Caribbean cuisine is quite varied. Each island has developed its own sub-cuisine over the years, and these cuisines have also seen a lot of outside influence from French and American cooking, in particular. There are, however, certain characteristic ingredients that you'll see in a lot of Caribbean dishes.
Plantains are a tropical fruit related to bananas. However, they are more starchy and less sweet than a banana. They grow well in the Caribbean islands and have therefore become a common ingredient in the local cuisines. Plantains are usually prepared as a dessert. They may be fried or baked and flavored with cinnamon and sugar. Sometimes, they are pureed and served savory, in a manner similar to mashed potatoes.
Cassava is a starchy tuber, not too dissimilar to a potato. It is sometimes dried and ground into a powder, which can then be re-hydrated to make a starchy dish. Other times, cassava root may be cut into chunks and fried with seasonings. It can also be used, in smaller amounts, to thicken soups and stews. Cassava has been an important source of calories for the people of the Caribbean over the years.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers
A lot of Caribbean food is known for being spicy, and when people taste it, they often remark that it's a unique sort of spice. That's because the spiciness comes from Scotch bonnet peppers, a sort of pepper that's not commonly used outside of the Caribbean. These peppers are shaped like lanterns or hats, and they're several times hotter than a jalapeno. They're used fresh, and they are also dried and flaked to create an easy-to-use seasoning.
Ackee is a fruit that's similar to a lychee. They grow on an evergreen tree and can only be eaten ripe; they're toxic when unripe. Ackee is the National Fruit of Jamaica and is also used elsewhere in the Caribbean as an ingredient in desserts and other sweet dishes.
Saltfish is used in various cuisines around the world, but the saltfish used in the Caribbean is somewhat unique because it is made from cod. This fish is re-hydrated before cooking and can then be served in any number of ways. Often, it is enjoyed with cooked greens or other vegetables.
If you visit a Caribbean restaurant, you can assume you'll see some of these ingredients in the dishes on the menu. Give them a try, and enjoy the variety.