Jamaica is a small island in the Caribbean with just over 2.5 million people. Even so, we have developed a rich culture that stands out among the nations. We have contributed several music genres to the world, most notably reggae. We are home to the fastest running man in the world, Usain Bolt! We attract millions of foreign visitors each year because of our tropical climate, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and lush mountain regions.
Travelers enjoy our laid-back vibe, music and art, as well as the genuine warmth of our people. Of course, while they are here they are eager to try our authentic Jamaican dishes! Jerk chicken is probably our most famous dish, but in this post I will introduce you to several other traditional favourites.
But first...let me explain what makes a jerk dish authentic.
Jerk relies on the meat or seafood being smoked with pimento wood to get its true flavour as well lots of scotch bonnet peppers. Chicken, pork, goat, or shrimp is seasoned with onions, scallions, thyme, salt, black pepper and scotch bonnet peppers, allowed to marinate for a number of hours, at least overnight, and then smoked over pimento wood to get that famous deliciousness. Without the two main components of scotch bonnet (habanero) peppers and pimento (allspice) wood, the jerk just is not authentic.
Ackee and saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica. Ackee is a fruit that came to Jamaica from Africa and grows on trees in pods. They are actually poisonous within the closed pods and must open naturally on the tree before they can be picked, cooked and eaten safely.
The dish is typically served with roasted breadfruit and with fried plantains. It is also commonly eaten with ground provisions such as yams, potatoes and boiled green bananas.
Though most Jamaicans consider ackee and saltfish a breakfast staple, it can be enjoyed at any time of day. It is not uncommon for the saltfish to be switched out for corn pork. The ackee itself has a very mild flavour and lends itself well to its accompaniment.
Mannish water is a soup made from goat leftovers like the head, the scrotum and various parts of its insides. Along with jerk chicken, this is a typical street food found throughout the island.
At family gatherings, this is often the first round before the main meal is served.
Curry goat is another Jamaican favourite. It is typically a spicy dish that is served with white rice. It can also be made with lamb for a very similar flavour.
Brown Stew Chicken and Rice and Peas
This is a traditional Sunday dinner for Jamaicans. Brown stew chicken is made by pan-frying cut up chicken then allowing it to stew down in a gravy thickened with seasonings, soy sauce and ketchup.
Our stew peas dish is made with red peas, pigstail and lots of coconut milk. It is a rich and filling main dish, spiced with some hot scotch bonnet peppers.
Escoveitch Fish and Festival
Fish and festival is a beach favourite and is sold at most public beaches. The fish is fried fresh from the daily catch and served with an escoveitch sauce made from white vinegar, scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, carrots and onions. It is usually served with festival which is a sweet version of a Johnny cake (a cornmeal flatbread). It can also be served with bammy which is a bread-like type of side dish made from cassava (also known as manioc or yucca). The bammy is soaked in coconut milk then deep-fried.
Jamaican oxtail is some of the very best found anywhere. It is another Sunday dinner favourite served with rice and peas and vegetables along with a rich carrot or soursop juice.
Our rice and peas is a traditional Jamaican dish all on its own. It is seasoned with thyme, scallions, coconut milk and a scotch bonnet pepper, dropped in the pot whole.
Gizzada, Coconut Drops and Grater Cake
Like most people, Jamaicans have a sweet tooth. We created a variety of desserts made from coconuts growing on our native coconut palm trees. A gizzada is a tart shell pastry filled with a sugar, nutmeg and coconut filling. It is typically sold individually wrapped in plastic bags on the street, along other coconut treats such as coconut drops and grater cake. Grater cake is a rich pink and white candy made from grated coconut. The pink topping is simply food colouring.
I still enjoy rice and peas on Sundays, but in my case I have made the switch to brown rice to increase the fiber content and health benefits of my Sunday dinners.
I could add more items to this post, but I will leave it here and simply invite you to my island home for a visit and a taste of our delicious cuisine!
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