Cuban dishes, quite familiar to Floridians, generally are not as spicy as some other island foods. Among widely prepared Cuban dishes are black beans and rice, picadillo (ground beef, onions, green olives and spices), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and ropa vieja (shredded beef with spices). Arroz con pollo is also a staple in the Dominican Republic, along with mangu (mashed plantains). Bacalao (cod) fritters are popular in Puerto Rico.
Breadfruit, brought to the Caribbean from the Pacific by the notorious Captain Bligh, is another food common to many islands. It is roasted, baked or fried before eating. Although it is a fruit, breadfruit as well as plantains are considered “ground provisions” by islanders, because they are often cooked with root vegetables such as yams, cassava, eddoes and taro.
Caribbean foods are becoming more widely known because today’s chefs are bringing a new approach to those foods, said Moore.
One adaptation, he said, takes oxtail and beans, a basic Caribbean dish, and integrates it with ravioli to create a new dish, oxtail ravioli and white bean ragout with rum sauce. Still another is jerk pork stuffed into rice paper spring rolls, served with a dipping sauce.
Rodriguez, the food writer, also sees this trend.
“A great example of modern chefs adapting Caribbean dishes to create new dishes with more contemporary appeal would be chef Wilo Benet, who opened his flagship restaurant Pikayo at the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza in 1990. Chef Benet creates a type of fusion fare using local Puerto Rican and Caribbean ingredients to create globally inspired dishes,” Rodriguez explained, citing as an example Benet’s cold yellowfin tuna served rare with sauteed baby bok choy and spicy citrus ponzu sauce.
Other celebrity chefs also are adapting Caribbean recipes. On the Food Network website, for example, Emeril Lagasse offers recipes for callaloo, jerk pork and jerk chicken. On her site, Martha Stewart tells how she makes jerk chicken and Caribbean pork with avocado and pineapple salsa. Moore himself says he makes a vichyssoise breadfruit.
All of which, together with the global influences brought to the region since tourism became its main industry, is making the Caribbean today a melting pot for foods.
“I like to think of the Caribbean as the one place on Earth where all the world’s cuisines converge,” said Rodriguez.