Living in Toronto, you’re never very far away from amazing Caribbean food. From the eateries of Little Jamaica to newer fusion-inspired spots like Patois and Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen it’s impossible to ignore the Caribbean influence on the city’s food and culture as a whole. (Case in point: Toronto’s iconic Jamaican restaurant, The Real Jerk was chosen as the location for Drake and Rihanna’s “Work” video).
As a Torontonian, I got used to being able to find delicious Trinidadian roti, perfectly fried tostones, and freshly baked Jamaican patties whenever the craving struck.
When I moved to the west coast a few years ago, I was no longer able to find many of my favorite Caribbean food and pantry items at the local grocery store. Instead, whenever I would travel to the Caribbean (or other larger cities where there’s a Caribbean population), I’d always make sure to bring back jars of my favorite hot sauces, marinades, and sweet treats. However, with international travel currently on hold, I’ve had to get creative with my shopping.
The good news: If you’re looking to add a taste of the Caribbean to your pantry, there’s a plethora of delicious options that you can easily order online—from Jamaican marinades and Aruban hot sauces to Puerto Rican sweets and Cuban aji cachucha peppers.
Whether you yearn to recreate your favorite island comfort foods or are simply looking for ways to kick your pantry options up a notch, we polled Caribbean chefs and rounded up some of our favorite products that are available online stateside.
One of the easiest ways to bring a taste of the Caribbean to your kitchen is with an amazing hot sauce—and there are many to choose from.
Louis Soon, co-owner of Atlanta’s Lapeer Seafood Market, which is known for its fresh take on seafood and Caribbean dishes, recommends Pickapeppa Sauce as a “can’t live without” Caribbean food staple. This Jamaican hot sauce has a complex, spicy, raisiny taste to it that delivers next-level flavor to marinades, dipping sauces and smoked or braised meats.
Pickapeppa Sauce, $7.40 from Amazon
Made with papaya, de Peña says, “It has a tropical flavor with a small kick of heat from the peppers, though not too strong. What I personally love is that it can be altered and used in a number of ways. For example, it makes a great dipping sauce on the side for fries or vegetables, or you can mix it with other ingredients to create new sauces—a Creole sauce for fish Creole is one of my favorites. You can also make it into an aioli that pairs well with sandwiches or with Funchi fries, a local staple here in Aruba,” says de Peña. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative. “If you’re mixing the Pica di Papaya with seafood or chicken, you really can’t go wrong.”
Looking for another great option? Chef Ariq Flax-Clarke of the British Virgin Islands recommends adding local favorite, Sunny Caribbee Calypso hot sauce to your arsenal. “It can be utilized in a variety of ways, however, my favorite is to turn it into an aioli which can be used as a condiment for a taco, on some pelau, or even in a sandwich.”
Flax-Clarke prepares his signature spicy aioli by roasting two sweet bell peppers which he then adds to a blender with three tablespoons of Sunny Caribbee Calypso hot sauce. Once it’s puréed, he slowly adds one cup of oil into the blender on high speed so that the mixture emulsifies. “When thickened to your liking add a squeeze of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of vinegar for little acidity, a pinch of salt and it’s finished,” he says.
Lastly, you can’t forget Grace Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce, says Chef Carmen, head chef at Bluefields Bay Villas in Jamaica. Made with a dash of sweetness and a lot of heat, “with this hot sauce, you are sure to bring Jamaican flavor to everything!” she says.
Peppers are a key ingredient in Caribbean cuisine. Chef Stefan Friedrich Spath, Corporate Executive Chef at Couples Resorts in Jamaica, is a fan of Scotch bonnet peppers which can easily be purchased online, along with other Jamaican ingredients like papaya leaves and ackee seeds from JerkLikeUs.
“The heat from them is quite unique; they are not JUST spicy, but they have a wonderful roundness and balance of flavors. But don’t be fooled—they can be fierce. Of course they are essential in local Jamaican cooking, but they complement most international dishes really well. Whenever I get fresh ones, I like to chop them up and put them in a glass jar. I then top them with olive oil and keep it in the fridge. It lasts for months and the oil with the peppers can be used for cooking just like the fresh peppers. It also makes the perfect condiment on pasta or pizza,” says Friedrich Spath.
Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Peppers, $4.49+ from Etsy
Cuban-American Chef Alejandro Porben, Executive Chef at Sala’o Cuban Restaurant & Bar in Miami, encourages home chefs to also check out Aji Cachucha (Cachucha Peppers). Easily available on Amazon, Porben says, “Aji Cachucha is a small mild pepper used in many traditional Caribbean dishes, and can be found in countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. In Cuba, my family always had these peppers on hand for dishes like black bean stew and chicken fricassee. They are not spicy, but they do add a nice touch of peppery flavor.”
Curry is another essential element to Caribbean cuisine. Executive Chef Sebastian Perez of the Caerula Mar Club in South Andros, Bahamas says, “one of my favorite traditional Caribbean dishes is coconut curry. The flavors pair perfectly for a quick fish stew or seafood soup, but can really be used with any protein or vegetable when you’re in the mood for something different with a kick!”
For an easy, richly flavored dish he recommends the Curry Marinade Seasoning Pack from Reggae Spice Company. You can also make your own coconut curry using curry powder and canned coconut milk—his favorite is from Caribbean Choice.
Jamaican Jerk Marinade Seasoning, $9.99 from Reggae Spice Company
“Jerk seasoning is a staple pantry ingredient in Jamaica, used to make our world famous jerk chicken, fish, pork, and various seafood dishes, it adds just the right amount of spiciness and really enhances the flavor,” says Executive Chef Anthony Miller, from Hedonism II Resort in Negril, Jamaica.
Miller says that Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning is known as the best in Jamaica. But it’s not for the faint of heart. “Be warned, jerk seasoning is very strong and you only need to use about 1-2 teaspoons when cooking for two-four people,” says Miller.
Chef Carmen also vouches for Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning. “For best results, make sure to marinate generously and overnight,” she says.
Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, $11.47 from Amazon
“Cooking with fresh spices of the Caribbean brings out the soulful flavor of the Islands. There are many sources found in the grocery store, but getting impeccably sourced fresh herbs & spices make your cooking aromatic, earthy and complex,” says Chef Allen Susser from Jade Mountain Resort in Soufriere Bay, St. Lucia. He suggests stocking your pantry with whole cumin seeds, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, and nutmeg from Burlap and Barrel.
Grains and Beans
Chef Susser also suggests investing in some high-quality staples to add to your dishes like the coarse yellow grits, farro piccolo, Carolina Gold rice, peas, and beans from Anson Mills. “Heirloom varieties produce amazing flavor with staples of Creole and Caribbean cooking—the grits, rice, peas and beans. It’s all in the details,” he says.
For home chefs looking for a very quick meal idea, make sure to check out A Dozen Cousins, a line of pantry friendly bean dishes made using authentic Caribbean, Creole, and Latin American recipes. Try the delicious ready-made Cuban Black Beans and Trini Chickpea Curry (the Mexican Cowboy Beans are great too!)
I’m the first to admit that I am a very lazy home chef. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Island Spice All Purpose Seasoning—a spice mix I originally discovered while in Jamaica. Made with sage, oregano, and what I can only imagine is “magic,” this seasoning salt is great for adding umami to everything from hashbrowns to grilled shrimp. Having this mix on hand, makes whatever ingredients on hand taste delicious.
“Plantains are used all over the Caribbean, either green (unripe) as a veggie and yellow to even black (ripe to very ripe) as a fruit. Every stage of ripeness has its own use. Green plantain is great to make chips and tostones.”
“My favorite way to use ripe plantains is to make plantain soup, which has a fantastic balance of sweet and savory, or to make plantain waffles. On Curacao, slices of yellow plantain are pan fried in butter and served as a side dish in any local restaurant,” says Smeulders.
Chef Smeulders also suggests adding tamarind to your pantry. “We have an abundance of tamarind trees in the Caribbean. Every island has different recipes and uses. In Curacao we make tamarind lemonade and sweets. I prefer to use it for sauces and glazes.”
“It brings a lot of flavor and freshness. If you can’t find fresh tamarind, you can use store-bought packages of Somboon brand wet seedless tamarind pulp,” she says. (You can also find other brands; they come in blocks and are also labeled tamarind paste.)
Sweet tooth? We’ve got you covered. Joancarlo Parkhurst, a Puerto Rican chef based in Washington, DC enjoys starting his morning with Mallorcas La Orocovena. “This is a Puerto Rican sweet roll we eat for breakfast in PR.” While he’s looking forward to serving guests a homemade version when he opens his restaurant La Famosa in DC’s Navy Yard neighborhood, he says the store bought sweet buns that you can get at Antojo Boricua are still very good.
Mallorcas La Orocoveña con Azúcar, $3.99 from Antojo Boricua
If you’re in the mood to splurge, he suggests pairing your morning sweets with a cup of Café Alto Grande, a Puerto Rican coffee which is available from El Comado. “It’s a super-premium coffee and is rumored to have been enjoyed by John Paul the 2nd at the Vatican,” he says.
Lastly, you can’t mention the Caribbean without rum. “Being from Trinidad, I’ve been a student of rum my entire life. It’s played an active role in so many moments of celebration and it’s very much a part of our cultural fabric,” says Marc Farrell founder and CEO of the Caribbean rum Ten To One.
Ten To One features elevated rums that are authentically Caribbean and perfect for craft cocktails.
Their dark rum is a blend of 8-year aged Barbados, Dominican and Trinidadian column still rums combined with high ester Jamaican pot still rum and finished in ex-Bourbon American oak casks (think: heady notes of baking spice, cedar, nut loaf, leather and apple). There’s also a refreshing and zesty white rum that’s a blend of column still rum from the Dominican Republic and high ester pot still rum from Jamaica.
Both are delicious and can be enjoyed on the rocks or in a cocktail. “You’ll often find me drinking our dark rum with a splash of soda water or in a Rum Old Fashioned. And during the summer months, maybe a spicy daiquiri served on the rocks. It’s delicious, refreshing and carries the flavor well,” says Farrell.
Related Reading: The Best Places to Buy Alcohol Online
Check out the best rum recipes on Chowhound for more ideas.
Header image courtesy of Walkerswood/Facebook