Jamaica is a tiny melting pot of cultures, so it is no wonder this little island boasts some of the Caribbean’s best cuisine. Many of the most popular dishes from this island have African roots, but some Jamaican dishes have influences from other regions of the world (such as Asia and Europe). While I could list the top 5 Jamaican dishes (ranked in order of my preference), I have decided to be generous and list 15 of the best Jamaican food you should try at home or during your next visit to Jamaica.
Jamaican ackee and saltfish is our island’s national dish and one of the most famous Jamaican food. Some people may call it “Ackee and Codfish” but that is a lesser-known name. The ackee fruit originated from western Africa, specifically Ghana and has a soft texture when prepared (while somewhat resembling scrambled eggs). Jamaicans pair this delectable combination with rice, fried dumplings, or boiled yams and bananas for the perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner meal. Most hotels or bed and breakfasts that are worth visiting on the island should offer ackee and saltfish with dumplings as a staple breakfast option.
Jamaican Jerk Pork is another popular local dish enjoyed by visitors from all over the world. This spicy meal is prepared by applying the Jamaican jerk seasoning mix to the pork and allowing it to marinate. Jamaicans use a special grilling method called ‘jerk’ passed down from the Tainos to prepare this delectable dish.
Jerk Chicken is a popular Jamaican street food prepared by vendors in what is called a “jerk pan”. It is ready n the same manner as jerk pork and is loved by most people who have tasted this savoury dish. The secret to perfecting this dish is a well-made jerk chicken seasoning, proper temperature control, and keeping the chicken moist with beer or other liquids.
The word “ital” in ital food is a play on the word “vital”. This cuisine originated from the Rastafarian sub-culture in Jamaica and is a category of food that promotes health and vitality. Usually prepared with minimal to no salt and lots of veggies, ital food can be appreciated by those seeking a healthier diet. If you are looking for healthy vegan Jamaican food, go Ital.
Jamaican escovitch fish is a must-try for all seafood lovers. Like most other Jamaican food, this dish is on the spicier side of the spectrum. It is crispy fried fish soaked in a spicy sauce seasoned with onions, carrots, Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper and pimento. It is very simple yet delicious and can be enjoyed by everyone. This dish is often paired with the festival Jamaican dish, which is our version of hush puppies.
In Jamaica, oxtail is classified as somewhat of a luxury meal due to the cost of the meat used to prepare it. Many Jamaicans choose to prepare this meal for special occasions such as birthdays or family gatherings. As the name suggests, oxtail is the tail of an ox and it has a chewy and gelatinous texture. When stewed in spices and allowed to marinate, the Jamaican oxtail stew serves as a mouth-watering meal that simply melts onto your tongue.
Curry goat may sound very strange to people outside of Jamaica, but I guarantee that this Jamaican food is one of the island’s best cuisines. Prepared using goat meat and curry powder (along with many other popular seasonings used in Jamaica), this Jamaican dish displays the Indian influences on the island’s cuisine and is hands down one of the best foods you will ever taste. Jamaican curry goat is spicy, savoury and overall very delicious.
Curry chicken is a stew made with chicken, curry powder and other spices used in Jamaican cuisine. The main difference between Jamaican curry chicken and Jamaican curry goat is, of course, the type of meat used along with the preparation time. Since goat meat is more muscular than chicken, it requires more preparation time.
The Jamaican patty is one of the island’s most popular foods/snacks. These patties come in a few variations, but the most popular type of Jamaican patty is the beef patty. This flaky golden snack is made by baking and stuffing dough with well-seasoned meat fillings such as beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables. There are many places outside of Jamaica where you can purchase a version of the Jamaican patties, however, the authentic flavours of this Jamaican dish can only be enjoyed while in Jamaica.
Mannish water is another Jamaican food that locals tend to have on certain occasions. Though it can be enjoyed whenever, Jamaicans often prepare mannish water/country soup at “nine nights”, birthday parties, funerals and family gatherings. It is a savoury soup made using parts of goat meat, boiled dumplings and ground provisions.
This Jamaican dish is very popular and is commonly consumed by locals for lunch or dinner. It is a simple yet delicious Jamaican food which is prepared by “brown-stewing” parts of the chicken using many seasonings and a food colouring called “browning”. Another must-try food and one of the best Jamaican food.
Jamaicans tend to love stews because it is easy to prepare and is always tasty. Jamaican stew peas is made using red kidney beans, herbs and spices, and coconut milk, along with chicken, beef or oxtail for meat.
Jamaican mackerel run down has a perfect balance of sweet and salty. This unique Jamaican dish is made using salt mackerel sauteed in spices and coconut milk. It has a thick, milky consistency with sweet aromas which make it very appealing and scrumptious. While it is primarily a breakfast dish, it can be enjoyed any time of the day.
Before you panic, Jamaican fish tea is not tea. It is instead a very tasty soup which is made using fish. It is called fish tea because of its watery broth and the minimal amount of solid food used to prepare it. It is usually prepared with just a little spice to enjoy on very warm days, and a bit more spice on cooler days.
Red peas soup is another delectable Jamaican dish that is simple to make but packs a punch in terms of flavour and aroma. This soup is made using red kidney beans, seasonings, spices, coconut milk, ground provisions and chicken foot/neck, and is similar to stew peas, except it is a meal all on its own. Some Jamaicans will not drink red peas soup without cornmeal dumplings. This Jamaican dish is perfect for a Saturday evening.
Jamaica, like many other countries, has a rich culture and diverse cuisine. The list above gives you a nice introduction to some of the Jamaican foods that help to secure Jamaica’s spot on the list of Caribbean countries with the best foods. For the most authentic experience, visit Jamaica to experience the unbelievably satisfying tastes of each of these dishes, along with many others that were not included in the list. Happy eating!
Now that you have read about the 15 best Jamaican food out there, it is time to sample the exquisite food on your next visit to our island.
At My Jamaican Tour Guide, we arrange authentic Jamaican food tours where you sample real Jamaican food, such as Devon House ice cream, Appleton Rum, fresh fruits and pineapple at Croydon Plantation, Beef patties, delicious beach escovitch fish, and much more.
Send us an email at [email protected] to inquire about arranging a food tour to Jamaica, or contact us by phone, WhatsApp, or live chat to book your next tour and sample the most popular Jamaican food.