The most important tip I can give you on Jamaica local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Jamaica, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Jamaica
Jamaican food is a mixture of Caribbean dishes with local dishes. Although Jamaican food gets a reputation for being spicy, local trends lean towards more versatile food variety. Some of the Caribbean dishes that you’ll see in other countries around the region are rice and peas (which is cooked with coconut milk) and patties (which are called empanadas in spanish speaking countries). The national dish is Ackee and saltfish, and MUST be tried by anyone visiting the island.
It is made with the local fruit called Ackee, which looks like scrambled eggs, but has a unique taste of its own and dried codfish mixed with onions and tomatoes. You probably won’t get a chance to try this food anywhere else, and if you really want to say that you did something uniquely Jamaican, then this is your chance.
Freshly picked and prepared ackee is 100 times better than tinned ackee, but must be harvested only when the ackee fruits have ripened and their pods opened naturally on the large evergreen tree on which they grow: unripe ackee contains a potent toxin (hypoglycin A) which causes vomiting and hypoglycaemia . Don’t worry. locals are expert at preparing ackee and will know how to pick it safely. Another local food is called bammy, which was actually invented by the Arawak (Taino) Indians. It is a flat floury cassava pancake normally eaten during breakfast hours that kind of tastes like corn bread.
There is also hard-dough bread (locally called hard dough bread), which comes in both sliced and un-sliced varieties. Try toasting it, for when it is toasted, it tastes better than most bread you’ll ever eat. If you are looking for dishes with more meat in them, you can try the jerk flavoured foods. The most popular is jerk chicken, although jerk pork and jerk conch are also common. The jerk seasoning is a spice that is spread on the meat on the grill like barbeque sauce. Keep in mind that most Jamaicans eat their food well done, so expect the food to be a bit drier than you are accustomed to.
There are also curries such as curried chicken and curried goat which are very popular in Jamaica. The best curried goat is made with male goats and if you see a menu with curried fish, try it. You may even want to pick up a piece of sugar cane, slice off some pieces and suck on them. Fruit and vegetables in Jamaica are plentiful, particularly between April and September, when most local fruits are in season. The many mango varieties are a ‘must have’ if you are visiting during the summer months.
If you have not tasted the fruit ripened on the tree, then you are missing out. Fruit picked green and exported to other countries does not compare. Try drinking ‘coconut water’ straight out of the coconut. This is not the same as coconut milk. Coconut water is clear and refreshing, not to mention the fact that it has numerous health benefits. Pawpaws, star apples, guineps, pineapples, jackfruit, oranges, tangerines, ugli fruit, ortaniques are just some of the wonderful varieties of fruit available here. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are inexpensive. Visitors may well find that imported produce such as american apples, strawberries, plums etc. tend to be more expensive than in their home country. Grapes in particular tend to be very expensive on the island.
Chinese food is available in many places from Chinese takeout stores and has a distinct Jamaican taste. It is recommended to sample the local fruit and vegetables. If unfamiliar with a particular fruit it can pay to ask a local about which parts can be eaten. Local and imported fruits are available from road-side vendors. If the fruit is to be eaten immediately the vendors can generally wash the fruit for you on request. Finally, there is the category of “ital” food, the domain of practising Rastafarians, who abide by strict dietary guidelines. This type of food is prepared without the use of meat, oil or salt, but can still be tasty due to the creative use of other spices. Ital food is not generally on the printed menus in the upscale tourist restaurants and can only be found by going to specialty restaurants. You may have to ask around to find an establishment that serves Ital food as it is not very common.
What to Drink in Jamaica
There are many drinks in Jamaica. Standards such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola can be found, but if you want to drink local soda, you can try Bigga Cola, Champagne cola or grapefruit soda called “Ting” and also Ginger beer. Also, try any soda by Desnoes & Geddes, typically labelled as “D&G.” “Cola champagne” and “pineapple” are popular flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. Since the turn of the century, the majority of soft drinks are bottled in plastic instead of glass. You can try the local lager called Red Stripe (which is exported to many countries in the west, so there is a good chance you have already tasted it) and Dragon Stout.
Most beers can be found in Jamaican pubs and hotels. A local hard drink is Jamaican Rum, which is made from sugar cane. It normally tends to be overproof and drunk with cola or fruit juice. DRINK WITH CAUTION! It’s not designed for someone who is drinking it for the first time. It is not unheard of to have 150 proof Jamaican Rum. Since Jamaica was colonized by Britain, the drinking laws are 18 and over, but they don’t generally enforce it as strictly as it would be in the Western countries (minus the ones with no drinking laws, of course)! Guinness is popular and the export 7% has a kick.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.