Please note, before reading this, that this post is based off the observations I’ve made in my region, which is the Greater Toronto Area, in Canada. It just may happen that some, all, or maybe none of what I am saying, may apply to where you are. I am not writing my observations as if they are set in stone rules that are supposed to apply to all Caribbean restaurants everywhere, I am not.
Im more likely to eat from a “West-Indian” restaurant than a “Caribbean” restaurant…
I buy my groceries from a “West-Indian” store, not a “Caribbean” store.
There is a Caribbean restaurant on the campus of my school. It is popular, as it is one of the few places on campus you can get a home cooked meal at a reasonable price that is also rammed with flavour. It is also one of the few places that is “ethnic” in origin. So last week when a friend of mine invited me to try some food from there, I of course said yes. She reassured that “Dude, if you’re Jamaican, you’ll love their food.” Glancing over the menu, I recognized a few familiar dishes…Jerk Chicken, Ackee and Saltfish, and Mannish Water. (Kidding, I didn’t see Mannish Water.)
That experience, (along with many others) has led to me conclude something about the title “Caribbean Restaurant, ” when used to classify, and businesses that use the term “Caribbean” in their restaurant names. “Caribbean,” is merely an umbrella term that seeks to categorize foods from some, but not all, islands. Islands, that have notable differences, that are not homogenous in language, race, religion, and especially not food…This is not to say that you don’t have some similarities between some islands, but it is the similarities between some islands, that these “Caribbean” restaurants focus on, or they focus on one particular country’s dishes more so than others, more so than their own…
Taking the restaurant at my school as an example, the people running and cooking the food are from Grenada. However, I found that there were many more traditional dishes specific to Jamaica than anything else on the menu. Jamaica is a part of the Caribbean. Jamaica is not the only island in the Caribbean. So to say you offer “Caribbean” food but a large percent of your menu only really consists of Jamaican dishes, that is odd. As a “Caribbean” restaurant, shouldn’t the focus be on dishes from a range of islands, not just one or two? Unless you’ve specified somewhere the style of cooking you will be doing, or where you and the chefs are from, so guests can know what to expect?
It is for this reason, that if you’re looking to enjoy authentic Jamaican food, you should stay clear of any that are named “Caribbean Queen” but don’t really say the kind of food they cook. Caribbean food technically can be Latin American style of cooking from the island of Cuba, or it can be West Indian from the island of Trinidad. “Caribbean,” as mentioned before, is an umbrella term that ignores difference. Restaurants owned and operated by Jamaican’s are more likely to have their country name incorporated into the restaurants name, have a flag in the window, or have some manifest way of letting you know it’s a Jamaican operation.
One obvious reason for incorporating “Jamaica” into the mix is no doubt because they want people to make a connection between the island, the people hailing from the island who have achieved global recognition, and their food operation. I really only need to mention one Jamaican here, which still influences people of all generations and has influenced a strong youth culture posthumously: Bob Marley. Perhaps if music isn’t your thing, surely you’ve heard of the “Fastest Man in the World” Usain Bolt, or have heard of Marcus Garvey, if you’re into black history. When people see the names of these people, one of the first few series of words that come to mind is “Jamaica” or “Jamaican,” which is why restaurants owned and operated want the word Jamaican, or Jamaican flag in plain view.
Interestingly enough, I’ve run across so many “Jamaican” restaurants, such as Albert’s Real Jamaican , but hardly any restaurants that cater to the dishes of specific countries, such as (and I’m making this up of course) Mama’s Grenadian Kitchen, Guadeloupe Flavour, Curacao Fusion. It seems like countries that are not as well known, rely on the term “Caribbean” to bring an image into the minds of people. Because let’s face it, unless you have a good sense of geography, how else would you know that the countries listed above, are in the Caribbean? And furthermore, are you familiar enough with the culture pertaining to those countries?