Jamaica: Out of Many, One Cuisine

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While Jamaica’s climate and geography are key draws, many people also visit to experience the island’s unique culture, reflected in its music, language, customs and food.

The cuisine is melting pot of influences drawn from the different ethnic groups to have made their mark here, including the Spanish, British, Africans, Indians and Chinese. The national motto, “Out of many, one people,” is a concept that also applies to food that merges flavours, with bold use of spicing, and a wide range of fresh produce, seafood, meats and tropical fruits. There is also a Rastafarian influence at work, especially in its unique  ‘Ital’ (comes from the English word ‘vital’) non-meat dishes, such as vegetarian patties and cornmeal pudding.

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One of most popular dishes in Jamaica is  ‘jerk,’ derived originally from the island’s native Arawak or Taino indians. The main ingredient for the jerk goat, chicken, pork and beef dishes is Jamaican allspice, a dark brown berry with the flavors of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. Served in restaurants and roadside food stalls, the dry-rubbed jerk meat is traditionally roasted, often for hours, over pimento wood. Jerk, like a lot of Jamaican stews, is often given heat with the ultra-spicy, bell-shaped Scotch bonnet peppers.

jamaica.img_5504The Spanish were the first European arrivals in Jamaica, and among their culinary contributions is escoviche (Spanish escabeche). The island’s bountiful seafood, including snapper, kingfish and grouper, is often prepared in the ‘escoviching’ style – marinaded in vinegar, onions and spices to bring out its flavor. The fish is sometimes fried in onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, and served with tomato sauce.

If you like fish, good: it is often eaten for breakfast in the form of the national dish of ackee and saltfish. Vegetable Dumpling with SaltfishResembling scrambled eggs, the meal is a combination of codfish and the locally grown fruit ackee, whose sweetish taste contrasts the salty fish. Ackee and saltfish might be cooked with onions and peppers and served with roasted breadfruit and boiled bananas. To wash this down you should try  rich Blue Mountain coffee, whose steep price tag is due to the remote mountainous region where its beans are grown.

Another contribution of the Spanish is the Jamaican patty, derived from its empanada. Typically patties are savory pastry with ground meat inside – including beef, pork or chicken – redolent of curry and island spices. There are also patties stuffed with lobster, vegetables and other ingredients.

The spicing of the patties is likely a contribution of the Cantonese/Hakka/East Indians,  who also influenced the island’s curry  dishes. The chicken, goat, vegetable and even fruit curry dishes are served with ubiquitous rice and peas – rice and red beans simmered in fresh coconut milk, imparting a sweet, creamy taste. Other popular side dishes are dumplings and plantains  – starchy green bananas that are fried and topped with butter, salt and pepper, making them something like Jamaican sweet potatoes.

IMG_1438Hearty soups are also popular here. These include pepper-pot soup, packed with green callaloo (like spinach), creamy pumpkin soup and mannish water (also known as ‘power water’ or ‘goat belly soup’).

For beverage, you can enjoy a traditional Red Stripe beer or rum drink, or turn to one of the island’s exotic offerings, such as coconut water, bush tea, irish moss, sour sop, peanut punch, tamarind fizz  or blended root drink.  Desserts Unknowninclude ice creams (mango and soursop, for example), potato pudding, gizzada (tarts with sweet spiced coconut fillings), grater cakes, banana fritters, duckunoo (starch and coconut milk boiled in a banana leaf) and asham (parched corn combined with brown sugar).

A great way to experience the best of  Jamaican food is to stay at a luxury villa, such as Roaring Pavilion near Ocho Rios, where a chef will make you some of the best  island cuisine, including dishes that fuse local traditions with international cooking styles. To see typical menus composed by Johanna, Roaring Pavilion’s chef, check out this post.


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