There is no doubt about it, the food in Jamaica is off-the-scale delicious. From Jerk chicken and pork and fresh root vegetables to endless fresh prawns, fish and crab – it’s easy to indulge in a different dish every night and never get bored. Here’s a guide to the must-eats:
Jamaica Jerk centres
Jamaica is famous for its ‘Jerk Centres’. You’ll find one in most towns. They are laid back cafe-style eateries where the whole menu is based around the staple Jerk dishes, mainly chicken, pork and fish. Depending on the season, you can order Jerk prawn and lobster dishes too.
Each eatery has its own recipe when it comes to sauces. However, Jerk meat itself is usually cooked in the same way: over a Pimento wood fire. The marinaded meat is slowly smoked through all day, creating a insane infused finish. You can eat it straight off the stove or add some sauce.
Now, the mixture of spices that go into a Jerk sauce varies at every stop. Some sauces are thick and creamy. Some are full of chilli. Others – as mentioned above – are just a marinade. Be careful when trying the sauce for the first time. It can (and will) be hot. Better to take it a dip at a time, rather than coating your chicken.
Fear not if you’re not a meat eater, every menu also comes with a selection of every day Jamaican favourites. I’m talking roasted yams, sweet potatoes, breadfruit and ‘festival’ which is essentially a wheat-bread stick. My favourite by far was the marinaded and smoked Jerk chicken with roasted breadfruit. So good.
The original and best Jerk chicken
For the ultimate Jerk experience, head over to the little town of Boston, on the eastern side of the island. Here, the local Jerk Centre consists five or six small eateries along a tiny intersection. We stopped off at ‘Mickey’s’ and pulled up a rickety old wooden stool. The smell of smoky Jerk filled the air and we watched as the meat and veggies gently cooked in front of us.
When we placed our order (pork, chicken, veggies and festival), the staff carved off our chosen slices of meat and placed it in a small foil parcel in front of us. The Jerk sauce was poured onto a separate dipping foil. Needless to say, that day our lunch was absolutely divine. The perfect local setting.
Rastafarian favourite: a vegan heaven
Our final dinner in Jamaica was at this gorgeous little vegan eatery called Kalabash in Ochos Rios. A Rastafari favourite.
It was here I learnt the Rastafari religion is fairly new, only kicking off in Jamaica during the 1930s. Contrary to what we might assume from the little island famous for its Jerk chicken, Rastafarians are mostly vegan and will only eat vegetables (as these are products ‘of the Earth’). It’s rare you will meet a meat-eating Rasta’. They are unlikely to eat fish too, although some set themselves a rule of only eating fish that are under 12″ long.
Rastafarians also do not drink coffee, milk or alcohol, but are impartial to a herbal tea or fruit juice. And why not? The juices here are fresh, raw and without the endless additives and extra sugar we find in our fruit juices. This kind of diet is called i-Tal and literally means ‘natural and clean’.
Therefore, you will find an abundance of local restaurants only serving vegan dishes. Farm-to-table experts Stush In The Bush are run by a couple who grow their own veggies on-site. So depending on the season, the menu varies. All reservations must be booked in advance here, so they can source their veggies nice and early in the day for the right numbers.
At Kalabash, we tucked into a potato and bean stew in coconut milk, green cabbage and onion mix with rice and a cane juice. So delicious! A gluten curry was available too for those who don’t have to avoid the stuff.
Food on the go
Looking for a snack as you explore? Look for the street food stall with the biggest queue. If the locals love it, then you know not only is it good food, it’s probably on the high up on the hygiene scale, so the chance of a dodgy stomach afterwards is rare.
We found this little patty heaven in central Port Antonio. There was no doubt this was a favourite in the area, so we joined the queue and tucked into the chicken patties on offer. The chicken patty contained a delicious and spicy curry sauce, while the beef and cheese was less sauce-based but also spicy. The flaky pasty is made from wheat and more like what we might call a pasty.
According to one customer, Jamaicans love the chicken patties the most, followed by the beef and cheese. I can promise both are mouth-wateringly lovely. They also do chips and festival if you want something ore plain.
Stay tuned to our Lifestyle page for some Jamaican vegetarian and vegan recipes.