When one thinks of Jamaica, the first thing that comes to mind is white sand beaches, pulsating reggae music, and lush green mountains. However, this tiny island has a diverse food scene influenced by the Africans, Indians, Amerindians, Chinese, and European immigrants who have all called this beautiful island their home.
The Jamaican food scene is constantly evolving; however, our comprehensive guide covers some tried and true favorites that are sure to please even the most discerning palate.
Jamaican Main Dishes
Jamaica is synonymous with Jerk chicken. But you can also jerk pork, beef, lobster, or even rabbit meat. Jerked cooking can be traced back hundreds of years to the Tainos and the Maroons. Today, one can find jerk pan stalls on most Jamaican street corners.
Jamaican Beef Stew
This hearty Jamaican beef stew is the perfect blend of sweet, spicy, and savory. Adding items such as carrots, broad beans, or spinners (mini dumplings) to beef stew recipes is normal in Jamaica.
Ackee and Saltfish
Ackee and saltfish is the Jamaican national dish; Jamaicans usually have this dish for breakfast. Ackee is a fruit resembling scrambled eggs but has a mild taste. The ackee is combined with tomatoes, onions, and saltfish to make this dish.
The Indian immigrants who migrated to Jamaica in the 1800s influenced the creation of this dish. Jamaican curry goat tends to be hot and spicy; people usually serve this dish with white rice.
Oxtail is a popular Jamaican stew that is served with white rice. Oxtail is stewed with vegetables, broad beans, and spices.
Escovitch is fried fish with a vinegar sauce made of onions, scotch bonnet pepper, and pimentos. Escovitch fish can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and is usually served with bammy or festivals. If you are in Kingston, the best place to get authentic escovitch fish is at Hellshire beach.
The name alone should pique your interest in this dish. Salted mackerel is cooked in a coconut sauce and spices. This dish is usually served with boiled green bananas.
This Jamaican specialty is made with callaloo, a green leafy vegetable similar to spinach. This recipe is flexible; you can easily create a vegetarian version by omitting the meat.
Red Peas Soup
This rich, thick, creamy soup is made with kidney peas, known locally as red peas. This soup bursts with flavor with the addition of various herbs and spices. Adding beef, yam, potatoes, carrots, and flour dumplings makes this a hearty and filling meal.
Jamaican Side Dishes
Rice and Peas
Rice and peas are popular side dishes on Jamaica’s lunch and dinner menus. The name of this dish is self-explanatory. Red peas or gungo peas are cooked in coconut milk. Spices such as thyme, scallion, onions, and scotch bonnet pepper are added to the coconut milk and steamed with the rice.
Once you start snacking on these delicious sweet fried dumplings, you will not want to stop. This fried sweet dough is usually served with escovitch fish, ackee and saltfish, or jerk chicken.
Johnny Cakes (Fried Dumplings)
This side dish is commonly served with steamed callaloo, ackee, or mackerel rundown. This is another version of a fried dumpling; however, sugar is not added to the dough.
Bammy is a cassava flatbread that the Tainos, the original inhabitants of Jamaica, originally ate. Today, this Jamaican staple is a common addition to many breakfast menus.
Bammy is usually served with escovitch fish and ackee. You can fry these bammies or steam these bammies for a healthier option.
Fried plantains are another popular side dish. Ripe plantains are sliced and fried in oils. If you want a healthier version, you can bake them instead of frying them.
Callaloo is a popular green leafy vegetable side dish usually sauteed with tomatoes, onions, and scotch bonnet pepper.
Roast breadfruit is one thing that will bring a smile to Jamaicans’ faces. These breadfruits can be roasted when they are slightly ripe and taste sweet. If you prefer a more starchy taste, ensure the breadfruits are not ripe.
You can fry these for a crispy treat if you have leftover roasted breadfruits.
Yam is another Jamaican staple that can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Yams are usually boiled; however, you can roast them. Yams are perfect side dishes for ackee and saltfish and steamed callaloo.
Boiled Green Bananas
Boiled green bananas are another popular Jamaican side dish. Boiled green bananas are usually served with mackerel run down, ackee, or callaloo.
Other than jerk chicken, Jamaican patties are one of the most famous exports when it comes to food. This treat consists of a crispy crust filled with spicy ground beef filling.
Ground beef is the most common ingredient for beef patties; however, you can also purchase chicken, shrimp, lobster, ackee, and callaloo patties.
Coco bread is a soft roll that is slightly sweet and has a buttery coconut flavor. Coco bread is usually eaten with patties for a delicious lunch treat.
Codfish Fritters (Stamp and Go)
Once you start munching on these delicious, crispy morsels of fried dough, it’s hard to stop. These fritters are easy to make; saltfish, tomatoes, onions, scallion, scotch bonnet peppers, and thyme are combined into a batter and fried.
This fish paste is made from smoked herring, hot pepper, and spices. It is usually eaten with water crackers and makes a great appetizer if you are having guests over.
Jamaican children have grown up eating cornmeal porridge. This creamy treat is packed with flavor. Cornmeal is combined with milk, water, or coconut milk, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract are added to the mixture.
This soup is not for the faint of heart. The recipe contains the traditional ingredients you will find in soup, such as garlic, pimento berries, local vegetables, dumplings, scallion, and scotch bonnet. However, this soup’s main claim to fame is its widely regarded as an aphrodisiac with the addition of goat testicles, head, intestines, and feet.
Hard Dough Bread
Every bread recipe contains the same ingredients: yeast, water, salt, and flour. However, Jamaican hard-dough bread is slightly sweet and has a thick, dense texture. A Jamaican favorite is hard dough bread slathered with butter and avocado pears.
No Easter holiday is complete in Jamaica without a slice of easter bun. Typical ingredients in this bun are stout, wine, vanilla, raisins, and mixed peels. Warming spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and mixed spices are added to this recipe. Jamaican bun is usually served with orange cheddar cheese, unique to Jamaica.
This delicious flat cake is made with molasses and spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Bulla is usually served with cheddar cheese.
Sweet Potato Pudding
Sweet potato pudding is a perennial Jamaican favorite. The sweet potato used in this recipe tends to be more starchy and dry than you will find in the United States. The other ingredients used in this recipe are coconut milk, vanilla, nutmeg, mixed spice, raisins, flour, salt, and sugar.
This Jamaican sweet is easy to prepare with just three ingredients: coconut meat, ginger, and sugar. While the ingredients in this sweet are simple, this treat is addictive and will have you returning for more.
Tamarind balls are a Jamaican sweet love by both adults and children. The sour tart taste of tamarind fruit is combined with sugar. Some tamarind ball recipes will add a touch of ginger.
Blue draws, otherwise known as Dukunu, is a type of pudding made with grated bananas, coconut, sweet potatoes, flour, mixed spice, coconut milk, and sugar. The ingredients for this snack are wrapped in banana leaves and boiled.
These tough candies are made from grated coconuts and wet sugar. These candies were named after Alexander Bustamante, who is not only a national hero of Jamaica but also a former prime minister of Jamaica. It was felt that these candies were an embodiment of Busta’s strong character.
Red Stripe Beer
I am sure we have all dreamed about escaping the stress of life and relaxing under a palm tree with an ice-cold beer. No visit to Jamaica is complete without trying the national beer.
Jamaica has a long and illustrious rum history. Appleton rum, the leading rum brand in Jamaica, was established in 1749, making it the second oldest rum producer in the Caribbean. Appleton is still manufacturing rum in Jamaica today. No visit to the island is complete without sampling the rum produced by this premier brand.
In Jamaica, no Christmas dinner is complete without this festive red drink. Jamaicans don’t believe they are in the Christmas season until they have their first glass of sorrel and a slice of Jamaica fruit cake.
Blue Mountain Coffee
Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the world’s most expensive and rarest coffees. If you visit Jamaica, you can take several coffee tours to learn about the history of blue mountain coffee and purchase authentic coffee from the source.
If you are a foodie, a visit to Jamaica should be on your list. Jamaican food is full of flair and bursting with flavor.
Traditional Jamaican food has a little bit of everything to try and enjoy. The influence of Africans, Chinese, Indians, Amerindians, and Europeans has created a melting pot regarding Jamaican cuisine.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock /BBA Photography.