Jerk chicken and Jamaican patties are household names in North America. Mouthwatering as they are, though, these classics are far from Jamaica’s only offerings. Jamaican cuisine has been influenced by numerous cultures: Africa, Spain, France, India – the list goes on. As such, Jamaican food offers a little bit of everything, while at the same time carving out an identity all its own. Today, we’re shining the spotlight on some of the island’s lesser-known dishes, as well as its undisputed favorites.
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Here’s all the Jamaican food you need to try before you die:
Bammy is the modern evolution of bread eaten by the Arawaks – Jamaica’s earliest inhabitants. The flatbread begins with cassava tubers being grated fine, then pressed to squeeze out excess moisture. Once drained, but not dry, the cassava is ground to a flour-like consistency and seasoned with salt. Traditional bammy is prepared on a flat surface over an open fire, resulting in thin, tortilla-like rounds. Modern recipes, meanwhile, call for thicker bammy to be baked, cut into wedges, then wet with coconut milk and fried golden brown.
Contrary to the name, fish tea does not involve steeping leaves in hot water. Rather, it is a light, spicy soup found throughout the Caribbean. Preparation involves stewing fresh fish and produce for hours, until every component is unbelievably soft, before flavoring the whole affair with coconut milk and various seasonings. Staple ingredients include pumpkin, cassava, and green bananas; carrots, potatoes, and yams are popular additions as well. According to Jamaican legend, fish tea is powerfully energizing, as well as a form of aphrodisiac.
This dish, inspired by the cuisine of India and Southeast Asia, is exactly what it says on the tin. Chunks of goat are slow-cooked to perfection with garlic, ginger, and onion. The addition of hot peppers and a special spice mixture introduce a Caribbean twist to the final product. Since it is well-suited to bulk cooking, curry goat is a common party offering in Jamaica, served up with heaps of rice and roti.
Known as escabeche elsewhere, Escovitch fish was brought to Jamaica by Spanish migrants. It has since become a popular meal, particularly during Easter. The Jamaican interpretation starts with a whole fish – usually red snapper; said fish is fried, marinated in a vinegar-based sauce, then topped with pickled vegetables and scotch bonnet peppers. Between the crisp texture of the fish and the careful balance of heat and acidity, this dish is sure to have you hooked.
Oxtail with Broad Beans
Nothing says “Sunday dinner” like tender meat soaked in a savory gravy. In Jamaica, that translates to stewed oxtail. This dish takes advantage of oxtail’s high gelatin content, cooking it low and slow until the meat is falling off the bone. Thyme, allspice, and a thick gravy made from the oxtail’s juices add layers of flavor, while the inclusion of scotch bonnets lends the meal a substantial kick. Top things off with butter beans and a side of rice and peas, and it’s plain to see why this dish is a Jamaican favorite.
When Jamaicans want a sweet treat, they go for gizzada. Also called pinch-me-round, referring to their characteristic pinched crust, these tasty tarts consist of a flaky shell filled with coconut, ginger, and spices. Bite through the crunchy exterior, and you’ll be met with a sticky mixture saturated with nutmeg and brown sugar. Crispy, gooey, and sweet as can be, these tarts are a must-try.
Ackee and Saltfish
Befittingly, Jamaica’s national dish features its national fruit. Originally imported from Ghana, ackee now grows abundantly across the island. As for the dish, ripe ackee is first boiled, then sautéed with salted codfish, onions, scotch bonnets, and tomatoes. The addition of pepper and paprika rounds out its flavor profile. Ackee and saltfish is typically eaten for breakfast, with popular sides including breadfruit, dumplings, and boiled green bananas.