Escape the cold weather with Ainsley Harriot, as he travels the Caribbean exploring the food of his childhood
Both of my parents were born in Jamaica. My father, Chester, travelled to London in the early 1950s on a music scholarship and mum came to study nursing. Looking into my family background a few years ago, on the TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, opened my eyes to my heritage: Jamaica’s national motto – ‘Out of many one people’ – really rang true. The experience was interesting and emotional, but importantly I came away with a real understanding of the Jamaican, Barbadian, Saint Lucian and Scottish connections of my family. I feel much closer to my Caribbean roots.
Food is an integral part of Caribbean life and was an important part of my childhood. I have wonderful memories of helping my mum cook and experiencing the patience and love that went into food. Our house was always busy with family, visiting relatives and friends. They were welcomed and brought with them laughter and music. We would all sit down to enjoy Mum’s delicious Caribbean spiced food and it was always a generous and shared experience. Seeing all those happy people enjoying food together is probably the reason I became a chef.
Caribbean cuisine is diverse. Culturally the islands are a melting pot of identities that influence the cuisine of each region. Originally, the islands were inhabited by the Caribs and the Arawaks, both Native American tribes. The Caribs introduced chilli peppers and spice to cooking, and the Arawaks used green sticks, called barbecoa, to grill their food – the origins of the modern barbecue. Later came colonists and the migration of Western Europeans, Africans and Asians to the islands. Today you can taste the history of the islands through the flavours of East India, China, Europe, South America and Africa, all playing their part in the multicultural society of the Caribbean.
I hope you enjoy these recipes and they bring you a wider understanding of Caribbean cooking. Although there are regional differences, there is a common element – a love of real food and a passion for sharing. So get cooking and don’t forget to turn up the music and feel the vibe! With the aromatic spices and exotic flavours, I promise you will be taken on a tropical journey with every mouthful. Yeah boi, dat sound good!
Extracted from Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen by Ainsley Harriott (Ebury Press, £26). Photography by Dan Jones.