When it comes to food, Jamaicans enjoy a flavorful and hearty delight. With the influence of the colonial past, several immigrants hailing from Africa, India, China, and Spain have contributed their cooking methods and recipes to this Caribbean island. Though Jamaican cuisine mainly comprises meat and fish, you will also find a few vegetarian options too like callaloo and steamed cabbage. Most traditional meat dishes are slow-cooked to make the meat pieces tender and soak in the flavors, resulting in a succulent dish that is hard to resist.
Having a Jamaican meal will leave you completely satisfied: A typical breakfast usually comprises a main course along with a root vegetable or starchy fruit like yam, plantain, or green banana; lunch is a little more filling consisting of curried chicken, beef, vegetables, and patties; dinners are mainly large meals enjoyed with friends or families, with curried goat, and jerk chicken eaten on special occasions; finally, the desserts are usually fruits or sweet dishes prepared with fruits.
Jamaicans have well-accepted and adapted curried meats introduced to them by Indian immigrants in the 17th century. Among these, curry goat is popular for its taste and texture. Bite-sized pieces of goat meat are slow-cooked in sautéed traditional spices and herbs until they soak in the flavors. Sometimes potato is also added to the preparation to thicken the gravy and make it more filling. The combination of rich sauce and succulent meat is best accompanied with rice or roti, a tortilla-like flatbread, and often served during special occasions like Christmas.
Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and saltfish, is an attractive yellow-colored platter. Its preparation includes deseeding and boiling ripe ackee fruit and stir-frying it with dried saltfish, tomatoes, onions, and scotch bonnet peppers. While the fruit gives the dish its bright yellow color and scrambled egg-like texture, saltfish accounts for its savory taste. Make sure to use ripe ackee only as the cooking the unripe ones could lead to food poisoning. Often served for breakfast or brunch, ackee and saltfish is best accompanied by dumplings, fried plantains, or boiled yams.
‘Jerk’ refers to the traditional cooking technique invented by the maroons in Jamaica in the 1600s. Though jerk chicken is the most common, other jerk meats like jerk pork, goat, fish, and beef are also well-loved. A favorite dinner dish in the Caribbean, you could find jerk chicken everywhere from plush restaurants to tiny shacks.
The preparation method typically includes marinating, or sometimes, dry rubbing the chicken pieces with a spice mixture of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, thyme, scotch bonnet pepper, and pimento. Once the meat absorbs the flavors, it is placed over pimento woods and slow-cooked until it gets tender, and smoky.
Side dishes like Jamaican rice and peas, steamed cabbage, or festivals, a traditional sweet fried dough, are usually served with jerk chicken. With flavors oozing out in every bite, this authentic dish is irresistible for those who enjoy the spicy and smoky taste. One can also enjoy a Jamaican-Chinese fusion by adding the jerk-seasoned chicken pieces to a Chinese chow mein dish.
An aromatic, hearty stew, traditional oxtail and beans is commonly served in Jamaican restaurants. The gelatin-rich oxtail is seasoned and slow-cooked with broad beans or butter beans to form a stew. Though it takes about three hours to cook on low heat, many prefer to reduce the time by cooking it in a medium to high heat. Enjoying the oxtail stew with accompaniments like rice and peas and boiled yam is the best way to bring out the rustic flavors of the tender meat.
Rice and peas is a staple Jamaican side dish, commonly eaten with most Jamaican delicacies particularly for Sunday dinner. While the peas, mostly red kidney beans, are cooked with coconut milk, herbs, and spices until tender, rice is added to it later. The red tinge of the rice comes from the peas, and the dish attains a rich and flavorful taste.
A favorite among locals and tourists alike, Jamaican beef patties are mouthwatering snacks resembling Spanish empanadas. While the filling is a juicy blend of ground beef and spices, the crescent-shaped patty shell is flaky and distinctively golden due to the inclusion of turmeric and curry powder. You’ll also find other stuffing options for Jamaican patties, including curry chicken, lobster, shrimp, and so on. If you’re seeking a vegetarian substitute, patties with veggies, ackee fruit, or callaloo filling is a must-try.
An authentic fish delicacy, fish escovitch is typically made using red snapper. A whole fish is seasoned and fried until crispy. Pickled vegetables, including onions, carrots, and chayote, along with a spiced vinegar sauce, are poured on the top. Many prefer serving it on the next day to let the fish absorb all the flavors. Fish escovitch is often enjoyed during Easter lunch along with bammy, a sweet and nutty flatbread.
Mackerel rundown, also called ‘dip and fall back,’ is a tasty fish stew delicacy made with salted mackerel. It is cooked in fresh coconut milk along with spices and herbs until the broth reduces to a slightly thick and creamy consistency. Served as a breakfast dish, mackerel rundown is best paired with boiled green bananas and dumplings. The coconut milk balances the spicy and salty flavors making it a delectable, smooth, and filling breakfast delight.
A vegetarian’s favorite breakfast dish, callaloo can be served as a soup or a side dish to heavy Jamaican meals. The leafy vegetable is steamed and sautéed with onion, garlic, and a bit of scotch bonnet pepper to enhance the taste. Sometimes, saltfish or shrimp also goes into the preparation for added flavors. Callaloo teams well with Johnny cakes, boiled yams, or green bananas.
A hearty soup, mannish water is also regarded as an aphrodisiac. It’s made using pieces of goat’s head, feet, and intestines. The addition of veggies, scotch bonnet pepper, and other spices and herbs results in a savory, spicy, and meaty delight. Often served hot at parties and celebrations, mannish water is eaten by topping it on rice, or with sides like baked yam, or sipped from small cups like a beverage.
These lip smacking spicy shrimp platters are easy to find on every Jamaican street corner. Its distinctive spicy taste and red color mainly come from scotch bonnet peppers. As it is well-seasoned with other spices, including allspice, garlic, and thyme, you can omit or lessen the use of scotch bonnet peppers if you are not a big fan of spicy foods.
Jamaican steamed cabbage is an excellent option for a side dish that complements any meat delicacy. While shredded cabbage is the star ingredient, carrots, thyme, scotch bonnet peppers, and garlic also go into it adding color, fragrance, and flavor. Delicious and easy to prepare, steamed cabbage is a vegetarian’s delight but can also be topped with saltfish for a salty and more flavorful taste.
A classic Jamaican dish, brown stew chicken, is delicious, comforting, and requires minimum effort to prepare. It includes chicken legs which are well-seasoned and slow-cooked with veggies until the meat is tender and the gravy is thick. Sometimes, the chicken legs are fried before it undergoes the stewing process to attain a brown crust on the surface. Loaded with Caribbean flavors, brown stew chicken is juicy and savory, which tastes best when served with Jamaican peas and rice, boiled potatoes, or dumplings.
To enjoy a hearty and quick one-pot Jamaican meal, trying out the classic chicken foot soup is a must. Usually served as a traditional Saturday meal, the soup includes chicken feet, pumpkin, carrots, yellow yams, scotch bonnet pepper, and chayote or chocho, a squash-like fruit. The chewy chicken feet have a delicate taste that complements well when eaten with veggies and spicy broth.
Fish tea is not a tea, but a yummy spicy fish soup with a tea-like thin consistency. Traditionally made with Jamaican doctor fish, the soup also includes veggies, spices, and herbs that contribute to its distinct taste. Light and refreshing, fish tea is served hot as an appetizer to relish your taste buds before having the main course.
A delectable dinner dish, Jamaican coconut curried salmon, can be prepared quickly and effortlessly. It includes seasoning and frying salmon fillets until it turns golden and crispy. A thick and savory sauce made with a combination of coconut milk, herbs, and spices, is poured over the fish. A filling delicacy, coconut curried salmon goes well with steamed rice, roti, or mashed potatoes.
Rasta Pasta is a mouthwatering creamy pasta dish. Besides the pasta, roasted or sautéed bell peppers of all colors and jerk chicken are also included to enhance its taste, texture, and appearance. Though it is said to be a Jamaican-Italian fusion food, many believe it originated in the Rastafari culture in Jamaica which gives the dish its unique name. After cooking it in a thick, creamy, and flavorful sauce, rasta pasta is garnished with sliced scallions and served as a weekend dinner meal.
Spicy potato wedge is a simple and finger-licking potato snack dish. It comprises sweet potatoes that are cut into long wedges and tossed in oil and spicy jerk seasoning. The potato slices are then baked until golden and crispy. Also served as appetizers, spicy potato wedges are ideal to eat with a tangy dip made by combining sour cream and lemon juice.
Fufu is a starchy delight made with cassava or plantains. A staple food among the West African population, fufu requires not much effort to prepare and serves as a perfect accompaniment to Jamaican soups and spicy stews. The smooth dough can be fried or baked and is easy to swallow, making it ideal for all age groups.
Bammy is a well-loved Jamaican side dish made with cassava, ideal for vegans and vegetarians. It’s a flatbread originally prepared by the Tainos, the island’s primary inhabitants. They grated cassava roots and soaked them in coconut milk before frying the bread in oil. If you want a healthier option, you can bake or steam it instead of frying it. It is usually mild, with a slight hint of sweet and nutty flavors, making it an excellent accompaniment with escovitch fish or callaloo. Many also enjoy it as a breakfast dish by drizzling a sweet syrup.
A delicious Jamaican fast food platter, stamp and go, also called saltfish fritters, are commonly enjoyed for breakfast or as appetizers. It’s made with a batter of flour, saltfish, scallions, and seasonings before pouring the fritters in oil until they turn golden and crispy. The crunchy treat is quick to make and tastes incredible when enjoyed with a spicy dipping sauce.
These Jamaican dishes are spicy and rustic, hard to resist, and easy to satisfy your taste buds. Whether you are trying out a traditional soup, meat or fish meal, or a side dish, you would find the typical Jamaican savory and spicy flavors dominating in each bite. To conclude your meals, it is best to try out one of the Jamaican desserts.
Best Jamaican Holiday Foods: Jerk Chicken, Brown Stew Chicken, Oxtail and Beans
Best Jamaican Vegetarian Dishes: Callaloo, Spicy Potato Wedges,Steamed Cabbage
Best Jamaican Breakfast Dishes: Callaloo, Ackee and Saltfish, Mackerel Rundown
Best Jamaican Side Dishes: Rice and Peas, Callaloo, Bammy
Best Jamaican Fish Dishes: Fish Escovitch, Mackerel Rundown, Coconut Curried Salmon
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