I must confess that I knew nothing about Jamaican cuisine before going there. I had heard of jerk chicken and that was about it. Visiting Jamaica as an independent traveler opened my mind and my palate to some delectable dishes. I would have missed out on them had we stayed in a resort, so my advice is to get out of the resort and eat traditional Jamaican dishes!
I, of course, did not sample absolutely everything, either because I ran out of time or because of personal preferences – I don’t care for fish, for example. But the Jamaican dishes I tried, I loved! Jamaican cuisine is, as far as I can tell, the result of the culinary influences of the different groups that lived or came to the island (Arawak and Taino indigenous peoples, the Spanish, the British, Indians, Africans and so on).
Jerk chicken is, perhaps, the best-known Jamaican dish outside of the island. It consists of chicken covered in a sweet and spicy marinade and grilled over low heat. The meat acquires a lovely smoky flavor that combines well with the spices in the marinade. Jerk chicken is usually served with rice and peas (a side dish made with rice and gungo peas cooked in coconut milk), a little salad and festival. Festival, a slightly sweet cornmeal dumpling, was one of my favourite things to eat because …fried dough!
It wasn’t easy to find bammy at restaurants, they always seemed to run out before I got there. Bammy is a kind of flatbread made with cassava flour and coconut milk and then pan fried. It goes well with both savoury and sweet ingredients.
These pies are little slices of beefy heaven. Although the beef was my favourite filling, I had other very tasty patties, like ackee or curried chicken. Patties resemble empanadas, although the pastry is different, flaky golden yellow thanks to the turmeric.
Boiled food is self-explanatory. It’s a breakfast dish that includes boiled sweet potato, pumpkin, green bananas, vegetables and a Jamaican dumpling. I would have enjoyed it more had I had it for lunch, as I prefer sweet food for breakfast. It’s tasty and filling.
These coconut chips were a pleasant surprise that came with our Red Stripe beer and pineapple and rum cocktails. Dry coconut flesh is thinly sliced, then soaked in salted water and baked in a low oven until golden. I had to make a conscious effort not to gobble the whole tray up!
Bun and cheese
My husband’s favourite breakfast consisted of freshly brewed Blue Mountain coffee and bun and cheese. To make it, he simply made a sandwich with slices of Easter bun (a dense Jamaican fruitcake) and tin cheese (Jamaican cheese sold in tins). The saltiness of the cheese was a nice complement to the spicy sweetness of the bun.