The Caribbean has a delectable and flavorful mix of cuisines, made up of African, Amerindian, European, East Indian, Arabic, and Chinese influences. Therefore as you may have guessed, the best food to find while traveling there is local. Don’t even step into a McDonald’s when you’re abroad: Instead, check out these must-have eats in my Caribbean food guide.
Let’s start with the commonalities. These three dishes can be found throughout the Caribbean, albeit with different names and flavor twists.
Empanadas: Originated in Spain—known as a patty in Haiti and pastelito in the Dominican Republic, these dough pastries can be stuffed with anything from cheese and meat to shrimp and octopus (the last two of which are popular in Puerto Rico and Cuba).
Mofongo: An Afro-Puerto Rican dish made up of smashed fried green plantain filled with shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork and usually served with fried meat or chicken broth. Dominicans call it mangú, and it’s usually eaten for breakfast as part of the tres golpes dish: mangú, salami, and fried cheese topped with red onions. It is known as fufu in Cuba and tum tum in Haiti.
Ajiaco: Originated from Cuba, known as sancocho in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and as bouillon in Haiti, Ajiaco is a hearty stew prepared with beef, pork, chicken, vegetables, and viandas (starchy roots and tubers).
Now for some location-specific Comida Typica in the islands.
Alcapurria: A Puerto Rican fritter; la masa is made up of green plantains and yautia, stuffed inside with savory, seasoned ground beef.
Sorullitos: Cornsticks served with mayo-ketchup.
Guanime: Boiled flour dumplings served with habichuelas or bacalao.
Bacalaito: A pancake-like, deep-fried mixture of codfish and other ingredients such as cilantro, sofrito, parsley, and oregano.
Many of these snacks can be found in cuchifritos, food trucks, or food stands.
Chimichurri: Known just as, “chimi,” is the Dominican burger and maybe one of the best things you will ever eat. It is made up of ground pork or beef served on pan de agua embellished with chopped cabbage and other toppings such as onions, cilantro, oregano, mayo, and ketchup. Chimi is available all over the island in food stands or trucks.
Yaroa in Santiago: From the north of the island, this delicious mountain of platano maduro, ground beef, Gouda cheese seasoned with pepper, paprika, and onions will leave you breathless. Found in Oche a Tu Gusto Restaurant.
Quipe: A deep-fried bulgur roll stuffed with ground beef, originating from a migration of Middle Easterners who came to the island in the 19th century.
Pastelón: Dominican lasagna, mashed dough of cassava, rice, maduros, and potatoes layered with ground beef and cheddar cheese. Also made in Puerto Rico where the maduros is the main layer of the dish.
Stewed Conch or Lambi Style: Conch prepared in various ways such as a creole sauce, stew or in a salad.
Cabrit: Fried goat meat served with fried yams, very popular in Haiti.
Poul Ak Nwa: Chicken with cashews, a traditional and regional dish from Cap-Haitien, the north of Haiti.
Medianoche: Similar to the Cuban sandwich; has sliced pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard on an egg loaf instead of buttered Cuban bread.
Boliche: A Cuban family tradition, is the eye of round roast stuffed with chorizo sausages, served with white rice and platano maduros.
Elena Ruz: Named after a young Cuban socialite in the 1930s who used to order a sandwich with cream cheese on one side and strawberry jam on the other and slices of turkey at a popular restaurant in the Vedado neighborhood became one of the best-loved sandwiches in the island.
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Stay tuned for my Caribbean Dessert Guide!