Undoubtedly one of Jamaica’s most traditional and popular dishes, Jerk Chicken, is found everywhere on the island, from street stalls to top restaurants. Named after its cooking method called ‘jerk cooking’, chicken is coated in a paste made from chillies, spices and herbs and slow-cooked over pimento wood in old oil barrels until charred and super smoky. Jamaican Jerk Chicken is traditionally served with rice, peas, cabbage and fried plantains. Jerk marinade is also used to flavour beef, pork, goat, and fish and is regarded as an authentic Jamaican soul food as the people of Jamaica believe flavourful, vibrant food is good for the body and the soul.
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Ackee & Saltfish
Though Jerk is a standout in Jamaican cuisine, their national dish is Ackee & Saltfish. It is made of boiled ackee (a round reddish-yellow fruit originally from West Africa) that’s then sauteed with codfish, onions, tomatoes, chillies, and spices. This authentic dish is typically served for breakfast and occasionally at dinner with a side of fresh slaw and hard bread. Ackee is a little trickier to get in our parts of the world, so you can easily substitute with lychees or scout around for speciality Jamaican food products online.
Jamaican Curry Goat
Curry Goat, Goat Curry, or Curried Goat, whatever name you see this classic Caribbean referred to as it’s a winner every time and one of Jamaica’s most popular and well-known dishes. As its name suggests, this rich meaty curry is traditionally made with tender pieces of goat meat simmered in a spice-rich curry sauce until soft and melting alongside potatoes and the spicy hit of scotch bonnet peppers; however, if you find it difficult to get a hold of goat, you can easily use lamb, mutton or even chicken. Jamaicans serve this heady dish with steamed rice and often green beans or sauteed kale/another leafy green.
Inspired by Spain’s dish Fish Escabeche that the Spanish settlers brought with them to Jamaica, this Caribbean version fries a whole fish, usually red snapper, until crisp on the outside and tender within and tops it with tangy pickled vegetables and pimento peppers with fresh citrus. This summery, colourful dish is commonly served at Easter celebrations.
Essential Ingredients and Accompaniments
Jamaican Rice and peas are served with pretty much everything and are a honed recipe cooked by families for aeons. This simple yet intricately flavoured side dish brings Jamaican dishes together like nothing else and is a staple in Jamaican soul food recipes, Jamaican Jerk Chicken. However, Jamaicans believe the preparation of rice and peas can make or break an entire banquet, so it must be considered as important, if not more so, than the main dish itself. Though called ‘peas’ in Jamaica, this recipe uses what we commonly call red kidney beans and cooks them along with white rice, spices and coconut milk until fluffy and tender.
Fried plantain and plantain chips are commonly served alongside main dishes for an added crunch and are known for being ultra-addictive. Plantains (commonly called savoury bananas) are picked at their peak ripeness, sliced, fried and sprinkled with salt and pepper. These are great to accompany Jerk Chicken or Ackee and Saltfish.
Jamaicans proudly dub callaloo as one of the tastiest and most-loved vegetables out there. This leafy green is sauteed with onions, garlic and sometimes scotch bonnet peppers and accompanies almost every dish from breakfast to dinner and is often used solely with vegetable stock to make a delicious and healthy soup.
When it comes to sweetness in Jamaican cuisine, coconut drops are it! With a similar texture to peanut brittle, coconut drops are made of soft, chewy coconut pieces in sticky, crunchy toffee and an authentic Jamaican treat! This traditional sweet treat is a common Jamaican street food sold from vendor’s stalls all over the island.
Jamaica is also home to some of the most famous rums, including white, spiced, and pepper rum. For the non-alcoholic drinkers, fresh pineapple and grapefruit juices make a refreshing drink and fresh whole coconuts straight from the tree.
The famous Jamaican coffee is grown in the illustrious Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s highest mountain standing at 7,402 feet. Blue Mountain coffee has been produced in Jamaica since 1728, when coffee was first introduced to the island and is world-renowned today.