Food in Jamaica
Jamaican food is a mix of Caribbean and local dishes. Although Jamaican food has a reputation for being very spicy, local trends tend towards a variety of more versatile dishes. Some of the Caribbean dishes you will see in other countries in the region are rice and peas (cooked with coconut milk) and dumplings (called empanadas in Spanish-speaking countries). The national dish is ackee and salted fish, and it MUST be tasted by everyone who visits the island. It consists of a local fruit called ackee, which looks like scrambled eggs but has a unique taste, and dried cod mixed with onions and tomatoes. You probably won’t get the chance to try this food anywhere else, and if you really want to say you’ve done something unique in Jamaica, this is your chance. Freshly picked and prepared ackee is a hundred times better than canned ackee, but it should only be harvested when the ackee fruits are ripe and their pods have opened naturally on the large evergreen tree on which they grow: Unripe ackee contains a potent toxin (hypoglycin A) that causes vomiting and low blood sugar. Don’t worry, the locals are experts in preparing ackee and will know how to pick it safely.
Another local food is called bammy, which was actually invented by the Arawak (Taino) Indians. It is a flat, floury cassava pancake that is usually eaten for breakfast and tastes a bit like cornbread. There is also the hard bread (locally called hard bread), which comes in sliced and unsliced versions. Try toasting it, because when it is toasted it tastes better than most breads you will ever eat. If you are looking for dishes with more meat, you can try jerk dishes. Jerk chicken is the most popular, but jerk pork and jerk mussels are also widely available. Jerk seasoning is a condiment that is spread on the meat on the grill like a barbecue sauce. Remember that most Jamaicans eat their food well cooked, so expect it to be a little drier than you are used to. There are also curries, such as chicken and goat curry, which are very popular in Jamaica. The best goat curry is made with male goats and if you see a menu with fish curry, try it.
You can even take a piece of sugar cane, cut off a few pieces and suck on them.
Jamaica has fruit and vegetables in abundance, especially between April and September when most local fruits are in season. The many varieties of mango are a “must” if you visit during the summer months. If you haven’t tried the ripe fruit on the tree, you are missing out. Green picked fruits exported to other countries do not compare. Try drinking “coconut water” directly from the coconut. It is not the same as coconut milk. Coconut water is clear and refreshing, not to mention that it has many health benefits. Papayas, star apples, guineas, pineapples, jackfruit, oranges, mandarins, ugli fruits, ortanics are just some of the wonderful fruits available here.
Locally grown fruit and vegetables are cheap. Visitors will find that imported products such as American apples, strawberries, plums, etc. are generally more expensive than in their country of origin. Grapes in particular are very expensive on the island.
Chinese food is available in many places in Chinese takeaway shops and has a distinct Jamaican flavour.
It is recommended to try local fruits and vegetables. If you are not familiar with a particular fruit, it may be helpful to ask a local which parts are safe to eat. Both local and imported fruits are available from street vendors. If the fruit is to be eaten immediately, the vendors can usually wash it for you if you wish.
Finally, there is the “ital” category, the domain of practising Rastafarians who adhere to strict dietary guidelines. This type of food is prepared without meat, oil or salt, but can still be tasty through the creative use of other spices. Italian food is not usually on the printed menus of upmarket tourist restaurants and can only be found in speciality restaurants. You may have to ask around to find a place that serves Italian food, as it is not very common.
Drinks in Jamaica
There are many drinks in Jamaica. There are standards like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, but if you want to drink local soda, you can try Bigga Cola, Champagne Cola or the grapefruit soda called “Ting” and also Ginger Beer. Also try any Desnoes & Geddes soda, usually labelled “D&G”. “Cola Champagne” and “Pineapple” are popular flavours that you won’t find anywhere else. Since the turn of the century, most soft drinks have been bottled in plastic rather than glass. You can try the local lager called Red Stripe (which is exported to many western countries, so you’ve probably already tried it) and Dragon Stout. Most beers are available in Jamaican pubs and hotels. Jamaican rum, made from sugar cane, is an indigenous hard drink. It is usually too strong and drunk with cola or fruit juice. Drink with caution! It is not meant for someone who is drinking it for the first time. It is not uncommon to find Jamaican rum with 75% alcohol. Because Jamaica was colonised by Britain, the law on drinking alcohol applies to people over 18, but it is generally not enforced as strictly as in the United States. Guinness is popular and the exported beer, which has an alcohol content of 7%, has it all.