I was recently lucky enough to travel to the sunny island of Jamaica for a week. As a first-time visitor and food lover, I was hoping to try some local dishes, even though we were resort-bound. Jamaica is best known for its contribution to reggae music and its exceptional (and expensive) Blue Mountain coffee. It is the third largest island in the Caribbean, boasts crystal clear waters, and has avoided hurricanes for the past 30 years. (If you plan a getaway when hurricane season starts, Jamaica is the place to go.) As far as I knew, there were only two things they were famous for in cooking – jerk chicken and Jamaican patties. Surprisingly, I was wrong.
Well-Known Jamaican Food
To get a taste of Jamaica, you must travel into the cities and try some street food. Unfortunately, our one attempt to travel into the city left us wanting. Like most resorts, the off-site visits they offer are “tourist” shopping spots with no street vendors to be seen.
A bit disappointing, but at least the resort did offer local food. (Hint: ignore all the a la carte restaurants – you will get Jamaican food only at the main restaurants.)
My first taste of Jamaica was the well-known Jamaican patty. I was not left disappointed. I’ve made these patties myself, and I have to say that I am indeed an amateur. Bursting full of flavors with a bit of heat, I had a hard time eating just one. Their success is in the pastry – flaky and crumbly with a unique flavor.
Of course, I had to try the jerk chicken. The thing that I liked the best about this jerk chicken was that the coating on the chicken was dry. Slow-cooked chicken on an open grill to perfection – yum! Accompanied by a beautiful jerk sauce so that you can coat your chicken as much as you want – double yum!
You first tasted the garlic, ginger, and cinnamon, and then you were hit with the heat of the hot peppers—a flavor explosion in your mouth.
The Ocean is Their Grocery Store
If you are a seafood lover, then Jamaica is for you. Cod is the fish of choice in Jamaica, prepared in many different ways. The most popular is salted and fried and served with a side of rice and beans and a sauteed green leafy vegetable called “callaloo,” which is very similar to kale.
Traditional dishes often include a fruit called “ackee.” The pulp of the fruit resembles scrambled eggs when cooked. The surprising thing about this fruit is that if eaten before it is ripe, it is poisonous. You also find an assortment of other fish like snapper (served whole), tuna steaks, mahi-mahi, and a local fish called wahoo (a large, predatory mackerel.) Grilling or frying is the usual cooking method, but some are made into soups or served in spicy sauces.
Of course, the one resort seafood restaurant sat right on the beach. You hear the waves crashing while you eat. It’s as if you got your fish from the ocean onto your plate.
My son enjoyed a local starchy vegetable called a “bammy” every morning. I think he thought it was a hash brown like the ones we eat back home. Who am I to tell him it is made from a cassava root and not a potato? Grated and then dipped in coconut milk, it is fried until golden brown and crunchy. It is like a hash brown on steroids.
The bread offered in Jamaica also had a flavor all its own. I found out that is because not only do they add sugar, but they also add a little coconut milk (this is on my list of things to try and make now.) Whether baked into a pita style, or a roll, it is ideal for a quick, delicious sandwich. In fact, we made a takeaway sandwich for our flight home with one of these bread with cheese and roasted vegetables.
Let’s not forget the coffee. Blue Mountain coffee is delicious. It is sweet, rich, and does not have the bitterness found in other coffees. However, if you want to take some home, be prepared to pay a hefty price for it – it costs about $45USD for an 8oz size bag. (It is still cheaper than buying it back home!)
Are You More Adventurous?
One of Jamaica’s most famous local dishes is a curried goat. It is a stick-to-your-ribs stew that combines garlic, onions, ginger, hot peppers, and Jamaican curry. Slow-cooked to allow all the flavors to blend, the goat melts in your mouth, and the heat from the curry and the peppers have you calling for a tall glass of something.
For lunch, you have to try beef soup. It is a hearty mix of beef, pumpkin, carrots, and yam. Flavorful and delicious, it is a meal in itself. It, of course, includes traditional Jamaican spice in every bite.
This soup is usually made with beef bones, stewing steak, and spices like garlic, pepper, and thyme. (This is also on my to-do list of recipes – with the cooler weather afoot, it will be a perfect meal!)
What’s Jamaica without the Rum
You cannot go on any beach vacation and not enjoy a drink or two (or three, or four). It is an unwritten law. Jamaica does not disappoint. Let’s finish off this blog with a few favorites.
Mudslide – The Adult Version of a Milkshake
1 oz vodka
1 oz coffee liqueur
1 oz rum cream
1 1/2 oz cream
1 cup crushed ice
Mix all ingredients together in a blender until you get a delicious creamy milkshake-like drink with a punch.
2 oz vodka
1 oz blue curacao
1 oz lemonade
1 oz fresh lemon juice
Crushed ice for serving
What’s a beach vacation without a sunny cocktail? Mix together the alcohol, lemonade, and lemon juice and pour over the ice. Cool, refreshing, and the ideal beach drink.
Jamaican Delight – Our Friends’ Go-To Drink
2 oz white rum
1 oz apricot liqueur
Pineapple Juice (to fill the glass)
Splash of lemonade
Crushed ice for serving
This drink is Jamaica’s namesake, so it has to be good. The ingredients are all mixed together and poured over crushed ice. It is refreshing enough to enjoy any time of the day!
Until the next beach adventure and more food discoveries!