Jamaican food is often mislabeled as jerk chicken, an over-generalization of the rich culinary traditions that originated in the heart of the Caribbean. Like Cajun food, Jamaican food is a mashup of many great cultures, traditions and cooking styles.
Jamaican dining is a mix of influences, from African cuisine to Portuguese, Indian, Spanish, British and other gastronomy. Over generations, Jamaicans have been influenced by many of these influences, transforming them into something completely unique with local ingredients and cooking methods.
Jamaica has a lot to offer, with plenty of protein available on land and sea, unique tropical fruits and time-honored spice blends. The finished dish is just as fun to eat as it is to prepare, bringing a slice of island life into your home kitchen.
Don’t get me wrong, we love jerk chicken recipes. But if we’re going to talk about what Jamaicans eat, we need a little more background. We’ve compiled a few Jamaican recipes for . But first, a little primer.
The Arawak people preceded two very unpleasant developments in Jamaica’s history: the slave trade and British rule. This indigenous community had its own way of eating, with many dishes built around barbacoa and cooked slowly and low over a blazing fire. They used tropical fruits and vegetables, along with plenty of fish and other seafood in their dishes.
The Spaniards arrived in the 15th century and left their mark on the Jamaican diet. They brought in new kinds of proteins such as beef and pork, new kinds of citrus fruits and some important spices. Africans, meanwhile, throw their dishes into the collective pot, including the national dish (below) and the Jamaican rundown, a milk-based stew of mackerel and vegetables (Caribbean red pepper).
So many influences mean many fusion and hybrid dishes today. Jamaican cuisine continues to honor the classics but isn’t afraid to try them. , oxtail poutine and curried goat sushi, or chicken breast lollipops with cinnamon roasted pepper cream sauce. A beautiful restaurant, Summerhouse features cassava-crusted chevre and curried ackee wontons, as well as dishes such as honey-infused breadcrumbs and lamb meatball kofta. Eggplant plantain parmesan deliciously combines Mediterranean and Caribbean flavors.
Kingston’s new generation of chefs in particular are breathing new life into old dishes, combining the island’s many influences in exciting new ways. If you’re hungry, now is the perfect time to visit Jamaica. Here are some island standards.
ackee and saltfish
Considered the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish are particularly popular dishes for breakfast and brunch. A relative of the lychee, the ackee was brought to the island nation long ago from West Africa. Handle with care as ingestion may be harmful. I love this recipe from Serious Eats.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
total time: 140 minutes
yield: 4 servings
- 8 ounces salted cod
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil such as canola or vegetable
- 2 tbsp diced yellow onion, from 1/4 onion
- 1 heaping tablespoon of diced paprika from 1/2 paprika
- 1/2 scotch bonnet chili, stemmed, deseeded, chopped
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 small tomato, cored and diced
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves and tender stems
- 1 18-20 oz can of ackee
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- avocado sliced for serving
- Rinse the salted cod with cold water until the salt is washed out and transfer to a medium bowl. Cover with fresh water and let soak for 1 hour at room temperature.
- Drain the salted cod and discard the pickling juice.
- Transfer the fish to a small saucepan and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil and cook until fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork – about 40 minutes.
- Taste cod. If it’s still too salty, discard the cooking water, put the fish back in the pan, cover with fresh water, and boil for another 20 minutes.
- Once the salt cod is cooked and seasoned to your liking, drain the fish and flake it into 1/2 to 1 inch flakes. Discard any bones or silvery membranes and set the fish aside.
- In a 12-inch skillet, bring the oil to a boil over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers, scotch bonnets, and garlic. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the flaked salted cod and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, green onions, and thyme, mix, and simmer until vegetables are tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
- Add the ackee and mix gently (do not over mix as the ackee can become mushy) and cook until the ackee is heated through, about 3 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately with sliced avocado.
brown stew chicken
This is a popular dinner time, especially among English-speaking Caribbean countries. The poultry is browned with brown sugar to create a gravy that pairs well with onions, garlic, carrots, and other vegetables. Jamaicans like to serve this dish with French fries, perfect for when you want to finish off the rich sauce.
This version of fish stew blends red snapper or mackerel (or fatty fish) with seasonings such as coconut milk, onions, tomatoes, thyme, allspice, and smoked paprika. It is especially effective when eaten with rice or boiled bananas. The slow simmering of the coconut milk intensifies the flavor, resulting in a rich, creamy finish. Jamaicans often eat it with breadfruit, dumplings, yams, or a combination thereof.
pepper pot soup
There is also a Philadelphia version of this soup, but the original originated in the Caribbean and Africa. Invented by black women during the colonial period, the dish is an early example of street food and is usually made from a mixture of pork tail, beef shank, and vegetables. It is sometimes compared to gumbo and is very similar to peppers, sweet potatoes, okra, etc. I love this recipe borrowed from Food 52.
- 1/2 pound cured beef or pork tail
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 medium white potatoes
- 1 pound yellow yam
- 1 pound boneless beef shank cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 1 19-ounce can of callaloo, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 lb (about 2 cups) fresh or frozen okra
- 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
- 3 spring onions, cut in half
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- Rinse the salted beef and cut into chunks about 1 1/2 inches in size. Place them in a small pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
- Drain the water and refill the pot with cold water. Bring to a boil again and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the water.
- Add 3 1/2 quarts of water to a large pot and bring to a boil.
- While waiting for the water to boil, peel the sweet potato, white potato and yellow yam. Chop into 1 1/2-inch chunks and add to a bowl of cold water to prevent discoloration.
- Add the salted beef and shank to the boiling water. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour or until stew beef is tender.
- While the beef is boiling, prepare the spinner dumplings by combining flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and oil in a large bowl.
- While stirring with a fork, slowly pour in 1/2 cup of water to form a dough.
- When the dough comes together, switch the fork and knead gently with your hands to make a smooth dough. You may need to add a little water along the way, but it won’t make the dough sticky.
- Pinch a little less than a tablespoon of dough and roll it between your palms to form a long, thin ball. Like a fat caterpillar, it should be about 3 1/2 inches long. Repeat with remaining dough.
- When the shank is tender, use a slotted spoon or colander to remove the meat from the pan and transfer to a bowl. Leave the soup in the pot. This will be the base of the soup.
- Add the callaloo, okra and garlic to the broth and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and blend the caraloo and okra in a blender until smooth.
- Place the saucepan with the puree over medium-high heat. Drain the potatoes and yam. Add these to the pot along with the meat, dumplings, scallions, thyme, butter and scotch bonnet.
- Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (Be careful not to burst or puncture the scotch bonnet or the soup will be very spicy.) Season with salt to taste.
- Remove scotch bonnet, thyme, and leeks. Use a fork and knife to remove the seeds and stems from the scotch bonnet, slice into small pieces, and add to the soup.
Jamaica is famous for its rum and well worth exploring. Refreshing Red She’s Striped She loves beer, but Tia is also attracted to Maria. This coffee liqueur was invented in Jamaica in the 1940s and is still very popular today. It’s fun to mix with other ingredients like rum and bourbon, coconut, citrus and orange bitters and works well.