Traveling has the ability to open up new worlds for every person who decides to explore. One of the most interesting aspects of new and unknown places is the new foods that you can discover.
Jamaica is known for many wonderful things, including its white sandy beaches, Reggae music, and vibrant culture. The local cuisines found in this island country reflect the lively place they were created in.
So whether you’re actually visiting Jamaica or are simply heading to an authentic restaurant, there are a few dishes that shine through. With just a taste, you can experience an important and particularly wonderful part of Jamaican culture and history.
Best Jamaican Food
You may already be familiar with a few favorites, like jerk chicken and the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish. These strong-flavored dishes represent a country that is full of flavor, across the board.
In this list you will find the very best Jamaican dishes to try while in this island nation. Whether you’re spending your days exploring the island’s coves or lounging on the sundeck of your favorite Sandals Resort in Jamaica, sitting down to one of these meals is sure to be a highlight.
Tip: If you want to make the most of your visit to Jamaica, check out our tips on how to make your next trip more special.
Ackee & Saltfish
We’ll start this list with the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a savory fruit that grows in the Caribbean and is a dietary staple in Jamaica. In fact, it’s also the national fruit of Jamaica.
Ripe ackee is delicious when prepared properly and cooked. However, unripe ackee is poisonous and could cause serious harm if ingested. So it’s best to leave this Jamaican recipe to the professionals, and only sample it when it’s been prepared for you to eat.
Ackee and saltfish is a classic Jamaican breakfast or brunch and tastes similar to jazzed-up scrambled eggs. The main two ingredients are in the name – ackee and salt cod, which is known as saltfish in Jamaica.
Other ingredients include onion, green peppers, garlic, and thyme, and it may come with assorted sides, depending on the restaurant. Since this dish is so popular in Jamaica, eating a few portions is basically necessary to experience the country fully.
This marvelous meal is fragrant, hot, and smoky. There are more cooks than you can count who will be making this dish on the island, and each cook will have their own method of making jerk chicken. Most will marinate the chicken overnight in a spice and chilies mixture, deepening the flavor wonderfully.
After you’ve ordered, the chicken will be grilled out on the open flame, adding to its delicious smokiness. When it’s soft and tender on the inside and the skin is crispy and cooked, it’s done. Jerk chicken is often served with rice and peas, another popular Jamaican dish that we’ll expand on in this list.
If you’re staying in Montego Bay, head to either Scotchies or Pork Pit for the best jerk chicken on the island. The names may not sound so appealing, but the food more than makes up for it.
Pepper Pot Soup
This vegetable-filled soup is healthy, warm, and satisfying. Generally made with tripe, you may also find chicken, beef, or plain vegetarian options available on the island.
Pepper pot soup is really more of a stew than a soup, as the chunky veggies give it plenty of body. It normally consists of potatoes, honeycomb tripe, leeks, peppers, and carrots in a delicious broth.
You may recognize pepper pot soup from Philadelphia, where it became a local favorite after colonial women brought it over from the Caribbean and West Africa. It then became a street food sold to workers who needed a nutritious meal before getting back to work. This history reflects the history of the Jamaican version, as it is a staple food that gives strength to the people.
Rice & Peas
As you can probably imagine, this is a simple dish, often served as a side to another. Though basic, it is completely authentic and a cornerstone of Jamaican cuisine.
Surprisingly, this dish is not made with peas. Red kidney beans are the legume traditionally used. There are a few other interesting ingredients, including Scotch bonnet pepper, allspice berries, and coconut milk. So although the dish is simple, it is bursting with flavor.
For so few ingredients, this meal also has great nutritional value and has been a great source of protein, fiber, and calcium for Jamaicans for many years.
If you are ordering this dish at a local restaurant, consider pairing it with jerk chicken, escovitch fish, or curry goat. You’ll be bursting with tastiness.
There are a number of variations of this dish in the Caribbean, each using a different leafy green. Collard greens and spinach are the usual culprits when this dish is made by the rest of the world. But locally, amaranth, taro leaves, or Xanthosoma leaves are used.
Amaranth is the original ingredient for this meal and is also known as callaloo, all by itself. In Jamaica, this dish is made by steaming the leafy greens with tomato, onion, peppers, scallions, and possibly saltfish.
This dish comes from West African origins, like much of the Caribbean’s cuisine. It is served as a side dish and can be used as a gravy. In Jamaica, it is particularly popular with roasted breadfruit, boiled green bananas, and dumplings as a breakfast dish. So break away from the usual eggs and bacon, and try this unique food in Jamaica.
This delicious seafood dish is made with a whole red snapper, which is native to the Caribbean Sea and the western Atlantic Ocean. The fish is shallow fried and served with tangy pickled vegetables.
The vegetable mix is made of sliced onions, carrot strips, Scotch bonnet pepper, and allspice berries. The mix is cooked in vinegar and a few other spices. When the fish is golden brown and crisp, it is served with the vegetables on top.
This is a wonderful dish for those who want to try Jamaican seafood. Since the island is surrounded by a fish-filled sea, seafood makes up a large portion of the local diet.
If seafood doesn’t appeal to you, curry goat may be just the thing. This dish originated in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia but has since become a staple in the Caribbean.
This meal happens to be a party food in Jamaica and is often seen at celebrations and special events. On these occasions, an expert or specialist may be called in to make it.
Once the curry has been cooking for a few hours the meat will fall off the bone and into your happy mouth. This dish of meat and potatoes is cooked with the classic mix of Jamaican spices, including Scotch bonnet pepper. It can be eaten with rice, or the rice and peas dish we have mentioned above.
This one is likely to surprise you. Jamaican patties are nothing like beef burger patties. Instead, they are savory pastries packed with meat and various other fillings and tinted yellow with an egg mixture or turmeric. Similar to foldovers, the pastry used for these is flaky and crisp.
This meal is Jamaica’s quintessential fast food, and it suits this sunny country perfectly. The fillings are flavored with the usual culprits, including Scotch bonnet pepper and a little bit of allspice, as well as a few other spices.
There are two popular fast-food chains in Jamaica that are dedicated to these pastries. Both have many branches all over the country, each offering up excellent golden Jamaican patties. So if you want to try this authentic Jamaican food, look out for Tastee or Juici Patties.
Best Jamaican Drinks
Now that you have a taste of the best Jamaican meals, let’s see which drinks you should try. After all, an excellent meal is not complete without the perfect drink, and Jamaica makes a few of them. Whether you prefer a soft drink, coffee, or something alcoholic, there are a few authentic options to try.
Rum is just about synonymous with the Caribbean, and this is one of the originals. Appleton distillery was founded in 1749 and has been producing excellent spirits ever since. The estate is also the oldest and most famous of Jamaica’s sugar-cane estates. So its history is very much tied with that of Jamaica.
You’ll find a few different kinds of rum here, but most of them have been aged in oak barrels for a number of years. The taste is rich and some have fruity notes reminiscent of Christmas cake. You may also pick up notes of cacao.
If your rum knowledge does not run deep, opt for the Appleton Estate Signature Blend. It’s a masterful blend of differently aged rums and can be used as a sipping rum or as a great addition to your favorite cocktails.
Red Stripe Beer
While we’re on the subject of refreshing drinks, Red Stripe Beer is a local brew that’s well worth a try. This award-winning beer embodies the vibrant spirit of Jamaica, and pairs perfectly with any of the dishes we’ve mentioned above (yes, even the brunch options).
Red Stripe is a pale lager with a 4.7% ABV. It was originally made in Kingston, Jamaica, but production moved to Pennsylvania in 2012. Even so, it is a Jamaican classic, and you’ll certainly see many of the characteristic stubby little bottles being enjoyed on the island.
Ting is a tart, sweet drink that is very popular in the Caribbean. Made with Jamaican grapefruit pulp, this carbonated soda is a refreshing beverage for the warm sunny days that characterize life on this island. It is best sipped while lazing in a hammock.
The original flavor will stand out to you in a green bottle or can. However, there are now a number of flavors for you to choose from, including Pink Ting Soda, Orange Ting, Diet Ting Soda, and ginger beer. However, if you’re drinking this one to deepen your experience of Jamaica, the original is the best option.
Blue Mountain Coffee
Grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, this coffee is very special and rare. The conditions in these mountains are considered ideal for growing coffee beans and result in a mild flavor with no bitterness.
While 80% of this sought-after and expensive coffee is exported to Japan, you can still get a cup while on the island. And it is highly recommended that you do so, as it just won’t taste the same elsewhere. Or at least, the surrounding conditions won’t be as picturesque.
Final Thoughts on Traditional Jamaican Dishes
There is so much to do and see on this beautiful island nation, and you are sure to need fuel to do it all. Fortunately, traditional Jamaican food is delicious, wholesome, and energizing.
Hopefully, you will have enough time to try each and every one of these meals. If you don’t, be sure to try the ackee and saltfish, and the jerk chicken. After all, those are the two dishes that your friends will ask about when you get back home.
If you’re not visiting the island anytime soon and want to make these dishes yourself, there are plenty of excellent Jamaican food recipes that you can follow. You will transport yourself to the Caribbean with just a bite