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Jamaican Food – 20 Traditional Dishes You Have to Try

Most people visit Jamaica for its endless sunshine and a parade of white sand beaches. Other than its famous jerk chicken, people don’t think a lot about Jamaican cuisine but Jamaican food has a lot of variety and flavor. If you want to add a bit of spice to your next trip to Jamaica, be sure to try some of these traditional dishes when you go off the resort.

Although some classic Jamaican dishes listed below are best served on island time, many Jamaican recipes can be done right here at home. With Jamaican jerk spices, beef patties, and Jamaican cabbage to devour, you can’t go wrong. Add in delightful desserts teaming with coconut milk and you will soon find out that food here is a journey for the senses. So let’s not waste any time and dive into our list of the best Jamaican dishes.

Best Jamaican Food to Try on the Island or at Home

Vegetarian Food in Jamaica

Despite the lack of true vegetarian and vegan options on this list of Jamaican food, there is no shortage of excellent options for you. Many of these dishes can easily be replaced with a non-meat protein option without taking away its iconic flavour. Restaurants on the island are becoming more inclusive, making use of their natural vegetable resources to create tasty vegan and vegetarian dishes.

1. Jamaican Jerk Chicken

jamaican food jerk chicken
Jerk chicken at Scotchies in Jamaica

Roasted over pimento wood with a unique blend of herbs and spices, Jamaican jerk chicken is the national dish of choice for a quick, tasty meal. So it’s only right that it takes the top spot on our list of traditional Jamaican foods.

Jerk chicken is fairly easy to find all around Jamaica being such a common street food but if you are playing along from home it can be difficult to recreate that special jerk seasoning that marinates the chicken to perfection. This spice is a combination of cloves, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and nutmeg and is the key aspect that makes this such a delicious dish. Get the recipe here.

For vegetarians: Jerk vegetables and tofu with the same spice is growing in popularity and are a great choice for those that don’t eat meat.

2. Jamaican Beef Patties

Jamaican beef patties

Jamaican beef patties have long been a popular dish of choice, so it’s no shock that many international versions have popped up over the years. But like a lot of things in life, nothing tops the original. Jamaican patties are a delightful yet simple pastry of flaky, buttery crust filled with minced beef, similar to an empanada. See how to make beef patties here.

Being one of the most popular Jamaican food, Jamaican beef patties aren’t just an afternoon snack. No, they’re had at all times of the day and with different fillings. You can switch out the beef for chicken or seafood options like shrimp, lobster, or fish.

To make it even more filling, locals sometimes put the patty inside coco bread. This can make it fairly starchy, but as a one-off, it is well worth the try.

3. Sweet Potato Pudding

When dining out on traditional Jamaican food or recreating the best Jamaican dishes at home, don’t forget to leave time to try their delicious desserts. Sweet pudding may evoke memories of grandma’s apple tart but things are done a little differently over here.

Sweet potato pudding is a traditional Jamaican dessert consisting of thinly grated sweet potatoes as the base. The potatoes are then mixed in with vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar among other spices. Throw a little coconut ground, raisins, and a splash of rum then bake the pudding until it is well set.

If you want to make it at home just like the locals do, then aim for the pudding to be softer on the top and firmer beneath. Nail that and you will be devouring some of the best Jamaican food going around. Get the recipe here.

4. Jamaican Curry Goat

Jamaican Curry Goat

Jamaica’s culinary roots can be traced to all corners of the globe, but one nation has had a strong influence on traditional Jamaican foods. At the end of slavery, thousands of people from India came to Jamaica to work on their plantations. Of course, spices and curries came along for the ride.

Jamaican recipes embraced the new flavors which are evident in the curry goat dish which remains one of the most popular Jamaican dishes; for locals and travelers alike. When adventuring around Jamaica, you will come across curry goat often, a dish of slow-cooked meat slathered in spicy curry sauce. Add on a side of red kidney beans and rice and you will be set for the evening.

5. Jamaican Curry Chicken

If goat is a little too much for you, Jamaican Curry Chicken is similar to the curry goat listed above. It continues to show the influence of India on traditional Jamaican cuisine using Jamaican curry powder. While there are many ways to make a curry, Jamaica continues to be all about herbs and spices.

With the chicken cut into small cubes, curry spices are slathered on and cooked in a sauté of fresh herbs. Carrots and potatoes are later added to round out the curry. Make it at home with this recipe.

This traditional Jamaican dish is enjoyed at all times of the day and luckily for those cooking at home, it is also an easy dish to recreate. To really live like a local though, have it alongside white rice instead of rice and peas, so you don’t break the unwritten rule of Jamaican curries.

6. Mannish Water

Mannish Water in Jamaica

The idea of Mannish Water may not be for everyone, but when it comes to traditional Jamaican foods, this fascinating dish deserves to be featured on our list. Mannish Water is a local favorite, a soup created from the head, feet, and intestines of a goat. Before joining the soup, the feet and head are roasted so the hair is removed before being chopped into small pieces.

To add some variety to this Jamaican cuisine, the goat meat is combined with boiled green bananas, potatoes, cubed yam, and small Jamaican dumplings called spinners. With the addition of some tasty herbs and spices, mannish water is a hearty soup served hot.

7. Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken

Brown Stew Chicken in Jamaica

Brown stew chicken is a common Jamaican dish for family dinners on a Sunday night. This is because it is an easy dish to prep and one that comes with a ton of flavor as a just reward. See how to make it here.

To begin the chicken is chopped up into small pieces and covered in garlic, pepper, scallions, and ginger seasoning then fried until golden brown. The chicken is later stewed to create a strong brown gravy. This is one of the more straightforward Jamaican recipes and is sure to be a hit when friends and family gather.

8. Fish Tea

Fish tea in Jamaica

Fish tea may sound similar to something you’d sip on a beautiful Sunday morning, but unless you love spicy fish soup that’s probably not a good idea. Fish tea is one of the more common fish dishes and comes in many varieties.

Some are light and easy to drink, similar to a broth. While other versions represent a proper meal. Different fish are used for this meal, with the Doctor fish being the most popular option. This is because this fried fish is believed to return strength to your body.

Added to the fish are vegetables including chochos, okras, carrots, and bell peppers which are then mixed in with numerous spices that will surely add some heat. Best served in moderation, fish tea is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Ooh la la, make this at home.

9. Jamaican Cabbage

Jamaican Cabbage is a great food

Cabbage is found all around the island and makes its way into a lot of Jamaican recipes. But on its own, Jamaican cabbage is a popular meal that helps break up Jamaica’s meat-centric cuisine. The cabbage is seasoned with thyme, garlic, and onions and for those who love a spice kick, you can throw in a scotch bonnet pepper.

If you just have to add in a meat side, this side is commonly paired with salt fish along with dumplings, breadfruit, and Jamaican rice.

10. Ackee and Saltfish

Ackee and Saltfish Jamaican Food

Speaking of seafood-based meals, we didn’t forget about Jamaica’s national dish, ackee, and saltfish. Ackee is a colorful fruit that cannot be eaten until cooked.

To prepare the ackee, the yellow part of the seed pod is boiled until tender. It is then combined with the saltfish, commonly known as codfish, and seasoned with salt and pepper along with a host of herbs and spices.

The ackee looks similar to scrambled eggs once it is cooked, which may explain why this traditional Jamaican food is a popular breakfast and brunch item. To take things up a level, try this alongside some roasted breadfruit.

11. Jerk Pork with Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Scotch peppers Jamaica

Jerk dishes, especially jerk chicken and jerk fish are a major part of Jamaican cuisine and combines the African and Taino cultures in one. Jerk pork isn’t for the faint of heart, it is one spicy dish. The pork is marinated in Jamaican jerk spice that consists of thyme, scallion, Jamaican pimento, and our little friend, scotch bonnet peppers, often 40 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper. Make your own Jerk Sauce at home.

Creating the perfect jerk pork requires patience as it follows a slow process of grilling the dish over open coals and pimento wood. This helps to trap all the flavors providing you with an outcome well worth the wait. This traditional Jamaican food is an easy one to track down across the island. But be sure to order a side of hard dough bread to give you a break from the spice.

12. Run Down (Run Dun)

When it comes to Jamaican meals that are missed by locals who now live abroad, Run Down is a common choice. This flavorful fish stew gets its name from being slow-cooked to the point the fish begins to fall apart or is ‘run down’.

To begin, the oily fish such as mackerel that is most often used is cooked in onions, garlic, tomatoes, and coconut milk. Once a creamy consistency is created and the fish breaks up you know it is ready to be served. At Jamaican restaurants, run down is usually served with dumplings and can be had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

13. Coco Bread

Coco bread is one of those traditional Jamaican foods that can be combined with almost any dish on this list. We have mentioned it above, but coco bread can also be stuffed with anything from fried snapper to pieces of jerk chicken.

The bread is made up of yeast and flour with a splash of coconut milk added in. If that is too savory for you, the addition of sugar can go a long way. The bread is cut and folded into triangles and used regularly for sandwiches. Think of your local sweet white bread. Now keep in mind, it is very filling, even before you add in your beef patty. Everyone is baking bread these days, learn how to make your own Jamaican Coco Bread at home here.

14. Jamaican Rice and Peas

Rice and Beans Jamaican Food

Like Cuba or Costa Rica’s rice and beans, Jamaica’s rice and peas accompany almost any traditional Jamaican foods (just not curry). Such is the popularity of this side dish that it often goes by the nickname ‘Coat of Arms’.

Any rice can be chosen to go alongside the peas, which are then spiced up with scallions, thyme, and coconut milk. Interestingly, the most common pea for this recipe is red kidney beans. If you decide to try a jerk chicken recipe at home or in Jamaica, rice and peas pair perfectly.

Love Jamaica like we do? Check out these places to visit:

15. Jamaican Rum Cake

When it comes to desserts and traditional Jamaican foods, Jamaican rum cake is as well-known as it comes. You may have had something similar during the festive season but nothing screams Christmas in Jamaica more than rum cake.

This delicious dessert got its name thanks to the use of rum-infused fruit that helps the cake to batter itself. The result is a sweet, buttery taste that is the perfect way to finish off a Jamaican-inspired dinner.

16. Jamaican Ginger Beer

Sure, ginger beer is not a traditional Jamaican food, but how could we leave out such a popular local drink. After all, is there a better way to wash this amazing food down? Now don’t be fooled, there is no alcohol in this drink unless you happen to add it to a Moscow Mule. However, it is equally fiery as it is refreshing, and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Jamaican ginger beer stands out among a world of similar drinks thanks to the quality of its local, fresh ginger and centuries of practice.

18. Red Stripe Beer

Red Stripe Beer in Jamaica

If you are looking for the real deal, Red Strip is Jamaica’s national beer. This lager has an island vibe and no visit to Jamaica would be complete without having an icy cold Red Stripe on the beach.

19. Rum

Enjoying Jamaican Rum

If you are into more spirits, be sure to have some rum! Appleton Estate rum distillery offers tours and is a great rum to take back home to remind you of your time in Jamaica.

20. Tia Maria

Tia Maria in Jamaica

While we are on the topic of alcohol, did you know that the liqueur Tia Maria is made in Jamaica? this dark liqueur is made from Blue Mountain coffee beans, Jamaican rum, vanilla, and sugar, The Blue Mountains are also home to the Blue Mountain Coffee plantation where you can learn about Jamaica’s coffee culture and where you can pick up some java for your trip home. Coffee cocktail lovers must pick up some Tia Maria on their way home from Jamaica.

Here you’ll enjoy the Blue Mountain Coffee tour learning of the coffee culture of Jamaica. Book a Kingston Blue Mountain Coffee and the Blue Mountains tour with Get Your Guide.

What to Know About Jamaican Food

Jamaican food Cooking Class
Take a cooking class and learn how to make Jerk sauce

Jamaica has tropical weather in abundance, it’s no surprise that you’ll find plenty of fruit and vegetables all over the island. But like a lot of other Caribbean nations, the local cuisine is still very meat-heavy from popular dishes like jerk chicken to goat curries.

Jamaica stands out because of its iconic jerk seasoning and beef patties. Both meals can be traced back to Jamaica. Jamaican food uses a lot of spice due to heavy Indian influences along with the use of infamous scotch bonnet peppers. (hot peppers)

Debate continues over the most popular dish in Jamaica. While everyone knows about jerk chicken, there can be no doubt that Jamaica’s national dish is Ackee and Saltfish.

Jamaican Beef Patties

If you aren’t in the mood for a full Jamaican meal you may be asking what are common local snacks? A basic beef pattie without the coco bread exterior is a great cheap snack to tide you over along with dumplings, fritters, and fried plantains. For something a little sweeter, grate cake and gizzada, which is a sweet-tart, are local go-to’s.

Restaurants for the best Jamaican Cuisine

Best Jamaican Food Restaurants Scotchies
Eat Jerk Chicken at Scotchies

As this list of traditional Jamaican foods would suggest, dining out in Jamaica is a feast for the senses. There are numerous food festivals throughout the year highlighting Jamaica’s delectable cuisine. Having said that, where can you find the best jerk chicken and beef patty on the island? If you are close to Montego Bay or Ocho Rios, a restaurant called Scotchies serves up incredible jerk chicken along with pork and fish. The meat is smoked and chopped in an open-air setting that can be witnessed from your seat.

As for beef patties, it is tough to split Juici and Tastee, both with an impeccable reputations for slinging the most delicious patties on the island. Check our list of the best things to do in Jamaica, including a trip to Scotchies.

Final Thoughts

Cooking Jamaican Food with chef

Jamaica has a great selection of homegrown dishes, many of which have made their way onto the international stage.

The food is delicious, zesty and often very spicy. So keep that in mind if you don’t have the tongue for it. But the overall flavor always comes through, whether it’s a simple rice and peas dish or complex like mannish water.

Some make the perfect mid-week dish and others will need to be experienced on the island. Either way, expect a meal that is anything, but plain.

Jamaican Food Jerk Fish

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  • Photo attributions Wikimedia Commons:

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