This time of year I begin to dream about Caribbean street food. A steaming bowl of goat stew richly flavored with allspice, scotch bonnet peppers, and Indian curry. A delicious Roti filled with just about anything – salt fish, veggies, stewed chicken or goat. I imagine being lured away from my beach chair by the aroma of jerk chicken sizzling on a nearby grill.
When I start my Caribbean dreaming, I know it’s time to do one of three things: 1) book a flight to the Caribbean, 2) visit the nearest Caribbean restaurant, or 3) get in the kitchen and start whipping up a Caribbean feast for my friends!
I love kicking back with a Roti in hand watching the activity of one of the many open-air markets or the beach scene in St. Croix. I love diving into a bowl of callaloo greens, taro or dasheen in Jamaica – depending on where you are it’s known by different names, and the way it is prepared varies widely. After shaking it up all night in San Juan, I love to grab a pincho at La Placita de Santurce.
I have to admit that my first visit to the Caribbean was even more exciting than my move to New York City, which is where I was first introduced to street food. (More about that later!) There were so many distinctly Caribbean treats to discover as my Puerto Rican friend guided me through the streets of San Juan. We indulged our taste buds on Pinchos in adobo, Mofongo, and Alcapurrias. Really, just saying these words makes my taste buds dance!
During one visit to Puerto Rico over the Christmas holiday I was introduced to pasteles, a traditional holiday treat throughout the Caribbean made with yautia and green bananas. The starchy ingredients are boiled, spiced with achiote oil and mashed together. Then a spoonful is placed on a thick parchment like paper, filled with a deliciously spiced pork mixture, wrapped like a present in banana leaves, tied up and boiled again. I watched as the pastele was unwrapped and sprinkled with hot sauce. It was love at first bite! (Granted, this is not street food but it is worth mentioning! If you ever have an opportunity to eat pasteles, go for it!)
On a day trip to a beach town one day we stopped on the side of the road for coconut juice. The vendor chopped off the top of the coconut with a machete, stuck a straw in the gaping hole and handed it to me. The juice was so cool, so sweet, so utterly fresh and natural.
Typically I seek out street food when I go to the Caribbean. On occasion, I like a meal in a formal dining room with tablecloths and fine silver. However, my love of street food will find me at a market stall or beach vendor more often than in a restaurant. If you’re planning a first trip or are going for the umpteenth time, Caribbean street food is exciting enough to plan an entire visit around! It’s fresh, it’s well seasoned and it is soul satisfying! It’s a foodie paradise no matter which island or country you visit!