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Introduce Your Family to the Flavors of the Caribbean

Updated on March 20, 2011

Do you long for a vacation to an exotic location? Perhaps you'd enjoy sunning on a glistening Caribbean beach or trekking across picturesque Swiss mountains? If an exotic location doesn't fit into your travel budget (or even if it does), why not treat your family to a culinary holiday at home? You can create an international dinner night with special recipes inspired by a country's cuisine or authentic recipes if you prefer. Music and decorations will transport your family to your destination of choice.

During the peak of summer, the Caribbean Islands, always a sought-after vacation spot, provides the perfect theme for your first international dinner. In addition to its pristine beaches and clear blue water, the more than 7,000 islands offer some of the most hearty and diversified cookery. Caribbean cuisine is based on the treasures of the region's rich, tropical soil and bountiful sea. Mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, coconut, okra, cassava and plantains are incorporated into many dishes. Seafood, such as lobster, shrimp, conch and endless varieties of fish, is abundant.

Although each island has its own set of distinct flavors, the Spanish-speaking islands, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, are naturally influenced by the flavors of Spain. For example, many dishes incorporate sweet and salty tastes from prunes, raisins, capers and olives. Moreover, dominant seasonings include citrus juices, such as orange and lime, and spices, such as cumin, oregano, cinnamon and anise. Then there are the islands which were colonized by the French and where you will find tropical variations on traditional Parisian haute cuisine but it doesn't stop there. Although fine dining restaurants on the French islands will pride themselves in their attempts to gain a Michelin star with their Caribbean French fusions, you can readily find street foods which readily compare with the best of their counterparts in France itself.

Britain is the other powerful colonizing influence in the Caribbean and it's fascinating to see how British cuisine has been modified to fit the Caribbean beats. Jamaica is well known for its jerk seasoning, which is actually a combination of allspice, paprika, red pepper, thyme, cloves, nutmeg and many other spices. Originally used as a spice rub for pork before smoking, today it's used to spice up meat, chicken or fish before grilling or broiling.

Planning an international dinner creates a fun and educational culinary experience for the entire family. Try these tips to replicate authentic Caribbean ambiance:

  • Get the kids involved - have them search the Internet or visit the local library to learn about the Caribbean Islands.
  • Have dinner outside by the pool or backyard patio.
  • Serve rum punch or daiquiris before dinner. Include a non-alcoholic fruit punch for the kids.
  • Decorate your table with beautiful shells and brightly-colored napkins, plates and glasses. Roll up the napkins and use shell napkin rings.
  • Play Calypso and Reggae music during dinner to create a festive atmosphere.
  • Create a tropical fruit display for dessert. Include native Caribbean fruits, such as mangoes, pineapples, papayas and coconuts. Add sorbets of the same flavors for a special treat.
  • Do the limbo and discover "how low you can go!" Have a prize for your most nimble guest.

Planning an international dinner is a fun way to learn about foreign cultures and cuisines without ever stepping out of your own neighborhood.

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