Jamaican cuisine is a unique blend of African, European, Creole, East Indian, and Chinese influences. Over the years, Jamaican food has become well-known for its spicy, flavorful dishes. Being an Island, seafood is also very popular in Jamaica, same as rice and peas.
If you’re planning a trip to Jamaica, or simply want to spice up your cooking at home, here are my top 16 Jamaican meals, desserts, and drinks you have to try!
Jerk Chicken is one of the most representative and traditional Jamaican dishes. This dish has several particularities, one of them is that it is considered one of the spiciest in the world and the other is that it is basically only consumed in Jamaica.
Jerk is a cooking technique used in Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a spicy jerk seasoning.
According to historians, the Maroons rubbed the wild boar meat with a paste made with onions, spices, chiles, and ginger, and smoked it in earthen ovens, on a piece of peppered wood. Using this African technique, the meat was tenderized and preserved.
Jerk chicken is probably the most popular Jamaican dish and is typically served with rice and beans, plantains, and a fiery scotch bonnet pepper sauce.
Curry goat is a very popular Jamaican dish, made with goat meat which is marinated in a curry sauce and then slow-cooked until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.
Curry goat is one of Jamaica’s specialties that originated from a fusion with Indian cuisine. This dish arrived in Jamaica along with the Indians hired by the European colonizers to do the heavy work on the plantations after the abolition of slavery.
With the passage of time, the ingredients were fused until they became what it is known today: a genuine representative dish of Jamaica. The spicy flavor, thanks to the peppers used on the island, is the most outstanding element of this dish.
The curry powder used for this dish usually contains a mix of cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cloves, and chili peppers, which gives the dish its distinctive flavor and color.
Curry goat is usually served with rice and peas, and roti (a type of flatbread).
Rice and Peas
Rice and peas is a dish made with rice and beans, usually red beans or kidney beans. This is one of the most popular Jamaican dishes, often served as a side dish with curry goat or jerk chicken.
The combination of rice and peas is not only delicious but also nutritious, as it provides a good source of protein, fiber, and carbohydrates.
In the Caribbean, when people talk about peas, they are referring to beans. Europeans and Americans often confuse them with green peas which are also popular in the region.
Jamaican rice and peas is usually made with coconut milk, which provides a rich, creamy flavor. Another key ingredient in this dish is scotch bonnet peppers, which add a significant amount of heat.
Ackee and Saltfish
Ackee and Saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish made with ackee and salt cod. Ackee is a fruit whose exterior is red and thick, it has an exotic flavor that combines perfectly with saltfish.
It is typically served for breakfast but can also be eaten as a main course for lunch or dinner.
The ackee fruit, which is native to West Africa, was brought to Jamaica by slaves in the 18th century. Ackee and Saltfish is now one of the most popular dishes in Jamaica, and can be considered the national dish.
The dish is usually made with salt cod that has been soaked overnight to remove the excess salt. The cod is then sautéed with onions, peppers, and tomatoes. The ackee fruit is then added to the pan and cooked until it is soft.
Ackee and saltfish is usually served with boiled green bananas, fried dumplings, or roasted breadfruit. It can also be served with rice and peas.
Patties are a type of pastry that is popular in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. They are typically made with a flour or cornmeal dough that is filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese. The patties are then deep-fried or baked.
Jamaican patties are typically made with beef but can also be made with chicken, lamb, fish, or vegetables. The most popular fillings are beef, chicken, and cheese. Jamaican patties are usually served as a snack or appetizer but can also be eaten as a main course.
Jamaican patties are typically served with a spicy scotch bonnet pepper sauce. The dough for the pastry is usually made with flour, salt, and water. The fillings are then added to the dough and the pastry is deep-fried or baked. The best patties are found in Jamaican bakeries and street stalls.
Callaloo is a soup or stew that is popular in the Caribbean and Africa. It is usually made with seafood such as shrimp, crab, or lobster. However, it can also be made with chicken, pork, or beef.
Callaloo is typically made with greens such as spinach, chard, or kale. Other vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, and peppers can also be added to the dish. The dish is usually seasoned with thyme, garlic, and scotch bonnet peppers.
Callaloo is typically served with rice and beans or cornbread. It can also be served with fried plantains or dumplings. Callaloo is a popular dish for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
Rum is made with rum, spices, and fruits such as raisins, cherries, or pineapple. The cake is usually soaked in rum before it is served.
There are many different recipes for rum cake but the most popular version is made with a pound cake mix. The cake mix is combined with rum, eggs, and oil.
Jamaican Rum Cake in particular is made with a dark rum called Jamaican Pot Still Rum. It can be found in most bakeries and supermarkets on the island.
After the cake has cooled, it is soaked in rum syrup. The rum syrup is made with sugar, water, and rum. The cake is then garnished with fruits and nuts.
Jamaican Fruit Punch is a popular drink made with fresh fruits, juices, and spices. The most popular fruits used in the punch are pineapple, mango, and orange. Jamaican Fruit Punch is usually served at parties and other special occasions.
To make Jamaican Fruit Punch, the fruits are first juiced. The juices are then combined with water, sugar, and spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon. The punch is then refrigerated for several hours to allow the flavors to blend. Jamaican Fruit Punch can be served with or without alcohol.
If you want to try it with alcohol, rum is the most popular choice. But, any type of alcohol can be used such as vodka, gin, or tequila.
Toto (Coconut Cake)
Toto is a type of coconut cake that is popular in the Caribbean. It is made with shredded coconut, flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. The cake is usually iced with a cream cheese frosting.
To make Toto, the coconut is first soaked in water for several hours. This helps to soften the coconut so that it can be shredded. The shredded coconut is then mixed with flour, sugar, eggs, and butter before being baked. Once the cake has cooled, it is frosted with the cream cheese.
Typically, the shredded coconut is mixed with dark rum before it is added to the batter. This gives the cake a delicious Jamaican flavor. Jamaican Toto is usually served at birthday parties, weddings, and other special occasions.
Red Stripe Beer
You can’t visit Jamaica without trying the country’s national beer, Red Stripe. This light lager is brewed with Jamaican hops and has a crisp, clean taste. It’s the perfect drink to enjoy on a hot day by the beach.
Red Stripe is widely available throughout Jamaica and can be found in supermarkets, bars, and restaurants. If you want to try something different, order a Red Stripe Light. This low-calorie version of the beer is perfect for those who are watching their weight.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is some of the finest coffee in the world. The coffee beans are grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica at an altitude of 3,000 feet. The beans are hand-picked and then slow-roasted to create a rich, full-flavored coffee.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is available in most supermarkets and specialty stores. It can also be ordered online. If you want to try the coffee before you buy it, many cafes in Jamaica offer samples.
Escovitch (Pickled Fish)
Escovitch is a type of pickled fish that is popular in the Caribbean. It is made with fresh fish, vinegar, onions, Scotch Bonnet peppers, and spices. You can also add ginger, bay leaves, garlic and thyme. The fish is usually marinated for several hours before it is cooked.
Escovitch is usually prepared with snapper, grouper, or jack mackerel, which are the most common fish on the island. To marinate it, vinegar, onion and several spices are used, resulting in an excellent Caribbean flavor.
Escoviche can be served as an appetizer or main course. It is often served with rice and beans or fried plantains. If you want to try something different, try Jamaican Escovitch Tostones. These are tostones (fried plantains) that are topped with Escovitch.
If you want a healthier version, reduce the amount of oil and finish the preparation in the oven or on the grill. You can omit the scotch Bonnet sauce to reduce the spiciness.
This way of marinating food arrived in America at the time of the Spanish conquest. That is why Escovitch, a Jamaican classic, is also found in other Latin American countries.
Bammy (Cassava Cake)
Bammy is a Jamaican dessert of ancestral origins and is made with cassava. In addition to cassava, it is usually seasoned with scotch bonnet peppers and black pepper, and coconut milk, and then fried.
Its origins are related to the Arawaks, the main inhabitants of the island in the pre-Columbian era. After the conquest, this flattened bread became the essential food of Jamaicans living in rural areas for many years.
However, in the early 40’s of the 20th century, it was gradually replaced by imported bread made of wheat flour, which was cheaper.
Nevertheless, you can still find this traditional Jamaican flat bread sold in rural areas as well as in stores and street vendors.
Run Down (Fish Stew)
Run Down is a traditional Jamaican dish made with fish, coconut milk, and spices. This stew is usually made with salted hake or horse mackerel, although, salted cod may also be used.
As an accompaniment, it is served with dumplings or baked breadfruit. It can also be served with plantains, rice and beans, or boiled yams.
The dish gets its name from the fact that the ingredients are “run down” into a pot. This results in a stew-like dish that is hearty and filling.
Despite its African roots, run down is not widely consumed in Africa. Variations exist however in Tobago, and throughout South America, and Central America, particularly in regions where many Jamaicans live.
Jamaican Porridge is a type of porridge made with cornmeal, plantains, or oatmeal, as well as coconut milk, condensed milk, and spices.
The cornmeal is boiled in water or milk until it is thick and creamy. Then, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla are added.
Jamaican Porridge is usually served with bananas, raisins, or nuts. If you want a sweeter porridge, you can add honey or sugar.
The secret to making it perfect is to stir continuously to avoid the formation of unpleasant lumps.
Gizzadas (Coconut Tart)
Gizzadas are a type of Jamaican tart made with grated coconut, condensed milk, spices, and flour. They are usually served as a dessert or snack and can be found in almost any bakery or pastry shop on the island.
The dough is made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, and baking powder. Then, the grated coconut is added along with the condensed milk and spices. The mixture is placed in a mold and baked until golden brown.
Gizzadas can be served plain or with ice cream, whipped cream, or chocolate sauce. If you want a healthier version, you can bake them without the crust.
I hope you enjoyed learning about some of the best Jamaican foods! If you have the opportunity to visit Jamaica, be sure to try some of these dishes. And, don’t forget to bring a bottle of rum to enjoy with your Jamaican Fruit Punch!
And, if you can’t make it to Jamaica, don’t worry, there are many Jamaican restaurants around the world that serve these foods. So, go ahead and try them! You won’t be disappointed.