Culinary Styles

Photo credit: © Rohit Seth |

Rich and unique in its tastes, Jamaican cuisine will please the palate of those who like their food to have a little kick. Known for its spice, the culinary styles of Jamaica are a combination of various ethnicities. Influences on preparation methods and ingredients range from Great Britain and Africa to as far as China and East India.

Jamaican foods are usually made from fresh meats, vegetables and seasonings, making a majority of food found in Jamaica relatively healthy. Fruits and vegetables such as ackee and callalloo are indigenous to the country and make for tasty meals when prepared correctly. Mixed with saltfish, ackee becomes Jamaica's National Dish.  Fruits grown in Jamaica range from the sickly sweetstop to the tart pomegranate.  Breadfruit, cerasse, guinep, jackfruit, naseberry, sorrel, soursop, stinking toe, and tamarind are some other fruits grown on the island that many travelers may not have ever experienced before.

...jerked foods are a delicious treat...


A popular food preparation method among locals and tourists alike is the "jerk" technique.  The process of jerking and poking meat with something sharp, then filling those holes with jerk seasoning, provided the Maroons (Jamaican slaves who escaped British rule) with a much-needed preservation technique. Jerk pork, in fact, can be traced back to Cormantee tribe's hunters in West Africa in the days before slavery brought them to the Caribbean, though the word "jerk" seems to come from the Spanish word charqui - meaning "jerked or dried." Whatever its origins, today, jerked foods are a delicious treat, whether served from a roadside vendor off an oil drum grill or in a restaurant. Many say the jerk huts in Boston Beach near Portland serve up the best on the island. In Kingston, Chelsea Jerk Centre sells jerk products and is considered the core of jerk dining.

Between 1845 and 1921 a large wave of indentured immigrants from India arrived in Jamaica.  With them they brought their own methods of food preparation, and introduced the people to food that would remain popular to this day.  One of them most well-known influences is curry.  Curry is an exotic blend of different spices, and is used on chicken, seafood, and other meats.  Curried goat is a particular favorite.

For the health-conscious diner, Jamaica also offers Rastafarian I-tal cuisine. I-tal cuisine does not contain salt and follows the strict dietary guidelines of the Rastafarian sect. Various vegetable and soy dishes are prepared to delight taste buds and consciousness. Saltfish and butter beans is an example of such a dish.  and Look for the red, gold and green band and/or a picture of a lion to distinguish these restaurants.

Some would say that you haven't been in Jamaica nearly long enough if you haven't sampled a staple in the local diet: rice and peas.  Rice and peas can be found on nearly every restaurant menu that serves traditional Jamaican food, and some families eat this blend every day with a different type of meat, or just drenched in gravy.  Listed below are a few other meals worth tasting during your island stay:

  • Escoveited fish - fish covered in a spicy marinade, fried, and covered in vinegar, onions, and hot peppers.
  • Festival - fried cornmeal dumpling paired with fried or jerked meats.
  • Escovitch Lobster - lobster drenched in a hot vinegar sauce.
  • Hominy corn porridge - thick breakfast porridge flavored with coconut milk.
  • Fritters - various vegetables and meats coated in batter and deep fried.

If you are looking for a pick-me-up, meat patties (also made from vegetables) with coco bread are among the many light meals you can find throughout the country. Bammies (also known as Cassava bread), mackerel rundown, blue draws, jackass corn, and stamp and go are among the many delectable assortments of foods with funny names across Jamaica. 

Vacationers with a sweet tooth need not be dissapointed, there are plenty of local desserts just waiting to melt in your mouth. 

  • Bulla - flat, round cake made of molasses, flour, and baking powder.
  • Coconut drops - boiled coconut and sugar, hardened into candy.
  • Dukunnu (also called blue draws and tie a leaf) - yam or green bananas mixed with cornmeal and sweet spices to make a pudding that is wrapped in banana leaves. 
  • Gizzada - coconut tart.
  • Grater cake - grated coconut in fondant.

Jamaica is also home to a number of unique beverages.   Hot teas on the island are thick and brothy, often made with fish or seaweed, as is true with the popular Irish Moss, which is comprised of extract of seaweed, milk, sweet spices, and sometimes rum.  Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is some of the most sought after in the world, and the island has strict standards with regards to its production.  Only coffee grown from the Arabica Bean on the Blue Mountains between the altitudes of two and five thousand feet can be packaged as Blue Mountain coffee.  Furthermore, the coffee must be grown in specific parishes on specific estates. 

Fruit juices are easy to come by on the islands, but for those who are interested in something a little stronger, there are numerous options available. Jamaican liquors include many tropical flavors such as pimento, soursop, banana, and pawpaw.  Rum is popular throughout the Caribbean, but in Jamaica Tia Maria is a favorite.  For a refreshing beer, try Red Stripe, Dragon Stout, and Heineken. 

A trip to Jamaica is not complete unless you try at least a small sampling of local eats.  From vegans to meat-eaters, sweets-lovers to folk who prefer their foods warm and hearty, there is something for everyone.  Don't forget to wash your meal down with a glass of fruit juice, or kick it up a notch with a sweet-flavored liqueur. 


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