No visit to Jamaica is complete without sampling at least some of the mouthwatering local flavors. And no, you don’t have to eat anything spicy (though if you’re up for it, you should!). Make sure to grab a bite of at least a few of these Jamaican favorites:
- Jerk. Not an insult — jerk is the traditional Jamaican method of preparing meats, especially chicken and pork. It starts with an intense combination of spices either rubbed into the meat or soaked in using a marinade; then, the meat is typically placed on top of a fire built in the ground and covered with corrugated aluminum so the meat can get a delicious smoky flavor. Full disclosure: This stuff is spicy. If you’ve never tried it, start with the chicken, which packs a little less heat than the pork. The flavor is worth the sweat, though: promise.
- Ackee and salt fish. Traditionally served at breakfast, this combo is pure Jamaica: The buttery, fleshy heart of the ackee fruit is boiled (it turns yellow and looks like scrambled eggs after cooking) then sautéed with salted cod, onions and seasoning.
- Escovitch fish. If you’re walking along the beach and see a run-down looking shack with delicious smells wafting out, that’s the wonderful scent of escovitch in the air. The fish is seasoned, then fried, and served drenched in delicious dressing made from peppers, carrots and onions in vinegar. Warning: The fish are typically fried with head, tail, bone and all, so if that’s not your thing, you can seek out a fileted (albeit slightly pricier) version at higher-end restaurants.
- Festival. If you’re wondering how these sweet Jamaican breads got their name, try one — it’s because these tasty, sugary cornbread fritters are just pure fun to eat. They are often served alongside jerk, as they’re a great way to balance out the spice.
- Bammy. This foldable flatbread is made from cassava, a root vegetable — it’s made in 6-inch round discs then cut into small triangular pieces after being deep fried, pan fried or steamed. Bammies can be eaten at any meal or as an on-the-go snack.
- Dumplings. Yet another special Jamaican bread, these tasty dough balls are like Festival without the sweetness, and they’re usually served at breakfast with ackee and salt fish.
- Patties. Flaky pastries filled with curry chicken or minced beef, patties are a popular snack or meal for Jamaicans. Most locals you meet will be diehard loyals of one of two major patty chains: Tastee Patties or Juici Patties. Try them both and pick a side!
- Callaloo. This vegetable side dish mostly consists of a leafy, stalky green that’s slightly less bitter than spinach. It’s usually steamed up with onions, garlic, carrots and spices.
- Drinks. Don’t forget the beverages! At breakfast, try expensive-but-worth-it Blue Mountain coffee (known for being mild and not bitter). For a refreshing non-alcoholic drink, crack open a bottle of Ting, a grapefruit soda. Rum is the local liquor of choice, with Appleton being the most popular, but Chris Blackwell is another favorite. And if all else fails, there’s always Red Stripe beer.