Finding the best Caribbean islands for food will take you on a long but enjoyable culinary journey. The geographic spread of the region incorporates cuisine from all over the world.
The strongest influences, however, include indigenous cultures and colonial roots from Spain, France or Britain. Fresh seafood is a given, with plenty of tropical ingredients such as coconut, okra, and spices.
Wherever you go in the Caribbean, apart from enjoying sea, sand, and blue skies, you can enjoy fresh, healthy food. From breakfast to dinner, you will taste wonderful ingredients combined in unusual ways to make a memorable whole.
The Afro-Caribbean heritage of Antigua is celebrated in classic dishes such as saltfish (salted codfish) with fungee—a fried ball of cornmeal mixed with okra.
Fungee is also a popular accompaniment to pepperpot, a spicy slow-cooked stew of meat (pork, goat or beef) with vegetables.
Lobster is a must-try Antiguan dish, and a common side dish is ducana. This is an addictive dumpling of sweet potato mixed with grated coconut and spices.
An Indian influence is obvious in the common roadside snack of roti. This wrap is filled with meat or seafood and vegetables with a curry sauce.
Coming via Jamaica, jerk chicken is now a popular local dish. Jerk is a seasoning of spices, and chilies applied either dry or wet before cooking.
British heritage comes to the fore in desserts such as Antiguan bread pudding. The English classic is revved up with plenty of spices and a rum sauce topping.
Those with a sweet tooth will also want to taste Antigua’s famous black pineapple—if only in a tropical cocktail. It’s said to be the world’s sweetest variety.
Aruba has Dutch heritage, which is, naturally, reflected in its food. You can’t think of the Netherlands without thinking of cheese. No surprise, then, to find Edam or Gouda as the main ingredient of keshi yena, a baked ball of cheese stuffed with meat, veg and spices.
Besides being a snack by itself, sliced keshi yena is added to stews. Aruban giambo is a typical African-Caribbean stew of beef or fish that is thickened with puréed okra.
Cheese is often also the main ingredient in the popular Aruban dish of pastechi, a flaked pastry parcel that makes a great breakfast or snack. It’s filled with cheese, chicken, tuna or vegetables, with lots of onion, peppers, and spices.
Try the Aruba variation on a pancake in pan bati, which mixes cornmeal with the more usual ingredients. It’s often served as a side dish to meals such as soups or stews.
Cornmeal is also served as funchi, a polenta-like side but with lots of Caribbean spiciness. You’ll often see it on the table with fried fish.
The annual Food & Rum Festival every October has helped put Barbados on the map as a Caribbean culinary destination. However, you can taste unique Bajan dishes at any time of the year—not to mention the rum.
Why not start with the national dish of cou-cou with flying fish? Cou-cou is a polenta-like cornmeal, and okra dish, with the flying fish being steamed or fried.
Fish is, of course, a staple of island life, and often seen as a street food in the form of fish cakes. Deep-fried and highly seasoned, they are very more-ish.
Cutters, another popular street snack, are sandwiches made with salt bread (which is not as salty as its name implies). Fillings range from flying fish to ham with cheese, or fried chicken.
Along with fish, pork, and chicken are popular meat choices. Pudding & souse is steamed sweet potato (pudding) with spiced pork sausage (souse), making for a lovely set of contrasts.
Macaroni pie is a baked casserole made with macaroni, cheese, eggs, and milk. Real comfort food, it’s a common side dish in Barbados.
For dessert, make a beeline for the cassava pone. This delicious mix of cassava root, pumpkin, and sweet potato is rich in coconut, sugar, butter, and nutmeg.
It’s impossible to consider the best food in the Caribbean without taking into account Mexico. Cozumel, off Yucatan, is a great island on which to sample this most wonderful of cuisines.
The Yucatan dish of cochinita pibil is slow-roasted pork, marinated in spices, achiote paste, and sour orange juice. You’ll find it served with tortillas, pickled onions, and habanero salsa.
The Mayan heritage is also seen in the smoky dish of pescado tikin xic (dry fish). A whole red snapper, similarly marinated in achiote paste, sour orange juice, and spices, is wrapped in banana leaves before being grilled.
Sopa de lima is a refreshing light meal or starter. This delicious soup is made with chicken broth enriched with lime juice, tortilla strips, avocado, and cilantro.
Another classic Mexican dish is chiles rellenos, or stuffed peppers. Roasted, peeled poblano peppers are filled with cheese or meat, coasted in a light egg batter, then fried.
For street food, look for panuchos—corn tortillas filled with refried black beans. Traditional toppings are shredded turkey or chicken, with pickled onions, avocado, and salsa.
Fish lovers will enjoy pescado a la Veracruzana, a dish originally from Europe via the neighboring state of Veracruz. Fish (usually red snapper) is cooked in a savory tomato sauce with peppers, onions, olives, and herbs.
No one comes away from the Dominican Republic without being impressed by its cuisine. A rich mix with African, Spanish, and indigenous Taíno roots, it’s hearty, and tasty.
La Bandera is the national dish, combining the colors of the national flag in white rice, red beans, and meat (such as chicken, beef, or pork). Of course, this last may not match the blue of the flag without a bit of poetic license.
For breakfast, mangú is made from boiled green plantains mashed with butter or olive oil. This Dominican dish is typically eaten with fried cheese, salami, and pickled onions.
Locrio has obvious roots in Spanish paella, being a one-pot rice dish. Ingredients include chicken, pork, or seafood, usually with vegetables and spices.
A typical local snack is chicharrón, familiar to those who enjoy crackling (or cracklins). These fried pork rinds are eaten on their own or as a flavoring in many other dishes that the Dominican Republic is known for.
Mofongo is a ball of mashed green plantains, mixed with fresh garlic, and (usually) chicharrón. It can be a main course, or snack, or just served as a side dish.
Mofongo is not to be confused with mondongo, a stew made with offal. You may know it as chitterlings, or chitlins.
Grenada’s claim to be the best island in the Caribbean for food is founded on its reputation as the “Spice Island”. Plentiful other local ingredients, such as chocolate and seafood add their own appeal to the mix.
The national dish is oil down, an unappealing name for a hearty one-pot stew enriched with coconut milk and spices. It’s made with breadfruit, green bananas, yam, taro leaves (callaloo), and meat such as salt beef or chicken.
Callaloo grows everywhere in Grenada, so no surprise to find it commonly served in a soup. These taro leaves are steamed with okra, pumpkin, peppers, and onion before the whole is blended into a soup.
Another one-pot meal is Grenadian pelau, a dish of chicken and rice. It may remind you of Spanish paella, but is lifted with coconut milk and chicken browned in caramelized sugar.
One unmissable Grenadian dish is crab back, crab shells stuffed with the crabmeat and breadcrumbs with herbs, and spices. They’re baked and then served as a starter, and every cook has their own variation.
The island’s spices come to the fore in treats such as nutmeg ice cream and sweet potato pudding. Few visitors come away without some souvenir chocolate, in various forms from cookies to cocoa powder.
Jamaica must come to mind when you think of the best Caribbean island for food. Its jerk chicken, patties, and ackee with saltfish practically define Caribbean cuisine.
Jamaica is known for its jerk spices. Jerk is a fiery mix of spices applied wet or dry as a flavoring to chicken or other meat, such as pork. Once grilled or smoked, the distinctive taste is addictive.
Ackee & saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica, seen at breakfast or lunch with dumplings. Ackee is a fruit, its sweetness adding a lovely extra note to a mix that also includes onion, Scotch Bonnet pepper, and tomato.
Jamaican patties are pastries filled with a savory mix, usually ground beef, chicken, vegetables or cheese. They are a popular street food—perfect for a quick snack.
Curry goat probably needs no introduction. However, Escovitch fish or gizzada are less easy to guess.
Escovitch fish is a dish of fried fish with a vinegary hot sauce, usually served with dumplings or flatbread. Gizzada is a sweet tart, made of a round pastry casing filled with spicy coconut.
Another local classic that must be mentioned is rice and peas (actually kidney beans), a common flavorful side dish to main meals. It’s a reminder of the influence of Ital, the Rastafarian vegetarian cuisine that has now spread throughout the Caribbean and beyond.
The culinary scene in Puerto Rico has exploded in recent years, earning its restaurants many awards. However, its wonderful local cuisine remains the foundation that places it among the best Caribbean islands for food.
The national dish is arroz con gandules, made with rice, and pigeon peas in a sofrito of tomato, peppers, and onions. Pigeon peas (gandules) are a small, oval bright green bean with a nutty flavor.
Arroz con gandules can be eaten on its own but is more commonly seen as a side dish. It’s great with seafood dishes or local favorites such as lechón asado (slow-roasted pig).
Asopao de pollo is a soup of chicken with rice, a regular on lunch menus, often with a bewildering mix of extra ingredients from tomatoes to shellfish.
You haven’t been to Puerto Rico until you’ve tasted mofongo, another dish with many variations. Its base is a ball of mashed fried plantains, which is then stuffed with anything from pork crackling (chicharrone) to shrimp.
Pasteles are the Puerto Rian version of tamales, with a filling of seasoned pork or chicken wrapped in a dough based on green plantains. For a typical dessert, try the refreshing coconut-rich tembleque, a creamy pudding seasoned with cinnamon.
With a strong African, French, and Indian heritage, St. Lucia’s cuisine is a sometimes overlooked side to this beautiful island. Its fertile volcanic soil grows plenty of farm-to-table local produce.
The national dish of St. Lucia is green fig and saltfish, a traditional breakfast dish of boiled green bananas (figs). Salted cod is prepared with a long soaking, then cooked with onions, peppers, and lots of seasoning.
Among the island’s produce is breadfruit, dasheen (a type of taro) and sweet potato. Breadfruit is a staple that can be boiled, roasted, or fried as a side dish to fish or meat.
Dasheen is the key ingredient in callaloo, a stew of onions, and garlic with a coconut milk base. It’s often also made with crab on special occasions.
Sweet potato pudding is a favorite dessert. The potato is grated into coconut milk flavored with sugar, and spices before the dish is baked.
Two other dishes you must try are bouyon, a stew of meat or vegetable, and accra. Accra is a crispy deep-fried dough ball stuffed with well-flavored saltfish.
While saltfish is a popular ingredient throughout the Caribbean, fresh fish is a major menu item. Many restaurants will feature a fish fry, with the daily catch served alongside fried plantains, or breadfruit.
Trinidad & Tobago is a dream destination for food lovers. Its mix of African, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and European peoples has produced an exciting mix of local food.
However, let’s start with Tobago black cake, a common souvenir it’s hard to resist eating before you arrive home. Rich in spirits, fruits, nuts, and spices, it captures the very essence of this warm, friendly island.
The national dish is crab and callaloo, often served as Sunday dinner. The callaloo (taro leaves) are boiled down in coconut milk with okra into a thick stew, then topped with crab.
Crab is also served with dumplings in another local dish, crab ’n’ dumplin’. The crab here is usually cooked in a tomato sauce, but again with coconut milk.
For street food, look out for doubles. These are a tasty sandwich of curried chickpeas (known as chana) between fried bread.
Bake and shark is another Tobago essential you’ll find on many beaches. It’s another sandwich of flatbread (bake), with a filling of fried, battered shark, and chutney-style dressing.
Alongside such street food staples, look out for chow. This is an addictive fruit cocktail, often based on pineapple, enriched with lime juice, pepper, and other spices.
Read: Things to Do in Tobago
Has this culinary tour of the best islands in the Caribbean for food whetted your appetite for a visit? Then browse our Caribbean cruises to find the perfect foodie getaway.