To fully understand Caribbean caterers and our cuisine, you’ll need to understand the origin and background of its food.
MyDine offers traditional and contemporary Caribbean catering. With a lifetime of cooking knowledge and over 30 years of professional experience, we thought we’d show you where Caribbean cuisines has come from, particularly Jamaican food, how its grown and how its changed over time.
The Caribbean, Heritage & History
The Caribbean is also known as the West Indies, and is recognised for many wonderful things including its phenomenal weather, beaches, people and of course, its food!
However, the West Indies has a rich and turbulent history that has somewhat shaped its food and culture due to the enslavement and movement of African people to the Caribbean by the British and other European countries.
Media tendencies tend to portray the Caribbean as its well-known countries of; Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, although there are actually 13 countries. The West Indies itself is made up a variety of people, languages, dialects and traditions. With over 11 different languages and dialects spoken, some of which include; English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Creole, Jamaican Patois and some dialects which are an amalgamation of them all.
Due to and during slavery, there was a mixture of people and cultures from across the Caribbean, which is also reflective in the food created over centuries. The people of the Caribbean created their own recipes over time to reflect their culture and environment. As a result of this, Caribbean people created food that would physically sustain them for long periods of time, with cuts of meat, fish and vegetables that they could catch, grow and afford.
As such, Caribbean’s became known for their creative ways to add flavour to “poor mans food” with herbs, spices, preservation and cooking techniques. Common seasonings, herbs and spices that are still used today and are staple within Caribbean food are items such as:
- Scotch Bonnet
As a result of different takes on different dishes, each country in the Caribbean has their own national dish, as well as their own takes on a variety of well-known dishes. For example, Jamaica’s national dish is Ackee & Salt fish, Trinidad & Tobago have Crab & Callaloo and Barbados have Cou-cou & Flying Fish, but they all have their own take on Curry Goat.
As Caribbean caterers specialising in Jamaican cuisine, we’re slightly bias! But, we also happy incorporate other Islands styles of Caribbean cooking to diversify flavours and bring new tastes to people in the UK.
What is Caribbean food and Caribbean Caterers
A generic stereotype of Caribbean food is that it’s believed to be very spicy. However, Caribbean food is actually a fusion mix of African, Creole, Cajun, Amerindian, European, Latin American, Indian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cuisines. As such, most Caribbean caterers and Caribbean food is a perfect balance of sweet and hot spices, herbs, different marinating and cooking techniques.
As Caribbean food is so diverse, it is not possible to see it as all the same. You should think about Caribbean food and Caribbean caterers as a set of 3 core processes or principles that are implemented across all the islands.
- Seasoning – all countries within the West Indies use a staple base of seasonings, many common seasonings include; fresh onions, garlic, scotch bonnet, thyme, pimentos, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Marinating and preserving – marinating Caribbean food is integral to imparting flavour in your proteins or vegetables. A common Caribbean saying is “If its marinated for less than 24 hours, its just a rub”. Meaning marinating food in the refrigerator overnight is crucial. Where food cannot be refrigerated, it needs to be preserved; therefore “salting” food is the common alternative.
- Cooking – Due to the weather conditions, Caribbean cooking tends to be done one of 4 ways; barbequed, pressure-cooked, slow cooked & fried.
Although these traditional processes of seasoning, marinating, preserving and cooking have been common in Caribbean and Asian countries for hundreds of years. The movement and migration of Caribbean people across the world in the last 60 to 70 years has also seen these traditional processes and styles of cooking adopted by Western and European societies, and are now commonly practiced across the world.
From the Caribbean to UK
Hundreds of thousands of Caribbean people were invited by a number of different countries across the world to help rebuild following World War 2. The most well known migration of Caribbean people is the “Windrush” Generation, whereby the British invited Caribbean people to travel across the Atlantic Ocean via the Empire Windrush ship to come and help rebuild the country between 1948 and 1973. As such, those who arrived following the British invite were also granted automatically British citizenship and were free to permanently live and work in the UK.
On arrival to the UK, people from the Caribbean were faced with extreme and deplorable acts of racism and discrimination. As a result, they built their own communities to bring everyone together to cook, pray, share experiences and more.
Since its creation Caribbean food has evolved overtime, as such; Caribbean caterers have adapted and diversified traditional techniques and flavours to add their own modern interpretations.
Unlike many other cuisines, the uniqueness of Caribbean food is one of the reasons why Caribbean caterers and Caribbean people are so proud of it. They are recipes brought together through struggles and triumphs as opposed to experimentation. Even with newer modern takes on Caribbean food, traditional recipes from hundreds of years are past down through each generation and continue to live on to this day.
As time has moved on in the UK, many British-Caribbean people have become more enterprising and started their own businesses. A predominant sector where British-Caribbean people operate is in the Caribbean catering, restaurant and the food sector. With thousands across the country offering a wide range of traditional and contemporary Caribbean food.
As a fusion style of Caribbean caterer, MyDine mix both traditional Caribbean and European flavours to push the boundaries of cooking, whilst maintaining its traditions and integrity.
Why culturally appropriating Caribbean food is a “no-no”
As Caribbean food has become more popular in the UK and across the world, it brings its own challenges to the masses. With its newfound popularity, mainstream music and media, Caribbean food has also become commercialised by corporations and television chefs.
As mentioned throughout this article, Caribbean food has a long and complex history that stems from slavery. Its food has adapted and changed by the people of the Caribbean to suit their needs and requirements. Food was also used as a way of communicating to other people and other Islands, as some recipes were seen as celebratory dishes and others as commemoratory.
Caribbean food is a way of people expressing gratitude, kindness, compassion and equal sharing. As such, Caribbean recipes, cooking methods and flavours are both precious and unique to the people of each Island and the historical integrity of those traditional recipes.
Commercialisation, cultural appropriation and misappropriation of Caribbean food should not to confused with contemporary takes on Caribbean cuisine by Caribbean caterers or chefs.
Caribbean caterers and chef such as MyDine and others are well versed in traditional Caribbean cooking, as it is something that has been passed down by family members, and is food we cook at home. Therefore the original recipes, flavours and tastes are still maintained and are integral to the core of its cooking. Whereas cultural appropriation, misappropriation and commercialisation is using or taking another’s culture or heritage and stealing or appropriating it, without acknowledging, referencing or citing the real and traditional origins with a intended goal to profit from it. In general, cultural appropriation, misappropriation and commercialisation comes from a majority group taking from a minority.
A few examples of well-documented incidents of chefs and organisations culturally appropriating Caribbean food are IKEA and their “Jamaican Jerk Chicken Rice n Peas”. The Swedish company released their “Jerk Chicken Rice n Peas” to the UK public back in 2019. However, it was very clear that this was not Jamaican “Rice and Peas”, it was actually chicken, white rice and garden peas served with gravy; all of which is not Jamaican or Jerk Chicken. But because the company saw an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of Jamaican food without making any attempt to understand, learn or even seek advise from people of the culture. IKEA received a huge backlash and scrutiny as it seemingly “whitewashed” the entire cultural history and heritage of one of Jamaica’s most favourite and well-known dishes for profits. As a result, IKEA received huge backlash for this across the board, pulled their chicken, rice and garden peas and issued a public apology.
Similarly, celebrity chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Jamie Oliver have also been caught culturally misappropriating Caribbean food for profit. In 2018 Jamie Oliver launched his microwavable “Punchy Jerk Rice” in supermarkets across the UK. In the Caribbean and Jamaica “to Jerk” refers to traditional ingredients, marinating and the cooking process that either meat or fish goes through to create its unique taste and flavour which has been practiced for hundreds of years by Caribbean’s. Therefore the term “Jerk” cannot be attributed to Jamie Oliver’s rice for several reasons:
- Its not possible to Jerk Rice
- None of the ingredients found in Jamaican Jerk is found in his product
- Ingredients Jamie Oliver uses such as Brown rice, Aubergine, Jalapeño Peppers, Lemon Juice & White Vinegar are not ingredients found in either Jerk marinades or Jamaican Rice & Peas
As there is no correlation between “Jerk”, its history, or ingredients that derives from the Caribbean. The reference to “Jerk” in “Punchy Jerk Rice” can only be attributed to culturally misappropriating, commercialising and profiteering of another minority culture with no regard for its real and authentic background.
As for Marco Pierre White… We’ll let you make up your mind whether you think this is “traditional Jamaican Jerk Chicken Rice & Peas” or if any “local Jamaican” would cook like he does? Click here to watch.
Or is Marco Pierre White’s “plain chicken drum sticks, white rice and garden peas” that he is calling Jamaican Jerk Chicken Rice & Peas more about the multimillion-pound company, Knorr, that he is working with? Using the popularity and name of Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Rice & Peas to sell their stock cubes? Note: Do NOT use this method or any of the ingredients shown or spoken about to cook Caribbean food, click here to view our authentic Jerk Chicken Rice & Peas recipe.
Large so-called “Caribbean” food chains and restaurants such as Turtle Bay have also been regularly found to culturally appropriate and commercialise Jamaican food and culture with no regard for its real history. The company co-founded and owned by a white man and Sri Lankan men, have also come under scrutiny by using unfounded Jamaican stereotypes to sell their food in their restaurants.
For example, on entry you’ll walk into their restaurant and are instantly met with the “tin-style shack” appearance, reggae music and some sort of mural of Jamaica or Bob Marley. In actual fact there is more to Jamaican than this, but these reinforced stereotypes continue to dilute the real history of Caribbean food. Yet, Jamaica’s national dish does not feature anywhere on their menu.
In 2015 the company also had to apologise for the racist “Blacking Up” up of a white man and giving him dreads for a marketing campaign.
The problem with organisations and chefs using Caribbean food without learning about its origins, traditions or being taught/shown how to properly cook it, it results in the dilution and disenfranchisement of real and traditional Caribbean food by removing its heritage and cultural significance. As a result, it becomes a stereotype of what people think Caribbean food is, without understanding what Caribbean food actually is. Which is why culturally appropriating is a no-no, and many will find a backlash from many people of that culture when it occurs.
Top 6 Caribbean places to eat in Birmingham
Here’s our list for top places to eat or order real authentic Caribbean food in Birmingham!
- MyDine Catering
- 24 Carat Bistro
- Netty’s Caribbean takeaway
- Mellow’s Bar & Restaurant
- Adian’s Dining
- Bailey’s Caribbean
To view traditional and everyday home cooks cooking Caribbean food, check out Jamaican Food Facebook page.