9 Best Dishes In Jamaican Food Culture Full Of Flavor

food culture in Jamaica
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Jamaica – the little big island full of rhythm and soul! The smiles are warm and the beaches are warmer. This Caribbean paradise moves to its own beat. Jamaica is all about that crystal clear water lapping over golden sands, fringed with lush banana trees rising into red soil and sheer mountains. Adventure awaits around every corner with a unique soundtrack sweeping across the island. And then, of course, there is the iconic Jamaican food culture.

Packed full of flavor and vibrant in color, the mouthwatering diverse food captures the spirit of Jamaica. Like many aspects of this Caribbean island, the food culture is a fusion of the Old and New Worlds. African spices provide the roots, while yam and plantain form the foundations. Add in the fresh tropical fruits and local fish to taste the passion behind Jamaican food.

Nothing beats the colorful jerk spices paired with an ice-cold Red Stripe or rum in hand, under a palm tree and the summer sun. Close your eyes, whet your appetite, and you’ll soon be transported by the rich Jamaican food culture.

Jerk Chicken

A plate of traditional Jamaican food culture
Photo By twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Average cost: $4-10 USD

Where to find: Everywhere! Both street vendors and restaurants sell jerk chicken, often served with rice and peas or bread.

A firm favorite among the locals and tourists alike – jerk chicken is the most iconic dish, symbolic of Jamaican food and the island. Jerk is the combination of spices used as a rub to marinate the meat before grilling over hot coals to give that smoky finish. The spices used include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Scotch bonnet chili (watch out – sometimes it can get spicy!)

While jerk chicken is the most popular choice, you’ll find the jerk spices used with other types of meat. Try jerk fish or lobster for something truly special! Jerk chicken is sold pretty much anywhere. The best way to enjoy this traditional Jamaican dish is straight from the oil barrel bbq while sitting on the beach taking in the sunset with a rum coconut in hand.

Ackee and Saltfish

Photo by gailf548 from Wiki Commons

Average cost: $2-4 USD

Where to find: Everywhere! Both street vendors and restaurants sell ackee and saltfish, often served with rice and peas.

Ackee and saltfish is Jamaica’s national dish, combining the seasoning and fruits of the land with the sea. Served at any time of day, and loved by locals for breakfast, this colorful dish is iconic of Jamaican culture and history. Ackee fruit (similar to lychee) was originally brought to Jamaica from Ghana in the 18th century, quickly becoming a national favorite!

This fruit is boiled and then paired with onions, scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, and spices like pepper and paprika. The salt cod is sautéed and added to the mix to create the most traditional Jamaican food going.

It’s not for everyone, and you either love it or hate it. But while you’re visiting Jamaica, it is certainly a must try dish! Ackee and saltfish is often served with rice and peas, dumplings, or plantain for a more substantial meal.

Callaloo

Photo by Karolyn from Wiki Commons

Average cost: Less than $1 USD

Where to find: Served as a side dish in traditional restaurants across the island.

Callaloo is a popular vegetarian side dish in Jamaican cuisine. There are some variations of how it’s prepared across the island. However, most commonly the local green leaves are steamed peppers, green onions, tomatoes, and salt.

The leaf is similar to kale or spinach in flavor. Add this to your plate of jerk chicken or ackee and saltfish for a truly traditional Jamaican plate of color and spice!

Jamaican Pattie

Photo by stu_spivack from Wiki Commons

Average cost: Less than $1 USD

Where to find: Street vendors and stores.

Not to be confused with the American beef pattie used for burgers, the Jamaican pattie is something different altogether! These little parcels of delicious joy are more like the UK’s pasties or Latin American empanadas.

The Jamaican pattie is a flaky pastry parcel stuffed with the iconic flavors of Jamaica. You can find the following fillings across the island:

  • Ackee and saltfish
  • Spicy beef, lamb, jerk pork, or jerk chicken
  • Vegetarian
  • Shrimp or lobster

Perhaps more of a snack than a main meal, but it doesn’t get more Jamaican than Jamaican patties. If you’re after a quick bite for a mid-afternoon snack then grab some beef patties from a street vendor for a truly authentic experience.

Goat Curry

Traditional Jamaican goat curry is iconic jamaican food culture
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Average cost: $2-3 USD

Where to find: All restaurants serving traditional Jamaican dishes.

One of the more famous Jamaican dishes that needs little introduction, the goat curry is popular around the globe and is iconic of Jamaican cuisine. Sometimes, the goat is swapped with mutton, depending on what meat is available to the chef firing up the dish.

Jamaican curry is more like a stew and is slow-cooked to blend all the spices and flavors into the meat. Jamaicans love their curry so expect to see a big pot bubbling away around every corner and on any special occasion.

Served with the iconic rice and peas – with potatoes, carrots, and coconut milk in the curry – the Jamaican goat curry is incredible. After one mouthful you’ll be craving more and more curry goat!

Jamaican Bammy

Photo by Jongleur100 from Wiki Commons

Average cost: Less than $1 USD

Where to find: As a side to other dishes in the Jamaican cuisine or at street stalls for a breakfast snack.

A popular Jamaican breakfast choice for both locals and tourists is the bammy. This is a sort of fried flatbread that has been dipped in coconut milk. It’s made using another locally grown vegetable, cassava.

The bammy is also a common side served with a curry, oxtail stew, or jerk chicken. It’s a traditional Jamaican recipe that ties together many other dishes.

Rice and Peas

Photo by Whispyhistory from Wiki Commons

Average cost: Less than $1 USD

Where to find: Served with most other Jamaican dishes as a side dish.

Rice and peas! A staple part of Jamaican cuisine that accompanies almost everything including jerk chicken, curry goat, and ackee and saltfish. This traditional dish is readily available everywhere across the island.

But don’t go looking for little garden peas. Just to keep us tourists on our toes, the Jamaicans use red kidney beans and other beans in this dish. The rice is cooked with coconut milk and spices which completes the delicious recipe.

Locals may also refer to this dish at the Coat of Arms. Traditionally, this is a Sunday dish and incorporates any leftover vegetables and meat from the week. It doesn’t get more traditional Jamaican than this.

Fried Plantain

Fried plantain is a staple part of Jamaican food culture
Photo by bhofack2 from Envato Elements

Average cost: Less than $1 USD

Where to find: General stores, street vendors, and restaurants.

Fried plantain is iconic to Jamaican cuisine. It makes a great addition to other dishes or is equally delicious as a snack on its own. Typically, you’ll find it sweet dusted with cinnamon/nutmeg and sugar, however, you can find plain fried plantain as well for a savory treat.

Despite appearances, the plantain is different from the closely related banana. Plantains tend to be much bigger, have less sugar, and contain more starch. This makes them versatile in the culinary world.

Cooking up some delicious Jamaican fried plantain for yourself could not be any easier. This recipe is probably one of the most simple in the whole Jamaican food culture.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe plantain
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon or nutmeg

Method:

  1. Prepare the plantain in slices, roughly 1/4 inch wide, like chips. The riper the plantain the better to get more flavor.
  2. Heat up the skillet with enough oil to shallow fry and cover the plantain slices. We like to use coconut oil, but vegetable oil or sunflower oil will also work.
  3. Fry each plantain slice until golden brown on each side (roughly 45 seconds). Keep a close eye as they will turn and burn very suddenly!
  4. Place the plantain on kitchen paper to soak off the oil and leave to rest for a few minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, or sugar to taste. Serve and enjoy!

Sweet Potato Pudding

Photo by ChildofMidnight from Wiki Commons

Average cost: Less than $1 USD

Where to find: Stores, bakeries, and restaurants across the island.

Continuing with the sweet theme, our last and final dish of the iconic Jamaican food culture is sweet potato pudding. If you’ve got a sweet tooth and like things sticky and sugary, then this is the dish for you.

Jamaica’s sweet potato pudding is something truly unique. It’s made using finely grated yams (sweet potato) mixed with coconut, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, and other spices, and often some raisins and a splash of rum. Once baked you should get a firm bottom, a soft top, and sweet deliciousness in each bite!

Fancy some other sweet Jamaican deserts? Check these out:

  • Coconut drops
  • Gizzada – similar to Portugal’s pastéis de nata
  • Banana bread
  • Fruit cake

What is the most popular food in Jamaica?

Jamaican food culture is comprised of several key dishes that are popular among the local community and visiting tourists alike. Rice and peas is the most commonly eaten dish and often served with other popular dishes. Jerk chicken is the most iconic and popular food in Jamaica that is eaten across the world.

However, goat curry is a firm favorite along with ackee and saltfish. Both of these are traditional and hold a strong place in the hearts of Jamaican’s.

What is a typical breakfast in Jamaica?

A typical breakfast in Jamaica can include an assortment of flavors. Locals often choose ackee and saltfish with rice and peas to start their day. Tourists may prefer to try the Jamaican bammy instead of a traditional Jamaican breakfast option.

Tropical fruits are in abundance across Jamaica. So if you prefer a fruit salad for breakfast, you’ll be delighted to have a bowl full of mango, pineapple, and other exotic fruits.

What is Jamaica’s national dish?

Ackee and saltfish is well known for being Jamaica’s national dish. This dish is a fusion of West Indies spices and African flavors, symbolizing the history and culture of Jamaica. Ackee and saltfish is often served with rice and peas, callaloo vegetables, bammies, or dumplings.

Internationally, however, people associate jerk chicken with Jamaica’s most iconic meal. The combination of spice and seasoning is unique to Jamaica and loved in every corner of the globe.

What food is Jamaica famous for?

Jamaica is famous for its unique blend of spices and seasoning. Jamaican food culture combines the rich heritage from Africa with the exotic produce from the Caribbean island, resulting in some of the most unique flavors in the culinary world. Jerk chicken and goat curry are the most famous foods to come out of Jamaica.

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Hi! I'm Abigail, a surfer, traveller, and nature lover. I'm from the UK but have been able to call Bali home for several years. I've backpacked across Australia on a shoestring budget, explored European coastlines, and taken in the sights across the pond and down into South America. My travel wishlist keeps growing the more I explore our perfect planet!