Jamaican cuisine is as rich and complex as the country’s fusion of flavors, cultures, colors and landscapes. Out of many, one people. Amstar dmc Destination Manager in Jamaica, Richard Bourke, is a multi-talented connoisseur and proud promoter of his beautiful island. In this post, he shares his love and admiration for an essential aspect of Jamaican national identity: its food.CC BY 2.0 image by kaiton
DINING IN JAMAICA
One of the richest parts of Jamaica’s heritage is the food that we eat. This stems from our cultural diversity and so you have a blending of different ethnic culinary styles resulting in a diverse and ever evolving Jamaican cuisine.
The Jamaican motto of “out of many, one people” speaks to the varied cultural groupings who have made Jamaica home. This includes the original inhabitants of the island, a group of people known as the Tainos, as well as the Spanish settlers, the British colonial masters and the African slaves, whose descendants make up the bulk of our population. There have been other significant groupings who came to Jamaica in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, including people of East Indians, Chinese, German and Middle Eastern descent.
To truly enjoy and experience the real Jamaican cuisine one must venture out to the local restaurants as there is a tendency for resorts to “tone down” the usually spicy Jamaican fare. These range from street side shacks to fine dining establishments that have evolved and blended the cuisine with international styles.
ACKEE & SALTFISH: THE NATIONAL DISH
This is ACKEE & SALTFISH, which dates back to the days of slavery. The ackee is a fruit native to West Africa which grows extensively around the island and when cooked has a look and consistency almost like scrambled eggs, but with a different unique flavor. Salt fish refers to salted cod, which in the old days was the cheapest form of protein available to feed the masses. The cod is boiled and then flaked and sautéed with onions, scallion, thyme, tomatoes as well as hot and sweet peppers. The ackee is mixed in at the end to create a truly memorable dish.
Perhaps our best known contribution to the culinary world. This method of cooking was developed many years ago as a slow smoking process of highly seasoned meat as a way of preserving the meat for the long ocean voyages. Although Jerk originated in Boston Bay Portland, it can now be found throughout the island. Note that the Taino people native to Jamaica and the Caribbean are credited with coming up with the term barbecue, which is derived from the Taino word barabicau.
Over the years “jerking” has evolved into a speedier but still slow grilling process with its signature highly seasoned marinate. This marinate is comprised mainly of onions, scallions, hot peppers, salt, pimento (allspice) and a number of other local spices. In days of old it was mostly pork which was jerked however to day chicken has surpassed it in popularity and you can get almost anything jerked from seafood to rabbit. An off shoot of Jerk is the popular street side PAN CHICKEN. Anywhere you see the signature 55 gallon oil drum cut in two to make a charcoal grill you will find the ever popular pan chicken where every vendor has his own special recipe.
PATTIESFood as a Lens
Every country has its own version of a baked pastry with meat filling. The patty is very similar to the Latin American empanada, however the pastry is flakier and the filling more highly seasoned. Originally done with ground beef but now available in chicken, shrimp, lobster and a variety of vegetarian options. One of the most popular meals for the “man in the street.” Patties are frequently eaten with cocoa bread. The most popular outlets to enjoy this very Jamaican specialty include Tastee Patties, Mother’s and Juici Beef Patties.
Photo credit: Fish Escoviche via Soul Fusion Kitchen
Hailing from our Spanish ancestry, this popular seaside dish is made of crispy fried whole fish with a savory topping of sautéed onions, carrots, hot and sweet peppers pickled in vinegar as a topping. Best eaten with FESTIVAL (a fried pastry made from flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, salt and baking powder) or BAMMY, one of oldest indigenous food being a bread like patty made from ground cassava which is fried or steamed.
Hailing from our East Indian heritage. This is a staple at any late night party, whether it be a dance, wedding or funeral. Traditionally highly spiced and eaten with steamed white rice and boiled green bananas. Usually accompanied by mannish water, which is a spicy soup made from all the other parts of the goat that didn’t make it into the main curry pot. Note that other very popular curried dishes include, chicken, shrimp, lobster and conch.
RICE AND PEAS
No Jamaican meal is complete without this ever present accompaniment. Red kidney beans are boiled with a variety of local seasonings and then rice and coconut milk is added to make the perfect side dish to almost any meal. A variation of this is STEW PEAS & RICE in which the kidney beans are stewed until tender and a thick gravy is formed and then served over steamed white rice. Similar seasoning as used for the beans such as onions, scallion, thyme, scotch bonnet peppers, coconut milk and salt. This may be made vegetarian style or may include salted beef or salted pig tail.
SOUPSPhoto credit: Jamaican Mango & Shrimp Curry Soup via My Wooden Spoons
Soups of various kinds are frequently considered as a meal in Jamaica as opposed to a starter. Soups are usually sold as a cup, small bowl or large bowl. Cups are starters, bowls are small or large meals. They are usually thick hearty soups with a number of ground provisions and other inclusions. This includes dumplings, yam of various types, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, coco, dasheen, cho cho, carrots and green bananas, to name a few.>
Popular seafood soups include fish tea and conch. Shrimp soup usually refers to fresh water shrimp commonly called JANGA.
Soups are frequently Pumpkin based or bean based and will usually contain some type of meat unless specifically stated as being vegetarian. Popular pumpkin soups include beef or chicken soup (frequently referred to as cock soup, especially when local male free range chicken is used).
The most popular bean soups are red peas (red kidney beans) and gungo peas (pidgeon peas). These will usually include one of the following meats: pickled pig tail, salted beef or chicken. However, they may also be made vegetarian style.
Photo credit: Steph’s Jamaican Squash Soup via Le Sauce
Other popular soups are pepper pot soup (based on callaloo, which is Jamaica spinach) and mannish water previously mentioned in the goat section.
The diet of the traditional Rastafarian community. Ital usually refers to foods which are vegetarian or vegan. Ital usually also indicates that no salt is used in the preparation of the meal.
Photo credit: Pepper Shrimp via the highly recommended Photo Chefs
Fresh water crayfish highly seasoned with salt and peppers. Sold on the roadside and only for the brave.
RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS for REAL JAMAICAN FOOD
Most Jamaican restaurants tend to be very casual and few lend themselves to a fine dining experience. And while there are many fine dining restaurants that have a Jamaican flavor to their cuisine, I have chosen to focus on the more authentic Jamaican experiences where you might find the average Jamaican going to eat.
MONTEGO BAYPhoto credit: Dubdem Sound System :: Jamaican Tour 2009, CC BY 2.0 image by dubdem
THE PELICAN RESTAURANT (Hip Strip)
ROBBIE’S KITCHEN (Montego Bay Yacht Club)
FAR OUT FISH HUT (On the border of St James and Trelawny, very rustic)
PIER 1 (On the Waterfront)
SCOTCHIES JERK CENTER (Opposite Holiday Inn, rustic)
JERKY’S BAR AND GRILL (29 Alice Eldemire Drive, rustic)
ISLAND GRILL (Catherine Hall, fast food)
HOUSEBOAT RESTAURANT (Freeport Montego Bay, fine dining with a Jamaican twist; seafood specialty)
MARGUERITE’S (Hip Strip, fine dining, Jamaican inspired cuisine)
Photo credit: Glistening Waters Restaurant
GLISTENING WATER’S (Rock Trelawny)
Photo credit: Sharkies Restaurant
SHARKIES SEAFOOD (Salem, on the eastern side of town, rustic)
ULTIMATE JERK CENTER (Opposite Green Grotto Caves on the Western side of town, rustic)
Photo credit: MIss T’s Kitchen
MISS T’s KITCHEN (By the Ocho Oios Clock, fine Jamaican cuisine)
OCEAN’S ELEVEN SEAFOOD (Fishermans Point Rd.)
JOHN CROWS TAVERN (Main Street , Ocho Rios, sports bar)
SPRING GARDEN CAFÉ (Ocho Rios Bypass)
EVITA’S (Eden Bower Rd., Italian fine dining with Jamaican influences)
TOSCANINI (Tower Isles, Italian with emphasis on FRESH Jamaican produce and seafood)
Photo credit: Kuyaba Restaurant
COSMO’S RESTAURANT (Norman Manley Boulevard, rustic)
SWEET SPICE RESTAURANT (Nompriel Road, rustic)
PUSH CART (West end road)
KUYABA (Fine dining with a Jamaican flair)