A Blend of Cultures for a Unique Flavour
Jamaica – land of wood and water. Also known for our sun, sand, sea and of course our cuisine. Jamaican food is second to none in variety, flavour and uniqueness. We love and celebrate our food throughout the year with a variety of food festivals for e.g. Boston Jerk Festival, Little Ochi Sea Food Festival, Trelawny Yam Festival, just to name a few. Today’s flavourful meals have their origins in the country’s long and storied history.
About Jamaican Cuisine
The Jamaican motto is “Out of Many, One People” and this is epitomized throughout our cuisine. We are the flavours of the former indigenous population, our enslaved forefathers, our European colonizers, and our Indian and Chinese indentured workers and immigrants. These influences have led to a unique blend of cultures which is prevalent in our food choices. We therefore have a lot of stewed, jerked, fried meats. We also have a preference for well-seasoned and spicy foods.
Most Popular Dishes
Ackee and saltfish (codfish) is the Jamaican national dish and one of our most popular dishes which is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dubbed one of the most dangerous foods in the world, Jamaica is the only Caribbean country in which ackee is eaten on a regular basis. After all, ackee could kill you. Other popular dishes include jerk chicken or pork served with festival; stew peas made with pig’s tail and kidney beans served with white rice; rice and peas and chicken.
Jamaican Cuisine – Menu
Jamaicans have varied and delicious options for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
A traditional breakfast
• porridge of which there are quite a few varieties, the more popular ones being cornmeal, hominy corn, peanut, plantain or oats.
• a choice of boiled ground provisions (green banana, yam, potato, dasheen etc.), fried or boiled dumplings, fried plantain or fritters with an option of either ackee and salt fish, salt mackerel, callaloo and salt fish, liver or kidney. This is typically served with tea (chocolate, peppermint etc.).
Dinner and Lunch
Dinner and lunch are similar, unless you are going for a quick lunch such as a patty and a coco bread and soup.
Dinner menu depends on the day of the week. Weekends are special. Saturdays are soup days with either chicken foot soup or red peas soup with pig tail and/or beef. In Jamaica, we have a saying that ‘we don’t drink soup, we eat soup’. This is because our soups are generally filled with a variety of ground provisions and meat. Sundays are rice and peas days with either one or a variety of meats, usually chicken, pork and/or fish served with tossed salad. Mondays are normally leftovers from Sunday called ‘Sunday-Monday’.
Dinner and or lunch for the rest of the week is generally ‘food’ – boiled ground provisions – or rice. Chicken is a favourite accompanying meat. And some days when you don’t feel like cooking you prepare a little ‘dutty gyal’ and white rice, that is, tin mackerel and steamed rice.
Snacks and Desserts
On the go food options are plentiful and varied. Snack options include bun (small, round, spiced) sliced down the middle with cheddar cheese; banana chips; crackers and cheddar cheese. These are often paired with a box juice.
Dessert options range from sweet potato pudding, coconut drops, grater cake, gizzada to toto and more.
Most fruits or vegetables are used to make juice, and a lot of them are spiced with ginger. Jamaicans love ginger. Popular juices include carrot, sorrel, soursop and ginger beer.
There are two holidays for which food plays a big part in Jamaican cuisine – Easter and Christmas. Easter is all about bun and cheese, and fry fish. The bun is generally baked as a loaf, sweet and made with a variety of spices, raisins and dried fruits.
Christmas is nothing without gungo peas and rice; multiple meat dishes prepared in a variety of ways (chicken, curry goat, roast pork and the list goes on); ‘mannish water’ (goat soup made from the less popular parts of the goat, but delicious nonetheless) or ‘fish tea’ (fish soup); fruit cake and sorrel juice.
Most Used Ingredients
Jamaicans prefer their meats well-seasoned. As such meats are normally seasoned with a variety of spices such as onion, scallion, thyme, sweet pepper, and for heat there is our famous scotch bonnet pepper. Meat seasoning and all-purpose – blended powdered seasonings – are also highly popular. Ginger is well used in drinks and meat dishes.
For the Travelling Foodie
Travelling to Jamaica you should experience the varied options for street and restaurant food.
a. Street Food
Travelling the streets of Jamaica, especially in the cities, it is not uncommon to see persons with a cart selling steaming hot porridge or soup, and patties, the latter sourced from the local patty places. Hot dog carts selling locally made and heavily spiced ‘bad dawg’ sausages and ‘reggae jammin’ sausages and burgers are quickly spreading. However, the most prevalent and traditional street food is jerk chicken from a pan-chicken man. While these can be found everywhere, Yallahs is famous for its pan-chicken. There are other ‘street foods’ specific to an area. So you will find jerk pork and jerk chicken in Boston; saltfish and roast yam in Porus; fish and roast breadfruit in Border.
b. Restaurant Food
Taking in the restaurant scene, there are so many selections for traditional Jamaican fare. Steamed, fried, stewed or escovitched fish with bammy (a cassava flatbread) and or festival. This is especially delicious from Port Royal or Helshire Beach. Oxtail and rice and peas is a must have.
There are a variety of restaurants, local fast food outlets, cook shops, and street food vendors across the island. In the city it is not uncommon to see a variety of Chinese ‘restaurants’ and their cuisine is influenced by the Jamaican palate. You will not find a Chinese restaurant anywhere else in the world that taste like a Jamaican Chinese restaurant.
Another unique feature of our cuisine is based on Rastafarianism. In some parts of the world it might be interpreted as vegetarian or vegan (depending on the Rasta – some eat fish, some do not) but here in Jamaica it is ‘ital’ food of which it may be cooked with heat or not, and avoids processed ingredients.
Jamaicans continue to expand the variety of our offerings through a fusion of cultural practices. Case in point, today, we are consuming in spades the invasive fish species – lionfish. It is delicious and we recommend that you eat it fried – you are less likely to be poisoned that way.
Jamaican cuisine, as you have seen, is diverse and flavourful. We guarantee you will be sure to enjoy it.
Are you from Jamaica? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on Jamaican ethnic food.