Get the 411 on the top foods found in Jamaican cuisine.
“Out of many, one people,” a more perfect motto could not exist. Jamaican cuisine undoubtedly features exquisite flavors from across the world coming together in perfect harmony
Jamaican food and good vibes? Name a better combo. We’ll wait…(pauses for dramatic effect). That’s what we thought!
Jamaican cuisine is rooted in its culture, from mouthwatering main dishes to delectable desserts. The taste of Jamaica reflects the culinary prowess of the people who have come and gone. African and Southwest Asian spices coupled with European cooking styles create a genre of cuisine that is second to none.
But, some foods are staples in Jamaican households, restaurants, and eateries.
Get the 411 on Jamaican cuisine in this quick list:
Mouthwatering Main Dishes
Spicy curried goat, irresistible jerk pork, tangy escovitch fish, slow-braised oxtails, tasty stewed peas, or brown-stewed chicken all take center stage on plates across the island every day. Typically, main dishes refer to meats that serve as the meal's focal point.
Still, as people eat more sustainably, Jamaican cuisine has become increasingly more “Ital” than ever before, with ackee and saltfish, curried chickpeas, vegetable stews like callaloo, and other plant-based dishes taking the lead.
But regardless of what you choose as the main dish, one thing remains the same for all Jamaican cuisine - bold flavors and unique spice blends.
Staple herbs and spices like scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, thyme, scallion, garlic, and ginger are often among the line-up for rubs, marinades, and seasoning blends. Other flavors like curry, which dates back to the coming of Indian laborers following the abolition of slavery, are a crowd favorite among natives and visitors alike.
Every main dish needs a side piece. But in Jamaican cuisine, the side dishes don’t play second fiddle. They are the perfect complement.
Authentic coconut rice and peas, fried ripe plantains, coal-roasted breadfruit, baked bammy, and sweet cornmeal festivals bring you on a journey to the 876 in just a few bites! No good Jamaican cuisine is complete without one or more of these side dishes adding another dimension to the plate, sopping up yummy gravy, or serving as the vehicle to take you to food heaven in minutes.
You may have thought your granny’s rice or dumplings were A-1 until you taste authentic Jamaican sides cooked to perfection with just the right flavorings and technique.
Known predominantly for gracing tables on Saturdays, soups in Jamaican cuisine are fundamental. Real Jamaicans know that soup heads the menu at most local restaurants or eateries, from chicken foot to cow cod or red peas to pepper pot soup.
This warm broth that starts the meal is often used to “catch up the stomach” or warm up the tummy for the main course. In other instances, it’s the main dish served with lots of ground provisions, dumplings, meats, and vegetables. Sometimes, soup isn’t even in the name, so don't be alarmed when you see ‘mannish water’ or ‘fish tea’ under the soup section.
Of course, like other Jamaican cuisine options, soups are slow-cooked with lots of herbs and spices, including scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, thyme, scallion, and garlic - a flavor bomb with every slurp.
Even tasty nibbles in Jamaican cuisine are packed with bold flavors and take you on a journey home.
Jamaican patties continue to wow natives, descendants, and 876 fans worldwide. Said to be a derivative of the Cornish pasty, this simple yet sublime savory snack is a half-circle pastry filled with meats or vegetables enveloped in a flaky crust colored with turmeric or curry.
The island’s bakeries make at least 300,000 patties a day, with hungry customers stretching for blocks during peak hours. Thousands of patties take first-class seats on flights to the US, Canada, the UK, and other countries to give members of the diaspora a taste of home.
Other snacks like “stamp and go” or saltfish fritters, the patty’s counterpart, the coco bread, Solomon Gundy, and fried banana or plantain chips continue to satisfy people’s cravings for Jamaican cuisine every day.
An Honorable Mention: Jamaican cuisine also includes various porridges like cornmeal, hominy corn, plantain, banana, oatmeal, and peanut, which are ‘go-to’ breakfast items, especially for children.
Rum. Need we say more? Brands like Appleton Estate Rum, Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum, Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve, and Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum are among the most elaborate blends and spirits in the world.
But beyond rum, Jamaican cuisine also boasts an array of drinks unique to the island and its people.
Seen in movies, music videos, and the most Instagram-worthy vacay pics, Red Stripe Beer is hands down one of the most iconic drinks out of the land of wood and water. Made exclusively on the island, Red Stripe is a favorite local beer.
The light-bodied drink is a perfect addition to most meals and is a great companion for lazy days at the beach. Other variations like Red Stripe Light, Red Stripe Bold, and flavors including lemon, melon, and sorrel are also beloved.
Other quintessential drinks in Jamaican cuisine include the coveted Blue Mountain Coffee that puts a pep in your step and a glide in your stride with just one cup. Standing as one of the most expensive coffee brands globally, this precious commodity proves that Jamaica may just be number one on Mother Nature’s list.
We could talk about sorrel (an end of yearstaple), malta, the famous grapefruit soda, Ting, ginger beer, and common cocktails like the Bob Marley or Guinness punch, but it’s best to get a taste for yourself. Jamaican cuisine also includes other beverages like lots of tea blends and fresh coconut water.
Any family gathering or lime in Jamaica will have desserts or sweet treats served at the end or during the meal. Pastries like sweet potato pudding, plantain tarts, gizzada (pinch-me-round), coconut or peanut drops, banana bread, pone of Jamaican pudding, toto, and blue drawers (Dukunu) are all fan favorites. Often made with key ingredients like coconut, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and other spices, these sweet treats are a warm (or cold) piece of Jamaican cuisine that will take you back to cool country nights or Friday evenings playing dominoes under street lights.
Delectable desserts any family gathering or lime in Jamaica will have desserts or sweet treats served at the end or during the meal.
Also famous are tamarind balls and Busta, a dark hard candy with a mix of coconut and wet sugar, said to be named after Jamaica’s first Prime Minister, the Hon. Alexander Bustamante.
If you have a sweet tooth, these desserts are sure to give you a quick fix without the fluff!
Vivid colors, spectacular seasonings, and unforgettable food combinations define Jamaican cuisine - a melting pot of tastes that tell the story of a people out of many, one flava!