If you’ve never tried Jamaican food before then what are you waiting for? Jamaica is a foodie’s paradise with bold and flavoursome dishes created with fresh, local produce.
Sure, the island might be best known for giving jerk chicken to the world (and for that, we thank them!) but there are plenty more local and traditional dishes that you are guaranteed to love.
If you’re wondering what to eat in Jamaica then start with these 12 dishes.
Updated 2021. Guest post by Philippa Langrish
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The 12 best Jamaican dishes to try
Given that Jamaica is an island the cost of importing foods can be prohibitive so traditional Jamaican food is created with what’s fresh and local. This has resulted in a colourful food culture featuring fresh veggies, seafood caught that morning and plenty of spice. Each roadside cafe or restaurant will also put their own spin on a dish, meaning it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get the same meal twice.
I always ask trusted drivers for foodie tips so do ask for about good ‘hole in the wall’ street food spots – I found some amazing spicy shrimp and stuffed crabs thanks to local recommendations.
One of our favourite traditional Jamaican food experiences was at Andre’s Fish Den at Fort Clarence. This is where we tried delicious grilled fresh snapper.
Another good way to get a taste for traditional Jamaican food is on a tour. Get Your Guide offer a food tour that includes a cooking lesson and a tasty lunch of jerk chicken, callaloo and coconut shrimp.
Possibly the most popular Jamaican food is jerk chicken. Jerk refers to the way that the meat is marinated with a hot spice mixture and then smoked over pimento chips. The two main ingredients of the jerk marinade are allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers.
It’s thought that this style of cooking was originally developed by Maroons, African slaves who escaped into the island when the Brits captured the island from Spain in1655.
Today, jerk chicken and jerk pork are the two most common jerk dishes and you can find them pretty much anywhere on the island from high end restaurants to roadside food stalls.
Ackee and Salt Codfish
Ackee and Salt Codfish is Jamaica’s national dish. Originally native to West Africa, Ackee was brought to Jamaica in the 18th century.
Ackee fruit grows in pod clusters from trees and is actually poisonous if eaten before it’s ripe. The fruit looks a little bit like a walnut and is ripe and suitable for cooking when the pods are bright red and they split open easily. Inside are large black seeds, which are discarded and the fleshy section is removed and prepared in a manner similar to scrambled eggs. This is then served with salt codfish for breakfast, often accompanied by Johnny Cakes.
One of the best Jamaican dishes we tried was a lobster curry. Jamaican curries are filled with garlic, onions, ginger, hot pepper and lots of spice and slow-cooked to blend all the flavours together.
The most popular curry dish is curry goat but we all thought that the lobster curry recipe was amazing! Eat it on its own, with rice, or in a traditional Jamaican patty, another key dish in Jamaican cuisine.
Jamaican Rice and Peas
An oldie but a goody, rice and peas can be found everywhere in Jamaica and usually accompanies most jerk dishes. Don’t come expecting small green garden peas, however, this dish uses ‘red peas’, kidney beans that are cooked, along with the rice, in coconut milk and spices.
Fried plantains might be one of the simplest Jamaican recipes but they’re also one of the most well-loved Jamaican dishes – especially when served in orange sauce. Fried plantains are usually served alongside meat or enjoyed as a snack.
I am a big fan of spinach and the local spinach in Jamaica is called Callaloo. It’s dark green and full of flavour, and is usually served steamed and lightly sautéed with onions, garlic and the ever present scotch bonnet peppers. Sometimes it’s also cooked with saltish and served for breakfast. I enjoyed eating it in a patty and in omelettes.
One Caribbean food you must try is conch soup. Pronounced ‘conk’ it’s a favourite in Jamaica and in the region. Conch is a large marine mollusk and is used to make soups, stews, curries, salads and fritters.
Ok, so local breads are not necessarily a traditional Jamaican dish but if you’re travelling with fussy eaters you’ll be relieved to hear that your kids will love the local breads! Jamaica has an array of delicious breads and my children devoured the banana and coconut breads. So, even if they won’t touch goat curry or jerk chicken, they won’t go hungry!
Jamaican Beef Patties
Beef patties are another favourite Jamaican dish. The beef is cooked with onions and spices and then stuffed into dough so that they look like empanadas. They’re then baked in the oven and served hot. Jamaican beef patties can be eaten at anytime of the day and make for a great snack.
Although beef is the most popular filling you can also find patties stuffed with ackee and saltfish, curry chicken and veggie versions. There are plenty of places to get a good patty in Jamaica but the locals swear that Tastee Patties in Kingston is the best. At Devon House in Kingston you can find lobster and shrimp patties
Made from cassava, a nutty-flavoured starchy root vegetable, bammy is another traditional Jamaican food that you must try. It’s like a flatbread and made with grated cassava, dipped in coconut milk which is then fried until golden brown. Bammy is often served as a side dish but it also makes for a good snack.
The Jamaican Festival
Less a party and more a delicious dumpling, Jamaican festivals are another popular Jamaican food. They are fried dumplings made with wheat flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar and water deep fried in oil and served piping hot.
Jamaican festivals are a popular street food and are often served with Escovitch Fish (another authentic Jamaican food) and jerk chicken.
Devon House Ice Cream
Devon House in Kingston is famous for its ice cream and for good reason, the flavours here are delicious. The original Devon House Ice Cream Parlour is still on the grounds of the house and features flavours ranging from kids’ favourites such as vanilla, strawberry and chocolate to more adventurous flavours such as Dragon Stout, Blue Mountain Coffee, and Soursop.