A Jamaican vacation is really not a hard-sell. Beautiful beaches, luxury resorts and year-round sun. But, what about its food? Jamaica is a culinary melting pot with a global taste. The island’s food is a clear reflection of its colonial history, with influences from Europe, India, West Africa and East Asia. Jamaica delivers flavors to satisfy every palate so don’t leave without trying at least one of these dishes on your next vacation.
Ackee and Saltfish
Jamaica’s national dish is one of the most authentic meals available on the island. Ackee and saltfish hold true to the tradition of rich spices and flavors. Ackee is a buttery-nutty flavored fruit that is slightly sweet and looks like scrambled eggs when cooked. This is then added to sautéed saltfish (codfish) with onion, scallions, bell pepper, black pepper and Caribbean red pepper. Some people add additional ingredients like tomato, garlic and pimiento to the dish. The national dish is usually served with boiled or fried dumplings, boiled yellow yam, fried or roasted breadfruit and boiled green bananas.
Ackee and saltfish are served any time of the day, but you will find it more often during breakfast in most restaurants and hotels. Some of the restaurants serving good versions of this dish consistently are Jake’s in Treasure Beach and Just Natural in Negril.
Jerk Chicken & Pork
When you want a classic taste of Jamaica, you can’t get any more local than jerk. Authentic Jamaican Jerk chicken and pork are grilled over pimento logwood or with pimento coals, making it hard to replicate the real Jamaican jerk flavors anywhere else. This smokiness and pimento flavor infuses with the meat and you will taste the unique blend of ginger, peppers and allspice, all at once.
The island’s top jerk centers serve a wide selection, including jerk pork, chicken, fish and even lobster. Dishes are typically served with sides such as bammy, roast breadfruit, yam, bread and festivals. Everyone makes their jerk a little different so you can eat as much as you want without ever getting the same experience—Ocho Rios Jerk Center and Boston Jerk Center in Portland are good places to enjoy authentic jerk dishes.
Blue Mountain Coffee
Cultivated in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica, Blue Mountain Coffee is a highly sought-after specialty. The coffee is known for its classic, lack of bitterness and delicate yet strong flavor. The coffee has a nutty, chocolaty aftertaste, which is sure to please even the most particular coffee connoisseurs.
There are several reasons why Blue Mountain Coffee is smooth and tastes so good. Firstly, it is farmed between 2000 and 5000 feet above sea level. The coffee is planted in rich soil in small batches. The crop is hand-picked, so only the best possible beans are reaped and used in the process.
The best Jamaican Blue Mountain blends are not easy to find in Jamaica, given the high demand worldwide. A trip to the larger supermarkets might prove successful, or you might find a few local farmers selling their coffee to passersby. Blue Mountain Coffee is fantastic and definitely worth a try.
The best portable meal in Jamaica is the patty. Usually eaten on the go, straight from the paper bag, this savory pastry with a spicy ground beef filling is a favorite among locals. A patty is eaten as a snack and can be paired with coco bread, a slightly sweet bread to create a full meal. In addition to the regular beef patty, fillings include chicken, beef, cheese, lobster, goat, pork and more.
Cheap and delicious, patties can be found in a range of restaurants across the island, including Tastees, Juicie Beef and Mothers. Whichever you choose, make sure you eat lots of them. Patties are also a great walking lunch too if you’re out sightseeing.
Rice and Peas
An all-around food favorite for Jamaicans, rice and peas are a staple dish islandwide. As the name suggests, this dish is rice that’s prepared with precooked red peas or kidney beans, seasonings and coconut milk for extra flavor and texture. The taste of the dish differs from restaurant to restaurant, as no two versions of this savory dish will ever taste the same. Rice and peas are cooked daily to accompany meat dishes like pork, seafood, chicken, curry goat, ribs, oxtail and other dishes. It is a part of the Jamaican culture and a delicacy that must be tried, at least once.
Perfect as a snack or dessert, Gizzada is a sweet-tasting coconut snack. Also known as “pinch-me-round,” Gizzada is a popular dessert snack that came to the island from Portugal. This crunchy pastry has wavy edges and contains a sweet coconut tart with hints of vanilla and nutmeg.
The textures can be hard or crisp since everyone has his or her unique spin on this classic treat. This pastry can be eaten as a snack or with afternoon tea and is available at most supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies islandwide. Don’t pass up this sweet treat the next time you find yourself on a Caribbean vacation.
Jamaicans sure do love their oxtail—they eat it for lunch and dinner, most days. Jamaican Oxtail is a slow-cooked, thick and savory stew made from cow’s tail and butter beans for extra heartiness. This complex dish is seasoned with ingredients such as allspice, onions, garlic, thyme and Caribbean red pepper.
Oxtail is the perfect pick for a delicious Jamaican dinner or lunch. The meat is served with either plain rice, rice and peas or a combination of dumplings, yam and sweet potato. Oxtail is available at most major restaurants on the island so you should try it at least once.
There’s a reason Jamaica’s motto is ‘Out of many one people.’ Curry goat is an incredibly popular dish in Jamaica and a great way to get a taste of the South Asian influence on Jamaican foods. The dish is an absolute delicacy with big spicy flavors and a juicy texture when done right. Goat has a gamier flavor than the meats you might be used to, none the less it is delicious. Curry goat infuses a range of local spices and seasonings to get the flavors which make the dish a success.
Curry goat tastes the best when the meat is tender and melts in your mouth. Traditionally, curry is cooked on the weekends and at special events—so you know it is really good stuff. However, today you can find the dish at all of the island’s top restaurants. Curry goat is normally served with sides such as white rice, potatoes, rice and peas and food such as green banana, yellow yam and dumplings.
Jamaica is such a beautiful destination that the local cuisine often gets overlooked. On your next trip to the island, it is worth the time to sample a few of these flavorful dishes to get a real taste of local. From the game flavor of curry goat to the smoked spiciness of jerk, every pick on this list hits that sweet spot and promises a delicious-experience. So go ahead, pick one, you will not be disappointed with the flavors of these local foods.