbean cuisine goes back over 100 years. Though not immediately apparent, it is a notable influence on the cuisine. The Chinese came as immigrants to the Caribbean and brought with them some of the most iconic dishes from their home land. As one would expect, these dishes quickly became popular in the Caribbean. The Chinese were able to adapt to the local tastes easily since the basic ingredients were widely available. Chow Mein, in particular, was very well received in the Caribbean islands because of that famously delicious and complex mix of flavours.  

Today, rice is a major ingredient in Chinese cuisine in the Caribbean, but, as with Indian food in the islands, one often finds a blend 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. Its food preparation methods, such as frying, stir-frying, and steamed dishes, became a local favorite. A Korean dish adapted to local tastes is the surprisingly good kimchi tacos.