Food in Jamaica

Dining in Jamaica can be an enjoyable experience noon or night

Photo credit: © Gail Frederick

Jamaica's Food

After a long day at the beach and before a night of island-style partying, your appetite deserves attention. Jamaica has no shortage of dining options: from the finest restaurants at 5-star resorts, to open-air Jerk shacks cooking up specialties in an oil drum grill.


Dining in Jamaica is relatively cheaper than in other Caribbean destinations, however prices for some items (especially those that must be shipped in) can be much higher than in the United States and Canada. To save money, try staying with local specialties including seafood and fresh local produce.

A 16.5 percent general consumption tax is added to restaurant and hotel bills in Jamaica. Also, most dining establishments in Jamaica will add a 10 to 15 percent service charge to bills. For good service, it is customary to leave an additional small tip as well.

When it comes to styles of eateries, vacationers have the option of choosing from the very casual roadside vendors to a number of more refined, very formal, fine-dining establishments. Jamaica is known for the jerk huts on Boston Beach. These huts are nothing fancy, in fact, they often look as though it could easily be blown away by a light breeze. When the breeze does blow by, instead of knocking the hut down, it draws people in with the scents of spiced meats smoking in 50 gallon drum barrels. Jerk huts tend to exist in clusters, magnifying the effect.


...the national dish of Jamaica is Ackee and Saltfish.

While various forms of international food is available on the island, Jamaican cuisine is the heart of the country. Islanders draw from many West African and Indian dishes, and staples from those cultures such as dukunnu (pudding made from cornmeal, green banana, yam, sugar, and spices then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed) and curried goat are mainstays in Jamaican cuisine as well. Curry and jerk aren't the only seasonings that are used to enhance island dishes. Allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and dried pimento berries can be found in many recipes.

It probably won't come as a shock that freshly caught seafood is plentiful on the island, and shrimp, red snapper, tuna, and lobster are easy to come by. In fact, the national dish of Jamaica is Ackee and Saltfish. A few other favorite meals on the island include rice and peas, festival (fried dumplings and meat), and escoveeitched fish (fried fish, marinated in spicy seasoning and tossed with peppers, onions, and vinegar).

To balance out the hearty, spicy foods Jamaicans eat on a regular basis, islanders have plenty of favorite desserts. Coconut drops, gizzada, and grater cake feature coconut as their main ingredient; while bulla is a flat, round cake comprised of flour, baking powder and molasses; and the milky pulp of soursop fruit is often used to make ice cream.

An extensive discussion of the unique culinary style and cuisine of this island nation can be found here.


Refreshments are essential after a long day of souvenir shopping or dining on oxtail and rice and peas. Ting is a great citrus drink which has the taste of a down home blended drink. Desnoes and Geddes (or D&G) provides a multitude of drinks, including kola champagne, cream soda, ginger beer and more traditional flavors such as fruit punch, orange and pineapple.

Sorrel is a potted-herb that, when boiled and prepared properly, makes a deep red cooling drink that is said to have healing properties. Coconut water, whether served in a cup or coconut shell, is another filling alternative. Other beverages exude the fresh attitude of the country, such as the island's naturally invigorating fruit juices, including guava and tamarind. Water is also available and very safe to drink.

If your thirst, however, craves a stronger libation, Jamaica offers an assortment of fine beers and liquors. A few favorite local beers include Red Stripe and Dragon Stout. Heineken and Guinness are favorites among the imported beers. Wray and Nephew makes an "overproof" rum that is inexpensive, sweet and strong. Use caution with this elixir, it packs a powerful kick. Wray and Nephew is distinguished by the crest on its yellow label. If strong liquor is not your fancy, then there are plenty of other options to choose from. Tia Maria, golden Appleton Estate rum and several others all make wonderful complements to your island dining experience.

Food is an important part of Jamaican culture. Those with a less adventurous palates will find restaurants featuring foods from back home to keep them sated, but visitors who truly want to experience island life would do well to sample local delicacies. Click here to read more about the culinary styles of Jamaica.


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