As a local native, born and bred in the little island of Jamaica – I must say our food is the best.
In Jamaica, we cook with different spices, meat, condiments, and even love. Whenever I travel abroad for different periods, I’m always excited to go back home and have some food. Whether it is a patty, ackee & saltfish, or some curry goat – the thought of them makes me salivate at the mouth. So, without further ado, let’s get into the top 10 foods to try when you visit Jamaica:
1. Ackee and Saltfish
This is the national dish in our country. Predominately it is served as breakfast on special occasions. It is one of those fruits that have to be cooked before eating. Depending on the part of Jamaica, that you reside you will see Ackee trees in your backyard. So, some morning your parents may pick a couple of ackees to make for breakfast. They will select ackees that are “ripe” which means that the pod is opened revealing a yellow fruit with a black seed at the op. The yellow part is what you eat when it is cooked and served with saltfish and other sautéed vegetables (onion, garlic, thyme, etc).
A patty is similar to the Spanish empanada. It is a baked pastry that is shaped like a half-circle with a mix of a yellow/orange colour. It has a hard crust that gets softer as you eat towards the middle. On the inside, it has a variety of fillings that are usually given to the name of the patty. For example, if the chicken is on the inside then it is a “chicken patty”. In Jamaica, you can get chicken, beef, shrimp, fish, cheese, lobster, curry goat, and even vegetables for our vegans out there. There are offered in three places: Tastees, Juici Patties, and Mothers. I won’t say who is the best, as you can make that decision for yourself.
3. Jerk Chicken/Pork Chicken
I couldn’t separate the two because their preparation is the same. However, meat choice is different. Preparation is the seasoning as they are both seasoned with garlic, onion, thyme, pimento, scotch bonnet pepper, and “jerk” seasoning/marinade. The marinade usually has a blend of the previously mentioned seasoning however the different layers of seasonings make it juicier. It is cooked outside on a grill over coal. After a long night of partying there is usually a “jerk man” somewhere as we like to call them ready and waiting for you.
4. Fried Dumpling
Fried Dumpling is one of my favourite Jamaican food that I could eat right around the clock. However, it is usually served with breakfast. It is made similar to the festival (#10) however no milk is added. A lot of top chefs will say the key to superb friend dumplings is to let the dough rise overnight or a couple of hours before frying. Then, you create small balls with it and fry it golden brown on both sides. It is crunchy on the outside, and soft and warm on the inside. It can be served with ackee and saltfish, mackerel, kidney, liver, and even callaloo and saltfish.
5. Mannish Wata
You can call it Man-ish Water however in Jamaican style we say “WATA”. Off the bat, once you taste it, you’re going to taste salt that is not overbearing but just right. It’s an aphrodisiac as one would say because mannish wata is made from a goat’s head. Yes, I said, the goat head is boiled to create the “soup”. Also, you add foods such as green banana, pumpkin, dumplings, and cassava. All of these boiling together with the spices gives you a delectable dish that is not found anywhere else in the world. It is customary at nine-nights (party celebration 9 days before the funeral to celebrate the life of the dead) and funerals.
Then, we have oxtail which is as the name suggests the tail of the OX. I’m not only saying it tastes good because I am a Jamaica, but a lot of tourists love it as well. Similar to most Jamaican dishes, it is first seasoned with a wide variety of herbs and spices. Some people may even put a little (or a “toops” as we like to call it) of jerk seasoning in there. Then, it is left overnight in the fridge or over a week in the freezer. The longer it is left to marinate, the better it is. Oxtail is fried first to get the flavours combined. It is not fried for a long time because you don’t want the meat to be “hard”. Then, it is slow-cooked with water or in a pressure cooker. This aids in tenderizing the meat so that it is soft and falls of the bone when you are eating. The process is long however it is worth the time. Usually, it is served with rice and peas, and vegetables or pasta/potato salad.
7. Curry goat
If you come to Jamaica, we would call it to curry goat or mutton. It is seasoned to perfection using various herbs and spices. Some individuals would burn the curry in the pot with oil to give it the colour while others will season the meat with the curry first. Curry is a popular spice used in Caribbean dishes and it is made from the herb – turmeric. The special Jamaican twist to the curried dished is adding finely chopped Irish potatoes or carrots to the dish. Both of which, will help to increase the thickness of the curry gravy. The curry is usually served with white rice that complements it well.
8. Escoveitch fish
Next, we have escoveitch fish also called Fried Fish – a whole fish. If you visit Hellshire Beach in St. Catherine, you’re able to choose your fish which is usually from the snapper family. The option of choice is important as some may want a big, little, or regular size fish. After the fish is fried, it is then topped with the “goodness” as I like to call it. This includes potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, and pimentos. And more importantly, it is sided with festival and bammy (discussed in #10). If you’re having it at the beach, you’re able to have it with a tall glass of refreshing coconut water.
9. Stew peas
Stew peas is as the name suggests. The peas sit in water overnight to soften. Then, it is boiled the next day using coconut milk to create the “Stew”. The coconut milk will also add some thickness to the stew so that it’s not 100% runny. Stew peas are usually cooked with “pigtail”, “oxtail” and sometimes even chicken! Most Jamaicans prefer pigtail. However, for those that do not like a pigtail, they will add chicken, beef, etc. And more importantly, small dumplings are added. Stew peas is usually served with white rice.
10. Festival and Bammy
Festival and Bammy are fried treats. Festival is made with cornmeal for colour, sugar to add a little flavour, flour to create the “dough”, milk and water to hold the mixture together. While bammy is made from cassava root which is grated to create circles or 1/8 of a circle and soaked in coconut milk. Then, both are fried until they are golden brown. The festival is crunchy once you bite into it however the inside is soft and sweet. However, the bammy Is soft, sweet, and melts in your mouth upon eating. Unfortunately, I can’t choose so I placed them together as one. And when the coronavirus/pandemic is over, you can stop by Hellshire or Island grill to get yourself a few.
This was a difficult article to write as there is a lot of diverse foods in Jamaica to choose from to narrow it down to a top 10. However, I tried my best in sharing with you what I like, my friends, family, co-workers, tourists, and the greater diaspora. Some of your favourites may have not even been on my list. Let’s discuss in the comments below of which ones you love or are waiting to try. As well as, let me know when you’re planning to visit Jamaica when the pandemic is over.
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Ashley is a born and bred Jamaican of 24 years old. She currently enjoys listening to music, going to the river and eating KFC. She is an accountant by day and a freelance artist by night.