Cuisine of the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean

by Anne Evans

Traditional cuisine of the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean is something that I know embarrassingly little about despite having now resided on Grand Cayman for nearly 18 months. However, it’s a worthy topic and my objective is to become familiar with, compare, and contrast the two cuisines in this Blog.

The following reflects my research and my somewhat limited culinary dining experience, the latter given that my personal culinary preferences lean toward a diet based on simply grilled fish and meat, raw or steamed fresh vegetables and an absence of starches, carbohydrates, and sugar.

Yes, I know what you are thinking . . .  I call myself “The Expatriate Baker” — and yet I don’t eat carbs or sugar?

For me, baking is a form of art intended to be enjoyed by others. Consider Ludwig van Beethoven who was a superb composer, however he was deaf.  Yet he brought so much pleasure to others through his compositions, many of which he never heard. (No, I am not comparing my baking creations to the stratospheric influence of Beethoven, just providing a metaphor.)

What is Traditional Cuisine of the Cayman Islands?

According to Wikipedia (Cuisine of the Cayman Islands – Wikipedia):

Traditional Cayman Islands cuisine is tied to Jamaican cuisine and has also kept British influences in its cooking. (As I mentioned in earlier Blogs, The Cayman Islands’ first inhabitants were the British who colonized the Islands.)

Traditional dishes are frequently prepared with fish/seafood, locally grown vegetables, exotic fruits, and spices. Ingredients can include coconut, plantains, bananas, breadfruit, cassava, rice, peas, yellow squash, sweet potatoes, yellow yams, callaloo (Caribbean spinach), calabash, spring onions, chili peppers, a range of citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits as well as avocados, mangoes, pineapples, and tomatoes. It is true that the best tomatoes I have ever tasted are grown on these Islands.

Above are photos of fresh vegetables not so familiar in the US.

Local fish include Tuna, Caribbean Snapper, Wahoo – and the invasive Zebra Fish.         

Before we left our former home in the US, a dear friend gifted me two cookbooks reflecting Traditional Caymanian Cuisine: “Miss Cleo’s Cayman Kitchen”  and “Seafood Landfood – Cayman Islands Cookery.” They are both very interesting reads that provide insight into Traditional Caymanian Cuisine.

If you are a visitor in search of traditional Caymanian Cuisine, you may find this link of value:

However, read it carefully as some restaurants listed are described as having a mix of cuisines from other Caribbean Islands or “Cayman inspired dishes, with a modern twist”. In my opinion, the further you go from the major tourist areas of George Town and The 7-Mile Beach corridor, the more likely you are to find truly traditional Cayman Cuisine. If you are a new resident, head toward the more remote East End of the Island – or better yet, make friends with a native and get invited to a family dinner.

What is Traditional Caribbean Cuisine?

I feel I have more culinary experience with Caribbean Cuisine and find it more to my liking than Traditional Caymanian Cuisine. I consider Traditional Caymanian Cuisine to be a type of Caribbean Cuisine.

According to Wikipedia (Caribbean cuisine – Wikipedia):

Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of West African, CreoleAmerindianEuropeanLatin AmericanIndian/South AsianMiddle Eastern, and Chinese. These traditions were brought from many countries when they moved to the Caribbean. In addition, the population has created styles that are unique to the region.”

The ingredients are very similar to those noted above for Traditional Caymanian Cuisine – although I find meats not so prevalent nor varied on Grand Cayman as compared to other Caribbean Islands. An example is goat.  It is uncommon on Grand Cayman, but when Rick and I took our first vacation together to Antigua in 1994, Goat was a staple of their cuisine. Other Islands in the Caribbean where it is currently a staple include Jamaica, The Dominican Republic and Haiti. Personally, I enjoy goat – perhaps because I like tougher, more gamey meats.

My Experiences with Traditional Caymanian versus Traditional Caribbean Cuisine

I have not sought out opportunities to experience Traditional Caymanian Cuisine because it leans toward emphasizing high starch/carbohydrate ingredients. However, I have embraced Caribbean Cuisine because of its tendency to offer dishes with greater emphasis on fresh fish, lean proteins, and leafy green vegetables. And these ingredients abound on Grand Cayman!

I have yet to visit The Cayman Islands’ smaller, remote Islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, however I would expect that Traditional Caymanian Cuisine dominates these.

What is Current Caymanian/Caribbean Cuisine on Grand Cayman

It collides with international cuisine and fast-food – and my short answer is … TACOS!!!

It is rare not to find some form of Tacos in every low to high mid-range priced restaurant on Grand Cayman. They are very good – and they are presented in a vast number of innovative variations.  Even the shell varies – from soft to crisp to renditions made with breadfruit to those that substitute lettuce for the shell.

The following are links to some of the places where we have enjoyed Caymanian/Caribbean Tacos:

VIVO Café & Restaurant

A variety of Seafood, Vegetarian, and Vegan Tacos – with a willingness to adapt to any diner’s preferences for shell and accompanying sauces.

(Photo provided courtesy of VIVO.)

Chef Sara’s Breadfruit Tacos – available Friday and Saturday at The Cricket Grounds Farmers Market:

Breadfruit Taco Shells, Lettuce, Smoked Piri Piri (sauce), Seasoned Pepper Aioli, Salsa stuffing and your choice of 4 flavor packed proven winners: Calalloo (Caribbean spinach) Rundown, Cayman Style Beef, Smoked Spicy Pork, or Ackee (tropical apple) and Salt fish.

Tukka East & West

Choice of Flour or Corn Tortillas with (wow!) 7 different options for fillings, one of which includes the locally invasive Lion Fish.

Macabuca Tiki Bar

The emphasis here is on fish tacos served in flour tortillas with one unique exception being their Braised Short Rib Tacos, my husband’s favorite

The Sunshine Suites Grille

Served in your choice of corn, flour, or lettuce leaf shell with the options for fillings including fish, shell fish, Jerk pork, veggie, Cuban chicken, and more.

As a final comment to this Blog, these Caymanian and Caribbean cuisines described above now co-exist with a variety of international cuisines, high-end fine dining and (much to my chagrin) American-focused fast-food franchises. There will be more on this topic in future blogs.

If ai cannot solve a problem by baking a cookie, I cannot deal with it

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