Caribbean Cuisine Week Brings a Feast of Culture to Philadelphia

Maria Johansson, for GPA -- It should come as no surprise to anyone from the Philadelphia area that Caribbean culture is an indelible part of the city. A large number of Caribbean organizations call Philadelphia and its surrounding counties their home. There is a Caribbean Carnival scheduled this fall and if you are in the mood for some authentic Caribbean cuisine, it’s never hard to find.

This month, look no further than the Young Caribbean Professional Network (YCPN, formerly known as the Young Friends of Team Jamaica), the proud organizer of Philadelphia’s Caribbean Cuisine Week.

From April 8 to 10, twelve restaurants in Philadelphia will be serving up special dishes, all reflecting Caribbean influence and, in many cases, unique training and techniques. Take 48th Street Grille (310 S. 48th St.), where the head chef is Jamaican, or Reef Restaurant and Lounge (605 S. 3rd St.), whose Caribbean experience includes brightly colored walls and reggae music. Both are just examples of where Philadelphians can get the island vibe without ever leaving the mainland.

Caribbean Cuisine Week was first organized in 2004, when Blane Stoddart - founding member of YCPN - named it Caribbean Restaurant Night. It has since expanded to three nights in early spring, but maintains its chief purpose: to raise funds for young Caribbean athletes who come to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays. Each participating restaurant will donate a percentage of its revenue to help get a number of High School student athletes in the Caribbean to the Relays, a high-profile event that in 2010 included a visit from Usain Bolt of Jamaica.

“Caribbean cuisine is a mixture of many cultures,” said Erice Reid, a member of the YCPN. She went on to explain that while most participating restaurants primarily serve Caribbean food, places such as Aqua (705 Chestnut St.) and Karma (114 Chestnut St.), which normally serve Malaysian/Thai and Indian food, respectively, will be offering their customers their own interpretation of Caribbean dishes.

While Caribbean Cuisine Week aims to highlight and promote the rich Caribbean heritage and presence in the Philadelphia area, it also aims to be inclusive of all regardless of heritage. Reid said that Caribbean Cuisine Week provides restaurants with an opportunity to “be inspired and create a different dish than they normally would.”

This inclusiveness is a theme that YCPN sees continuing to grow, throughout the organization and with Caribbean Cuisine Week specifically. Working across language barriers (English, French and Spanish are spoken in the Caribbean), YCPN is kicking off this year’s Caribbean Cuisine Week with an awards ceremony at the Pyramid Club (1735 Market St.). On April 7, Ron McKay, CEO of ADS-Global, will receive the International Entrepreneur of the Year award and Marangeli Mejia Rabell, Director of Community Economic Development for the Village of Arts and Humanities, will receive the International Community Service Award.

After a very long winter, the city could use some Caribbean vibes.

Image courtesy of the Young Caribbean Professional Network.