Festive favourites: five Caribbean celebrities on their Christmas food favourites

Nazma Muller asked some Caribbean celebrities — David Rudder, Usain Bolt, Daren Ganga, Oonya Kempadoo, and Levi Roots — what they like to eat, especially at this time of year. They offered recipes, secrets and tips

  • David Rudder. Photograph courtesy David Rudder
  • Usain Bolt. Photograph courtesy Puma
  • Daren Ganga. Photograph by Andrea De Silva
  • Oonya Kempadoo. Photograph by Len Sehntwali
  • Levi Roots fires a traditional English Christmas pudding. Photograph by Chris Terry
  • Traditional Caribbean Christmas cake. Photograph by Shirley Bahadur

David Rudder

The Trinidadian singer is a former Calypso Monarch and the composer of classics that include “Calypso Music”, “Bahia Girl” and “Rally Round the West Indies”.

What is your favourite Caribbean dish?
My favourite Trini dish is a plate of stewed red snapper, pigeon peas, pak choy with carrots, boiled yellow plantain and steamed ground provision…especially cush cush.

What food do you miss most when you are away from the region?
I don’t really miss any, because West Indian foods are much more readily available outside of the region than they were 20 years ago. These days you can even find a good doubles man in a small town.

Do you have a specialty, and what is the secret ingredient?
I enjoy making sweetbread and bakes, but my wife says I make the best pelau she has ever eaten. My secret ingredient is a creative instinct…I have to guess, since I don’t eat meat.

What do you remember most about the dishes your granny made for Christmas?
Her sweetbread and pone. Coming to think of it, that is probably why I enjoy making it for my family and friends.

Is there something special that you make for Christmas, and can we have the recipe, please?
My perfect Christmas meal is a combination of a traditional Trini Christmas and tastes I have acquired over my years of travel. Christmas dinner in our house consists of stuffed snapper, turkey, ham, pastelles, macaroni pie, calalloo, pigeon peas, candied yams, vegetarian wild rice stuffing, sausage stuffing, duchess potatoes and ground provisions.


Usain Bolt

The Jamaican sprinter holds the world and Olympic records in the 100 metres, the 200 metres and (along with his teammates) the 4×100 metres relay. He’s also the reigning Olympic champion in these three events, and a five-time world and three-time Olympic gold medallist.

What’s your favourite Jamaican (or Caribbean) food?
Rice and peas, dumpling with chicken or pork

What food/treat/delicacy do you miss the most when you’re away from the region?
The natural seasoning on our food that makes it just delicious. It’s just not the same when I am away.

What Caribbean dish is your specialty?
Ackee and saltfish, you could say, is my specialty.

Do you have memories of your granny or mom making something special for Christmas?
Grandma’s puddings are the best. She still makes them and sends them to Kingston for me. (The typical Jamaican pudding has to have raisins, fruit mixture, sometimes Guinness or a little rum.) Christmas is mostly when more than three meats are prepared…chicken, fish, curried goat…My mom doesn’t eat pork…but pork got in the house somehow, as my Dad and I eat pork.

Where do you go – in Jamaica and abroad – to get the best patty?
The taste of a Juici beef and cheese patty is the best.


Daren Ganga

Captain of Trinidad & Tobago’s cricket team, Ganga, a right-handed batsman, has also played for the West Indies.

What’s your favourite Trinidadian or Caribbean food?
Dhalpourie roti and curry duck, and I really love a very good pelau as well. I know there are some people who don’t like their food too spicy, but I tend to like my dishes with a little bit of a kick, so it should be a spicy, wet pelau – with chicken.

What do you miss the most when you are away from the region?
A good curry. I’ve been to all other parts of the world, to the Indian subcontinent where they make many different types of curry, but I think we Trinidadians and West Indians enjoy our curry best, and what I miss most is a good curry duck, to be honest.

Do you have any memories of your mother or granny preparing something special for Christmas?
My mom makes the best dhalpourie roti in the world. And of course she would complement that with stew chicken and curry goat. Her dhalpourie roti to this day is still the best that I’ve ever tasted, and until she dies, I will relish her dhalpourie roti. She prides herself on her cooking, and I guess practice has made it perfect. She says now that she is retired one of her most fulfilling moments is when her three sons come home and she can cook for us.

What is your idea of the perfect Christmas meal?
As much as I like my Caribbean food, I also like Spanish rice, baked chicken, barbecue lamb and a pastelle on the side. And in Trinidad, you can’t have anything without roti. I would have to have some dhalpourie too. I tend to enjoy a cross-section of dishes.

Do you have a specialty and what is the secret ingredient?
I can cook stew chicken. To say it’s a specialty… I would not go that far, but if there’s one dish I would probably say is my specialty, it’s that. I’m not much of a cook. The secret ingredient is how you burn the sugar, I guess, and the seasoning of the meat. I learned everything from my mom.

Where have you tasted the best doubles?
I’ve had doubles from all over Trinidad & Tobago and it’s hard to differentiate between them. But I like the ones that have a good tamarind sauce and pepper. I would have to say that in Curepe I’ve tasted the best doubles ever.

What dishes from the other Caribbean islands do you like?
Breakfast in Jamaica is always enjoyable. Ackee and saltfish with dumplings is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. And the flying fish in Barbados is very good. I like their pepper sauce too – with their macaroni pie.


Oonya Kempadoo

Born in England, brought up in Guyana, Oonya Kempadoo has spent time in Trinidad, Tobago, and St Lucia, and now lives in Grenada.

She is the author of Buxton Spice and Tide Running. She has been awarded a fellowship to the International Writers Program at Iowa University, where she will work on her next two books – her third novel, which is set in Trinidad, and a children’s book.

Trini Christmas lunch is my favourite since I discovered pastelles and ponche à crème there.

The pleasure of Christmas food for me is discovering what others eat and sharing specialties. Garlic pork and pepperpot in Guyana were intriguing tastes, since I was brought up vegetarian. Our tofu pepperpot and Mum’s nut loaf and breadfruit souse were a treat. .

The making of and exchange of sorrel, ginger beer, lime pickles, black cake and home-made wine is what still makes Christmas for me (of course together with the scent of fresh paint, or at least complete exhaustion by Christmas Eve).

Now, in Grenada, I hunt down Trinidad & Tobago pastelles and make sorrel drink the Grenadian way – steep it rather than boil it forever, much healthier too, as the vitamin C is not killed.

While in Trinidad, I created a sorrel sauce to replace cranberry sauce for the turkey, but it is also great with ham. It is more like a preserve, with raisins and spices, but still tart and more robust than cranberry sauce – that has become my specialty that I share.

Do you have a favourite food from each of your “homes” in the Caribbean?
Cassava bread and Guyanese farine, particularly Rupununi Gold farine and of course cassareep for authentic pepperpot (not the other Caribbean versions, without it); pelau from Trinidad; roast breadfruit and smoke herring from Grenada, especially cooked and eaten on the beach.

And what food do you miss most when you are away from the Caribbean?
Ground provisions! Good yam, tannia, green figs, raw coconut/fresh coconut milk for cooking and “cocoa tea”.

Now I walk with supplies of Grenada chocolate and fresh nutmeg and cinnamon. I also miss Trini-style curry and roti. Phulouri with Guyanese-style “sour”, and all the sour tastes like green mangoes, any kind of green fruit chow, pepper mango, tamarind balls and all them mouth-shocking things. Bitter ones too like caraille and mauby.


Levi Roots

London-based musician, television personality, celebrity chef, and creator of Reggae Reggae Sauce.

What is your favourite Jamaican (or Caribbean) dish?
My favourite dish has to be ackee and saltfish. It is a Jamaican classic and it simply can’t be improved upon – although many have tried! You definitely have not experienced the true Jamaican spirit if you haven’t had this dish cooked authentically for you in a traditional Jamaican household!

What food do you miss most when you are away from the region?
Definitely the fantastic array of fresh, healthy fruits. Nothing tastes as good as fresh fruit on the beach!
We do get exotic fruits in the supermarket, but of course it’s never the same as when you’re eating it freshly picked from your tropical back garden – the smells, the flavour, the goodness can’t be matched anywhere else.

What’s the secret ingredient in Reggae Reggae sauce?
That would have to be pimento, or allspice, as it is known in Jamaica – it is the backbone of flavourful Jamaican cooking and also the secret key to many authentic dishes such as jerk chicken. It is not widely known outside of the Caribbean or here in the UK, but I am passionate about sharing this wonderful ingredient because the one little allspice berry adds the power of about five perfectly blended flavours to your dish in one go.

What do you remember most about the dishes your Granny made for Christmas?
My grandmother was a wonderful cook and with the love and imagination she brought to each dish, each meal felt like an occasion – not just Christmas; although of course she would make an extra-special effort then. Also special treats like sticky but wholesome cakes with nuts and dried fruits and side dishes of spiced fruit with lots of flavour and goodness.

Is there something special that you make for Christmas and can we have the recipe, please?
Of course. I love to make my famous Caribbean Christmas Cake, which blends together the elements of my grandmother’s Christmas treats which I mentioned. Here’s the recipe – enjoy!


Caribbean Christmas Cake

Makes one cake

“You need to let the fruit soak for days,” says Levi. “This is quite dark in colour and also called black cake, because it used to be made with burnt sugar.”


250g (9oz) currants
250g (9oz) raisins
150g (5 and ½ oz) no-soak pitted prunes, quartered
115g (4oz) cut mixed peel
300ml (½ pint) dark rum, plus 4 tbsp extra for soaking the cake
250g (9oz) softened butter, plus extra for greasing
200g (7oz) dark soft brown sugar
5 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
250g (9oz) self-raising flour
50g (1¾ oz) blanched almonds, roughly chopped (leave lots of big chunks)
1½ tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the fruit topping

4 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp dark rum
20 – 24 no-soak pitted prunes
16 – 20 no-soak stoned apricots
16 – 24 glace cherries, coloured if liked
9 – 12 no-soak dried figs
50g blanched almonds


Put the dried fruit and mixed peel in a saucepan and cover with rum. Bring to the boil, stir, then immediately turn off the heat.

Cover and leave the fruit to macerate in the rum either overnight or up to two days, stirring from time to time.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF. Grease and line a 25cm round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale, then beat in the eggs a little at a time, adding 1 tbsp of the flour after each addition until smooth and creamy. Beat in the remaining flour. Stir in the almonds, spice and vanilla extract followed by the fruit. Mix well adding a couple of spoonfuls of rum if the mixture is too stiff — it should easily fall off the back of the spoon but should not be too runny.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, cover loosely with foil and bake for about 2 hours. Remove the foil 30 minutes before the end of cooking time.

The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. While the cake is still warm, make holes all over it with a skewer and pour over the 4 tbsp rum. Leave to cool in the tin overnight, then turn the cake out, Decorate and serve immediately, or wrap in foil and keep for up to a week before decorating.

To decorate, heat the apricot jam and rum until they are mixed together, then brush some of this glaze on to the surface of the cake.

Arrange the topping on the cake, either in circles or rows. Brush the fruit very generously with the rest of the glaze, so that the top is shiny. Leave to cool and store in a tin in a dark place. Eat within a week.

This recipe is from Levi Roots’ Caribbean Food Made Easy, published by Octopus Books.

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