| Jamaica Food
Jamaica residents have come from around the globe, bringing
with them the cooking techniques, flavors, spices and recipes
of their homelands and blending them with the bountiful harvest
of this tropical island. The result is some of the most flavorful
cuisine in the Caribbean.
The complete story
Adventure Guide - This travel guide walks with the adventurous
traveler to the heart of Jamaica, to the miles of sand beaches,
to the rugged Blue Mountains, to the country villages that provide
a peek at the real Jamaica|
The first Europeans
on the island were Spanish. Many Spanish Jews also arrived here
during Spanish rule, contributing dishes such as escovitch fish,
a vinegary concoction that’s found on many homestyle menus.
In 1655, the Spanish lost Jamaica to England. That century, English
influences developed the Jamaican pattie, a turnover filled with
spicy meat that’s a favorite lunch snack with locals. It’s the equivalent
of an island hamburger.
A century later, Chinese and East Indian influences made their
way to Jamaica, when indentured laborers who replaced slaves after
emancipation brought their own culinary talents. Today, curried
dishes grace nearly every Jamaican menu, using local meats such
as goat, chicken and seafood.
Here’s a look at the many dishes that fill Jamaican menus. Some
of these are seen in tourist restaurants, while others are primarily
home-cooked dishes, sometimes made for special holidays and events.
Also see our recipes.
and saltfish. The national breakfast
dish is ackee and saltfish. Ackee is cooked and looks (and tastes)
much like scrambled eggs. You won’t find ackee for sale in the
United States because it is poisonous until it’s ripe.
Bammy. This fried bread is made from cassava
flour and is served with fried fish.
See Duckanoo, below.
Bulla. A spicy bun.
A favorite Easter dish, bun is a spicy bread eaten with cheese.
cake. Visit a Jamaican home near
the holiday season and, along with a glass of sorrel, you’ll be
served Jamaican Christmas cake. This delicious confection includes
raisins, cinnamon, cherries and, in some cases, prunes.
Coco bread. Ah, a warm, buttered piece of coco
bread and a sandy beach... no one could ask for much more than
that. This heavenly bread is best right out of the oven.
Corn pone. Cornmeal gives this pudding its name.
It’s made with coconut, sugar and spices.
Cowcod soup. Another one of those infamous Jamaican
aphrodisiacs, cowcod soup is usually sold at roadside stands and
includes bananas, pepper and white rum.
You just don’t get any more Jamaican than curried goat. Look for
it on any traditional island menu. It’s especially popular at
festivals and parties.
Cut cake. This sweet cake is made with diced
coconut and ginger toffee.
The recipe for duckanoo was brought from Africa. This delicious
dessert is made with cornmeal, coconut, spices and brown sugar,
all of which are tied up in a banana leaf (hence its other names,
Blue Drawers and Tie-A-Leaf) and slowly cooked in boiling water.
Escovitch is a style of cooking using vinegar, onions and spices
brought to Jamaica by the Spanish Jews. In Jamaican grocery stores
you can also find bottled escovitch sauce to make the preparation
A contribution by the Spanish Jews who lived on the island nearly
500 years ago, this fried fish marinated with vinegar is a spicy
way to enjoy the local catch.
Festival. This bread is frequently served with
jerk and is similar to hush puppies.
This spicy soup looks and tastes much better than it sounds. Like
a fish bouillon, this broth captures the taste of the sea. Watch
out for fish bones when you eat this popular favorite.
These deep-fried breads usually contain codfish or conch and are
served as an appetizer.
Gizzada. A coconut tart.
Grater cake. Another confection made from grated
coconut and sugar; usually pink and white.
Hard dough, or hard dough bread. Brought to
Jamaica by the Chinese, hard dough bread has become a staple in
Ital food. Nope, it’s not Italian food but Ital (eye-tal). This
is the food of the Rastafarians, a vegetarian cuisine that does
not make use of salt. Look for the red, green and gold Rasta colors
on dining establishments as a clue to locating Ital eateries,
which are often quite small.
The most popular dish in Jamaica is jerk. The main ingredient
– pork, chicken or fish – is marinated with a fiery mixture of
spices, including Scotch bonnet, a pepper that makes a jalapeño
taste like a marshmallow, pimento or allspice, nutmeg and thyme.
It’s all served up with even more hot sauce, rice and peas, and
the wonderful festival bread (see above). Jerk is one of the ultimate
Jamaican dishes, dating back to the island’s earliest days. The
practice of cooking the meat over the flame was started by the
Arawak Indians and then later seasoned up by the Maroons.
Johnny cake. Sometimes called journey cakes
(since you could carry them along on your journey), these cakes
are actually fried or baked breads. They’re a favorite accompaniment
This spicy soup is reportedly an aphrodisiac (along with many
other Jamaican specialties). Mannish water is sometimes called
power water, and is made from goats’ heads (some cooks include
tripe and feet as well), garlic, scallions, cho-cho, green bananas,
Scotch bonnet peppers and spinners. White rum is an optional ingredient.
Often, men enjoy mannish water before drinking rum, but this item
is a rarity on restaurant menus – it’s usually sold at roadside
stands, along with roasted yam.
Matrimony. This dessert is available only near
Christmas time. It’s made from purple star apples, which ripen
in the winter.
The patty is to Jamaicans what the hamburger is to Americans.
Ask any Jamaican and he’ll tell you his favorite patty stand.
This fried pie is filled with either spicy meat or, occasionally,
TIP: One Jamaican told us his favorite was Tastee
Patties, sold throughout Jamaica. “They are the standard by which
patties are judged,” the devotee swore.
Pepperpot is indeed peppery, although the main ingredient is callaloo,
which gives this island favorite its green color. Along with the
spinach-like callaloo, the soup includes pig tails or salt pork
(sometimes salt beef), coconut milk, okra and plenty of spices.
Pone. A pone is pudding.
Caribbean pumpkins are not large and sweet like their American
counterparts, but small and a favorite soup ingredient.
Red pea soup. Another one of Jamaica’s famous
soups, this one is made from kidney beans, salted pig tails, beef
and peas. This dish is found on
just about every lunch and dinner plate and is sometimes nicknamed
the Coat of Arms. It features rice and either peas or beans are
cooked in coconut milk and spices (in Jamaica the preferred “pea”
is the red kidney bean). “A home without rice and peas and chicken
on Sunday is like no home at all,” said Ralph Irvin, an excellent
taxi driver who escorted us around the Montego Bay area one memorable
trip. “Everyone looks forward to it.”
Rundown. This entrée is pickled fish
cooked in a seasoned coconut milk until the fish just falls apart
or literally “runs down.”
Solomon gundy. This appetizer, eaten on crackers,
is a pâté whose main ingredient is pickled fish.
Spinners. These dumplings are found in soups
and stews and take their name from their thin, twisted shape.
Stamp and go. You could call them fast food
or appetizers, but “stamp and go” seems much more colorful. Stamp
out these little fish fritters in the kitchen, grab some for the
road, and go.
Stew peas. Made with either red peas or gungo
peas, this soup also includes pork and coconut milk.
Tie-a-Leaf. See Duckanoo (above).
Turned cornmeal. Cook cornmeal in seasoned coconut
milk, add some meat, fish or vegetables if you like, and you’ve
got this tasty dish.
WHAT’S TO EAT?
What will you eat on your trip to Jamaica? For the unadventurous,
there’s all the usual fare straight from home: burgers, fries, pizza,
etc. For adventure travelers, however, a taste of Jamaica’s rich
cuisine is as much an experience as a scuba excursion or a mountain
bike trek. Venture off the beaten path and explore some local eateries
for a real taste of the island.
Ackee and saltfish; fried dumpling or fried bammy; boiled banana
or boiled yam. Tea (most hot drinks are referred to as “tea”): cerassee
tea, cocoa, Milo, Blue Mountain coffee
Patty, coco bread or bun and cheese. Lemonade, coconut water, sky
Rice and peas; curried goat or chicken; jerk pork, fish or chicken;
fried plantains or boiled banana. Juice (pawpaw, carrot, etc.).
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