A taste of Afro-Caribbean history

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There’s a fascinating history wrapped around some Afro-Caribbean foods.

For Black History Month, I indulged in some Afro-Caribbean food history and discovered how slavery affected eating habits.

Bath has a variety of international food shops such as The Caribbean Spot and Perfecto. However, Bristol’s African and Caribbean food shops are absolutely thriving, arguably, due to the city’s greater ethnic diversity.

I visited one such shop in Easton to learn more about some foods that are entwined with the history of Black people.

In 1978, Mr. Kassam Majothi opened the Bristol Sweet Mart, catering for Easton’s African, Caribbean and Asian communities. He emigrated from Uganda to the UK escaping the brutality of Idi Amin, a leader also known as an enslaver.

A lively and intoxicating atmosphere greeted me in the Sweet Mart. This was fueled by hearing a range of languages and seeing the vibrant colours and peculiar shapes of fruit and vegetables. I was amazed by the shopkeeper’s extensive knowledge of where fruits and vegetables came from and how they are cooked.

I quickly learned how Afro-Caribbean dishes use fruit similarly to how vegetables are used in Western dishes.

Bitter Gourd
Plantain and Matoke

Asian Influences on African and Caribbean Cuisine

Following efforts to abolish slavery in the mid-1800s, former enslavers sought new, indentured labourers to replace formerly enslaved people. People were brought from India and China to work on plantations and on projects like building the Ugandan Railway.

Subsequently, Asian indentured labourers’ cooking methods and ingredients influenced many celebrated African and Caribbean cultural dishes.

In due course, African and Caribbean culinary practices influenced Asian, American and European cooking habits. [Source: Chinese Influences on Caribbean Cuisine (thespruceeats.com)

What does it all taste like?

With my new knowledge, I decided to try out some of the produce used in Asian, African and Caribbean dishes.

Bitter Gourd / Bitter Melon / Karela

Bitter Gourd is in the same family as squash, melons and cucumbers and is grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. African slaves introduced it to North and Latin America and it is still popular in Jamaica where it grows wild.

Sliced Bitter Gourd.

Folk law holds that the fruit’s health properties can cure health conditions like diabetes and asthma. However, we don’t advise you to use it to treat ailments. Also, as the name suggests, it can be very bitter ‘medicine’ and the fruit increases with bitterness as it ripens.

A halved Bitter Gourd.

The emerald green and bubbly peel turns yellow as it ripens with red seeds developing inside.

There are a number of ways to reduce the bitterness and many recipes suggest that you do so. One tip of many I found online was to ‘soak’ chunks in yogurt for over an hour before use.

Bitter Gourd three ways:

I chose to prepare my bitter gourd for use in a stir fry and got my colleagues to try it out.

Rhianna, Trainee Generalist Adviser: “It tastes like bitter celery”

Hesitantly, they took bites as we learned that I needed to work on removing the bitterness. However, everyone agreed that it was a memorable experience and would certainly give a salad a bit of a kick!


Plantain (pronounced ‘Plan-tin’) is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia. However, it’s a popular fruit within the Caribbean Islands and referred to as one of its ‘soul foods’. Plantains are part of the banana family but are starchier and more savoury than ‘standard’ bananas.

Fried Plantain.

I fried the slices of plantain for a couple of minutes on each side before letting them drain on a paper towel. It’s a versatile fruit and it’s fascinating how much they absorb flavours.

They’re a quick and easy snack to prepare. I topped one batch with salt and another with cinnamon and presented them to colleagues. They found them to be similar to plantain chips served at Notting Hill Carnival.

Elijah, Trainee Generalist Adviser: “This salted plantain would be lovely with some brown stew chicken, rice, peas and coleslaw”.

Top Tip

“My Grandma use to make jollof rice with plantain and it was really nice! Jollof rice is West African and there’s a rivalry between Nigerians, Senegalese and Ghanaians on who makes it best!”

Rhianna, Trainee Generalist Adviser.

Matoke / Green Banana

Matoke, sometimes called plantain, is indigenous to Southwest Uganda and is also a part of the banana family.

Chunked and boiled Matoke.

A traditional Uganda delicacy, called Matoke, is cooked and mashed matoke with meat and sauce in a stew-like dish.

Matoke plantain was integrated into Indian cooking when people from India moved to East Africa in the 19th century. This happened when Ugandan’s Matoke plantain was infused with Indian spices in banana curry dishes.

Although part of the same banana family, matoke is more savoury than Plantain, which has a slightly sweet taste.

I chose to boil the matoke, resulting in a softer texture than with the fried plantain; similar to boiled potato. Matoke is also versatile and absorbs flavours and could be used in a few dishes.

Douglas, Business Development and Marketing Manager “Matoke is brilliant. It’s fruit that looks like an everyday banana, but tastes like potato. Amazing!”

What did I learn?

This was a fascinating project for me. I’ve discovered that there is a rich history here that enhances the experience of cooking and eating Afro-Caribbean food.


Published in
28 October 2021
Last Updated
30 October 2021