Like the culture itself, Jamaican cuisine is a complex and delightful fusion of various cultural influences. An explosion of colors, flavors and textures, the culinary history of the island is as rich as it is diverse. Our friends at Island Buzz Jamaica treat us to 7 savory jewels of Jamaican cuisine that will soon have us eating like a local.
If you thought the sunshine, sea and sand were enough to win you over, a taste of Jamaica’s local street foods is the cherry on top of it all. Jamaica is home to some of the Caribbean’s most appetizing and fulfilling flavors. Fine dining is always a great way to experience our local cuisine, but if you’re a foodie at heart and seeking the rustic simple pleasures of island life, head to the roadside—that’s where it all goes down.
While we advise you to approach with caution, as you would anywhere else, on a more reassuring note, most of the foods are slow cooked for hours and so should not cause much concern. Other items are very fresh local produce so everything is all right!
Here are some of our must-have street foods:
Once the king of Jamaica’s economy, sugarcane is today a cardinal roadside snack for most locals. Fruits vendors usually have these treats packaged in clear plastic bags or the long stalks on display ready for customers to choose from. That first bite into a piece of sugarcane is a burst of sweet juices in your mouth. You’ll have to be careful not to let the juices escape down your hands; you won’t want to waste even an ounce. Chew up the pieces until you’ve drained it of all the juices, and don’t be shy about it-that’s exactly how we all do it here. If you’re lucky the vendor might even have some fresh sugarcane juice mixed with a tinge of ginger, one of the best natural juices on the island. Whichever form you try though, we guarantee you, it will be a satisfying experience.
Jamaicans will tell you, there is nothing quite like drinking from nature’s cup, especially on a warm summer day. Our unofficial national drink, coconut water is the ultimate way to quench your thirst. A “Jelly Man” can easily be found anywhere throughout the island. First he’ll use a machete to create a small opening on the coconut. You can either put the coconut straight to your head or use a straw to have –what will be -some of the freshest coconut water you’ll ever taste. When you’ve had all of the water, you’ll want to have him split the coconut in two to reveal the famous gelatin component. He’ll hand you a small piece of the coconut shell to use as a spoon then dig into this delicious delicacy. Some persons like to add a little bit of sugar for more sweetness but it really is good all by itself.
Much like the snow cone, sky juice is essentially shaved ice with water and syrup however this Jamaican version is sold in a poly bag with a straw. These vendors have mastered the art of attaining the right amount of sweetness for a refreshing drink. Many use special additives such as lime or ginger for an even more satisfying taste. Today it isn’t so common to see these juice peddlers, so when you do come across them it is a treasured moment you must take advantage of.
“Peanuts, peanut! Nuts, nuts!” is a familiar bellowing on Jamaican roadsides accompanied by a signature whistling handcart. Choose from raw nuts, roasted nuts and peanut cakes among other peanut products that are readily available for reasonable prices from the neighborhood “peanut man”. We suggest, however, the roasted peanuts (your choice of shelled or unshelled) packaged in a conical shaped brown paper. A unique mix of earthy and salty tastes, these warm treats are not only convenient but delicious. Sometimes you don’t even have to look too far to find a “peanut man”; you can find him at many public events, especially concerts, ready to serve you nutty delights.
Who knew shrimp sold in tiny poly bags could be so scrumptious? Fresh catch seasoned with local spices and packaged for easy portability has been a Jamaican specialty for years. If you’re a seafood lover it would be a great disservice for you to come to Jamaica and not try a bag. Since you’ll be soaking up some sun on the beaches, you’re already in the right place as these hawkers tend to frequent beaches throughout the day. Pepper shrimp can be really spicy but if you are a heat seeker many of these vendors travel with their spicy sauce so don’t be afraid to ask for a little extra.
You might be thinking, what’s so special about a boiled corn? Well- this is not any ol’ boiled corn, it’s a Jamaican gem. Like most Jamaican foods, the secret lies within the marriage of distinct spices that give new life to everyday food. We highly doubt you will be satisfied with just one helping; luckily they are portable so you can order another one for the road. These vendors usually have boiled crab on the menu too; we highly recommend you try it also!
Roasted Yellow Yam with Saltfish
No trip along the South Coast is complete without a stopover at Melrose (in Manchester) for the famous roasted yellow yam and saltfish. Jamaican yam has many times been credited as the secret to the world’s fastest man, Jamaica’s very own Usain Bolt’s super speed. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat like an Olympian, here is your chance! Slow roasted yellow yam cut in half then slathered with a bit of margarine and served with roasted saltfish, sometimes it really doesn’t get much better than this!
As you plan your next trip to Jamaica, be sure to add street food on your things to do/try list! Food is always a good start to gaining an authentic Jamaican experience while you vacation. And make sure you visit our friends at Island Buzz Jamaica, a great source for wonderful stories about the beauty of Jamaica and its people!