Floribbean cuisine, also known as “new era cuisine”, has emerged as one of America’s new and most innovative regional cooking styles. Floribbean cuisine is representative of the variety and quality of foods indigenous to Florida and the Caribbean Islands with fresh flavors, combinations, and tastes. Regional chefs often use locally grown foods and the fish and seafood of the abundant fresh and salt waters of the area.
The cooking style and techniques used in Florida today are highly influenced by those of Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, but they are lighter, with less frying and fewer oils involved in the preparation. The tangy sweetness of tropical fruit and the spicy bite of peppers, complex spices and simple preparation are common characteristics of a typical Floribbean dish. These unique trademarks of Floridian cuisine are a product of the state’s subtropical climate and the myriad impacts of immigrants from dozens of countries over hundreds of years.
When the Spanish arrived in Florida in the early 1500s, they brought cattle and pigs with them to the New World. In return for livestock, the Native Americans taught the Spanish about local fruits and vegetables, including hearts of palm, malanga, yuca, and plantains. Later, the abundant finfish attracted Cuban fishermen to the harbors and bays, which in turn spread the palette of Floribbean foods further south. Cuban fishermen salted and dried their catch, and then shipped it to Havana and other Spanish colonial settlements. In the 1860s, the commercial red snapper and grouper industry was active, as well as industries developed for harvesting and processing clams, scallops, turtles, oysters, and shrimp due to the easy access to the bays of Florida. By the 1870’s, tourism was booming and real estate was as hot as a Florida summer and those tourists brought their food with them. Simultaneously, with settlement now a much easier possibility, newcomers from around the globe began flocking to the sunshine state.
Beginning in the late 1800’s, immigrants came especially from Latin and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia, bringing with them their culinary traditions, including the culinary traditions from immigrants who had previously settled in their lands. Floribbean cuisine is a product of the state’s many immigrants, and the immigrations of their ancestors. Cubans, for example, brought their unique combination of Spanish sapidity combined with Caribbean ingredients, like tropical fruits and spicy peppers. Asian immigrants brought their stringent kitchen principles of only using fresh, local produce and simply prepared fish.
Latin American influence, from countries like Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic, as well as Caribbean countries like Haiti, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, also brought flavors and ingredients, plus dishes like spicy salsas. Floribbean spice cupboard holds the flavors of the globe, like red curry and lemongrass and ginger. Floribbean food is almost inherently healthy. Fish and poultry paired with local fruits and vegetables, without frying or gallons of oil, served fresh. It might be paired with fatty and sugary Southern dishes, but the Floribbean cuisine itself is as clean as they come. Inland toward the center and north of the state, the food is more Southern in character. In the mid-1600s, thousands of slaves were shipped from Africa to Florida and to the Caribbean Islands, with them they brought the skills and knowledge to grow, cook, and prepare the types of foods they were familiar with: sweet potatoes, eggplant, sesame seeds, and okra. In the mid-1700s, a group of people who were of Catalan descent from the Spanish Balearic Islands were brought to the Florida region as indentured laborers. Their foods and cooking influenced the existing Florida cuisine, particularly in the use of peppers.
Florida is one of the largest producers of citrus fruits in the world, and Florida oranges provide nearly 80 percent of the orange juice consumed in the United States. Florida also produces grapefruit, limes, lemons, and tangerines. Some of the more exotic citrus fruits from the region include kumquats, tangelos, pummelos, and calamondins. Caribbean and Latin American immigrants have followed the Cubans and have found that many of their native ingredients are indigenous to Florida.
They brought with them all of the rice and legume dishes from the Caribbean, like rice and peas, or beans. Coloring foods, such as adding turmeric and saffron to rice, reminded them of the palm oil that is used in West Africa, from where many Caribbean slaves originated. They used cane sugar in oil, caramelized to give a color and flavor to their stews. Dried and smoked ingredients, as well as pickled pork and vegetables, are important in intensifying their foods. Seasoning pastes, salsa, rubs, and hot sauces are used not only for flavor but also to enhance digestion and encourage perspiration in order to cool off in the hot environment. Latin Caribbean cooking offers complex, flavorful ingredients from diverse cultures. Ingredients introduced by ancient Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas are combined with flavors and recipes of its diverse groups of immigrants, including the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians, Middle Easterners, Africans, Chinese, Japanese, and Germans. Cooks from regions that include Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic flavor their foods with relatively mild seasonings—oregano, tomato, garlic, black pepper, and mild chilies.
Floribbean cuisine is found in varying forms in Florida restaurants and in the homes of many Floridians throughout the state. The essence of what makes a particular dish “Floribbean” is similar to that of certain other aspects of variable Floridian culture: it is influenced by visitors and immigrants from all over the world.