Jamaica’s cuisine is very unique, with meals and drinks influenced by immigrants from various places around the world such as India, Africa, and China. The nourishing food of Jamaica has a rich flavorful punch like no other due to the large variety of spices, herbs and flavors such as scotch bonnet peppers, Allspice, and coconuts used in almost every dish. So to make sure you don’t miss out on JA’s delicious cuisines, snacks, and drinks we made a list of must-eat dishes. Just think of it as a TO DO LIST, feel free to cross them off as you go!!
Typical Jamaican Dishes
Ackee & Saltfish
Ackee and Saltfish is Jamaica’s national dish and is served mainly for breakfast. It is usually served with boiled green bananas, breadfruit, Johnny cakes, and boiled dumpling. Yeah, I know, all that is for breakfast! Ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica is a bright red tropical fruit with a yellowish looking flesh on the inside which is used for cooking. Did you know that if Ackee is eaten prematurely (before ripe) it releases a toxic gas that kills who/what ever ingests it within 24 hrs? Crazy stuff, but don’t worry you will be fine if you eat Ackee in JA as the Jamaicans know what they are doing. Plus, we are still alive, and it’s one of our favorite dishes to eat in Jamaica.
This is a dish that has Indian influence and if you never had goat before this is probably one of the best dishes to be introduced to it. Curry goat was a dish that was made only on special occasions but now you can enjoy it any time. This meal is usually served with rice and peas and a carrot-cabbage slaw.
Yes this is exactly what you think it is but it taste way better than you think. At one point this part of the ox was considered scrap meat and only poor families would eat it. However, once the rich realized how delicious oxtail taste after big mama gave it some tender, love and care, it became an expensive delicacy all over the world. But there is no oxtail like Jamaican oxtail.
The fish (King Fish, Snapper) is usually marinated overnight to enhance the flavor and then fried the next day. It is served with a peppery-vinegar dressing made of onions, carrot, peppers and of course scotch bonnet pepper. Escovitch fish is eaten year around but it is especially popular to eat during Good Friday and Easter.
A leafy green that is said to have a spinach like texture but I think it’s closer to collard greens than spinach. As a main dish it is usually made with cod/saltfish. Callaloo can also be a side, where it is cooked with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and carrots.
If you are in Jamaica, you have to try an ital dish made by a true Rastafarian. Ital means vital, meaning the ingredients used are pure and natural with no preservatives, or processed ingredients or any other crazy shit that is in our food these days. Just pure food just the way mother nature gave it to us. Go ahead and eat something that is not processed, bleached, or genetically modified, I dare you!
Note: Real Ital food is vegan, so if you are vegetarian or vegan you won’t have a problem finding food to eat.
Honorable mentioned: Beef Stew
Typical Jamaican Sides
This was by far my favorite side dish in JA. Festival is a fried dumpling made with cornmeal, flour, salt, and the reason for the unique taste, sugar! This side is usually accompanied by jerked meat or fried fish.
Another favorite of mine! Bammy is a flat round bread made of grated cassava (yucca) that can either be fried, steamed or baked. I personally prefer the baked ones as the fried ones are a bit too greasy for my taste. This side can be served with any dish and is also a good to-go snack.
Also known as Johnny cakes, fried dumplings are very similar to festival but it lacks the sweetness. Johnny Cakes are fried dumplings made from flour and are mostly served at breakfast.
A great starchy substitute for bread, this fruit is served with many dishes and can be steamed, boiled, baked, fried or roasted.
Typical Jamaican Desserts
Jamaicans love their coconuts and have learned and perfected the art of using it in almost everything, desserts are no exceptions.
Made of just three ingredients, coconut, ginger and sugar, this snack taste so delicious it will have you wandering around town looking for more. Your trip to Jamaica is not complete without tasting at least one. P.S. If you find one that has peanuts on it, count that as a blessing. It’s like finding gold my friend.
Gizzadas is of course another coconut pastry. It is a tart shell filled with shredded coconut meat, sugar, ginger and nutmeg. Best eaten right out the oven as it is jelly, crunchy and gooey all at the same time.
Honorable Mentioned: Coconut Cake, Fruit Cake also known as Rum Cake
Typical Jamaican Street Food
Unlike many other countries, Jamaica does not have much street food which is kind of a bummer for street food junkies like us but there are some that are worth mentioning.
A Jamaican patty is a pastry with a flaky, yellow shell stuffed with a variety of fillings such as vegetables, fish, cheese, curry chicken, spicy ground beef and more. You can eat this snack just like that or get it with coco bread, a slightly sweet bread made with coconut milk, to make it a full meal.
Jerk Chicken is one of the most known Jamaican cuisine all around the world, but nothing can compete with the real authentic Jerk Pork you will get in Jamaica. Though the Jerk Chicken is good it is the Jerk Pork that is eye watering, mouth drooling and nose leaking good and in our opinion is the real Jerk star. If spicy food is not your thing, Jerk Pork is not for you as it is not for the faint-hearted. The best place to eat Jerk pork in Jamaica is in the “birthplace” of jerk, Boston Bay in Port Antonio.
Typical Jamaican Fruits & Vegetables
I am pretty sure if you saw sugar canes for the first time being sold by roadside vendors you wouldn’t buy them because you wouldn’t know what to do with them. But you should at least try them once. I love them. To eat them simply bite off a piece of the cane, and chew it like gum to squeeze out the sugary sap. Spit out the fiber when it no longer has flavor and repeat.
Trust me, the mangoes you will get in JA are like no other. Mangoes are usually cheap and plentiful when in season, which starts around May and ends about July. Some of the locals favorite mangoes are East Indian, Number 11, Bombay, and Julie.
Bonus: Typical Jamaican Drinks
Coconut Jelly (Coconut Water)
Coconut Water is usually advertised by vendors as ice cold jelly. But seriously, who would go and visit an island and not drink coconut water! It’s simply the thing to drink. It’s refreshing, natural and good for the body, umm what else can you ask for.
Good, cold, cheap local bear need I say more?
Dragon Stout is a beer made by the same people that brew Red Stripe, however it is sweeter and has a hint of chocolate.
Honorable Mentioned: Ginger Wine, Homemade Ginger Beer (not the artificial soda), Jamaican Rum Punch