Food from the West Indies is inspired from every corner of the world in terms of its ingredients and flavours- from West Africa, India, the Middle East ,the Far East and even Northern Europe.
For hundreds of years, the food from this collection of tropical Islands remained as one of the worlds best-kept secrets and it wasn’t until the huge migration from the Islands to rainy old England in the 1950s where we truly learnt about the culture. We’re talking, music, customs and of, course, food.
Nowadays, we love to gnaw on pseudo-authentic Jamaican dishes and smother everything in Reggae Reggae sauce, but the truth is – authenticity is out there if you know where to look. Below you will find our picks of the top six Caribbean dishes and where to find them in Manchester.
These little deep-fried golden nuggets of goodness originate from Jamaica, and they have a version in Barbados too which are round balls. They are eaten at all times of the day, even for breakfast and are formed of your basic batter flavoured with paprika, spring onions, thyme and sometimes turmeric for colour. Saltfish, also called bacalao, bacalhau or baccalà is a white fish (usually cod) that is dried and preserved for prolonged storage. Before it is used in cooking, it has to be rehydrated in water overnight, which gives it a unique texture which is slightly chewy. The clue is in the name, but it is heavily salted in the preservation process which gives it a gorgeous savoury flavour which just tastes like the sea. These are an absolute staple in the Caribbean diet, and you can pick some fantastic ones up from Jerk Shack in the Northern Quarter for £3.50 a pop.
Jerk Shack, 12 Church St, Manchester M4 1AH
These will be familiar to you despite where you come from. Whether it is the humble Cornish pasty, the South American Empanada, the Japanese Goyza, or the Indian Somosa these little patties trump them all. Made from flaky pastry flavoured with turmeric which gives them their distinct yellow-ish hue, and filled with minced meat (lamb or beef), stewed jackfruit, saltfish or vegetables. They are often flavoured with scotch bonnet chillies which are hot as fuck and quite frankly, not for the faint-hearted. They are the ultimate West Indian comfort food, and you will find everyone’s mother makes the best ones around. They are always a winner wherever you go, but I am a particular fan of the ones from Sun Rise Caribbean Food, which are £2 each and go fantastically well with a side of fried plantain.
Sun Rise Caribbean Food, 120 Broughton Ln, Salford M7 1XG
Ackee & Salt Fish
Ever heard of the Akee fruit? Yeah me neither. It originates from West Africa and comes from the same family as the lychee. It is the national fruit of Jamaica after it was brought over and cultivated in the 1790’s and is also the main ingredient in the national dish. The fruit does not have a particularly sweet flavour and instead is used for its course almost meaty texture which is achieved after being boiled. This is then mixed with the salt fish and fried in a skillet alongside garlic, onions, chilli peppers, peppers, paprika and thyme. It is usually eaten for breakfast or dinner and is typically served with bread or dumplings. I know this is a bit of a strange one – it looks like scrambled eggs, but tastes like nothing you’ve ever had before. I urge you to give it a go though, find it on the menu at The Drop in Chorlton.
The Drop, 356 Barlow Moor Rd, Manchester M21 8AZ
Jerk is a spiced blend and method of cooking and marinating that is native to Jamaica. It starts with a dry rub of seasoning which contains allspice, scotch bonnet chilli peppers, cloves, spring onions, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, ginger, garlic, salt and brown sugar for sweetness. The flavours and spices are an excellent example of how West Indian food is inspired from every corner of the world – thyme from England, Cinnamon from the Middle East and nutmeg from West Africa. You can have jerk-anything, but it is most commonly chicken which is typically marinated and grilled over hot coals. There isn’t anything which tastes like it.
I like my Jerk pretty spicy and aromatic, so I like the one from RAD’S in Ancoats it comes with a thick, sticky gravy and a side of rice and peas (brown rice and black beans.)
RAD’S Caribbean Takeaway, 62 Jersey St, Manchester M4
I don’t think there is anything better than tender, succulent meat that falls off the bone and melts in the mouth. The Caribbean is big into the cheaper cuts of meat, which despite requiring a little more TLC in the kitchen, are packed full of flavour. Oxtail is a perfect example of this. It needs to be braised for longer than it will take you to watch every episode of Lost. Alright, alright, maybe its more like three or four hours, but how many of us have that sort of time to spare? We all need to stop what we are doing and have a mass exodus from the office and make our way to Carribean Flavas. I think this place wins best in show for the name too. Their oxtail is cooked the traditional way with butterbeans, chillies and all manner of gorgeous things. Go and try it and then come back to me and try and tell us that it isn’t like a great big hug from the inside out.
Carribean Flavas, 187 Chapel St, Salford M3 5EQ
Here in the UK, mutton and goat are meats which have seemed to have fallen from grace a little. Why? I wish I knew, but I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with the rising popularity of screaming goat videos on YouTube. Anyway, goat is a big part of the Caribbean diet and for a good reason- it is utterly delicious. The only way to describe it is like lamb but with a slightly punchier taste or perhaps more gamy flavour, and when it is cooked right, it is so much more tender than any lamb you have ever had. The humble goat curry is, again, a great example of the diverse influences in Caribbean cooking and also the simplicity in its nature. Every time I eat a West Indian goat curry, I can taste the long slow cooking and the love and care that has gone into every mouthful. If you work in town, I urge you to pop down to Eat n’ Sweet in the NQ and try their curry goat- it is everything it should be and will only set you back £6.
Eat & Sweet, 27-, 29 Church St, Manchester M4 1PE