The Caribbean islands were settled by different cultures around the world. Caribbean cooking combines a mix of flavors, spices and foods from all of these influences. One thing that is common amongst all types of Caribbean food is a use of local ingredients, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and chicken.
Limes are often used in Caribbean dishes. Limes are readily available in this warm climate and are cut fresh and squeezed as a marinade for meats and vegetables. If visiting the Caribbean, you will likely notice that locals squeeze fresh lime juice on fish and then grill or otherwise prepare the fish. This method of preparation is called Ceviche, which simply means that the fish is raw until cooked by citrus juice. These dishes will also have onions and fresh, local herbs for seasoning.
Jerk is a Caribbean seasoning used in Jamaica. The Jerk seasoning is very spicy and is made up of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, thyme, nutmeg, scallions, pepper, salt, garlic and Scotch bonnet peppers. Traditionally, it is applied to pork and chicken, although some islands also put it on fish. Typically, the spice is added as a dry rub to the meat and allowed to soak in before the meat is chargrilled.
Rice is used as a staple in Caribbean cooking much like bread is used in the United States. The type of rice varies from island to island. You might find anything from yellow rice to red rice used in different dishes on different islands. Rice is also combined with other ingredients, such as peas, coconut or mangoes for a unique flavor that is tropical and again uses local ingredients.
Barbacoa is the Caribbean version of grilling and simply means that the food is grilled over an open flame. This can be over an open barbecue pit, open barrel with a flame, or in the traditional hole dug in the ground and covered with maguey leaves. Whichever method is used, the meat is slow cooked until tender. In the Mexican Caribbean, the meat is served taco style over a warm corn tortilla.