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7 Iconic Jamaican Foods: Best Places to Enjoy Them on the Island

The intense flavors of jerk, saltfish fritters, pepperpot soup and stew peas are reasons why the Jamaican cuisine stands out as a true foodies’ paradise. These exotic flavors are derived from the creative use of local spices combined with the natural flavors of foods grown in a tropical environment. Together, they have evolved into something culturally distinctive, and this is the best reason to sample some of Jamaica’s most iconic, tantalizing cuisines.

The Essence of Jamaica Cooking
But before you sample, note that like any other cultural cuisine, the character of its food is steeped in tradition. You will discover that most authentic Jamaican dishes take a lengthy time to prepare and the best places to get the real thing are from places that do the prep work needed to release the food’s essence.

Oxtail with Broad Beans
More expensive than prime roast, the much-loved Jamaican oxtail became an international sensation when “Ironman Chef” introduced the uncommon meat into its competition, and a global trend ensued. Historically, oxtail is not the best cut of beef. However, upon ancestral discovery, the long and slow braising of oxtail created the most sumptuous dish that was both delicate and flavorful, and the recipe quickly became a national tradition.

What it consist of:
the tailbone of beef cattle. On its own, oxtail offers the most robust flavor. When combined with a marinade of Jamaican spices, cooked on low heat, it becomes a tasty stew that is literally finger-licking good. The cuisine is traditionally braised with “beefy” broad beans and served over a bed of rice with ripe, fried plantains and light vegetables.

Best Places to Get It

  • Kingston: Sonia’s Homestyle Cooking---Hot Pot---Moby Dick Restaurant and Lounge--- Dukunoo Den Café---Spanish Court Café---Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Record
  • Resort towns: Pelican Grill in MoBay, Mom’s in Ocho Rios, Sandals Grande Riveria, in Ocho Rios, Slips and Bites in Negril, Faith’s Pen Rest Stop near Ocho Rios and Kuyaba in Negril

Note that resort areas, outside of Kingston are teeming with restaurants and cook shops that serve authentic Jamaican cuisines. This includes most major hotels, villas and guest houses.

Rice and Peas
The Jamaican rice and peas is not the same dish as---peas and rice. Semantics aside, it’s a totally different interpretation of the meal. Rice and peas is a spicy, coconut-rich, full-bodied meal that could easily have been named the national dish. In the past, it was cooked only on Sundays, but today, people eat rice and peas whenever they want. The consummate dish can be eaten alone, but is served, mostly with meat or seafood.

What it consist of: dried red peas soaked in garlic water overnight. The peas is pressure cooked the next day, and the coconut milk added with fresh herbs, spices, and one uncut scotch bonnet pepper, simmered with rice. The result is a dry, tender, tasteful, red-hued meal.

Best Places to Get It
This meal is served at almost every local cook shop and restaurant across the island. Although certain cooking techniques vary and secret ingredients added, few restaurants will get the basic formula wrong. Request this dish at any Jamaican restaurant throughout the island.

Ackee and Codfish
The rightful national dish, ackee and codfish is another amazingly rich and flavorful dish that is prepared in every home and is a staple at restaurants. The Jamaican diaspora’s demand for the ackee fruit has made it a high-priced commodity in several parts of the world, particularly in the UK, Canada and U.S.

What it consist of: the yellow fruit of the ackee and salted codfish. The ackee is first cleaned and boiled tender, then removed and sautéed in a saucepan with pickled codfish, fresh tomatoes, herbs and scotch bonnet pepper. There are different ways to vary the pungent flavor of this dish, which includes cooking the ackee in pork fat, garnishing it with crisp bacon or adding pickled red herring. This meal is served with dumplings, yam, green bananas and plantains or with rice and peas.

Best Places to Get It
Served in restaurants and cook shops across the island, ackee often appears on menus as a breakfast and lunch fare. Ackee and codfish is another one of those Jamaican dishes that is enjoyed for its delightfully intense flavors, and when prepared in subtle variations, it makes sampling its fare around town, a foodies dream.

Escovitch Fish
It’s no surprise that Jamaica is a seafood oasis, and Red Snapper fish is the customary bill of fare. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, but chief among them is escovitch fish. Traditionally, this dish was eaten at special gatherings and ceremonies, and its history is strongly influenced by religion. Although the symbolisms remain, it’s partaking is no long restrictive. Escovitch fish is made widely available at many fusion restaurants across the island.

What it consist of: Red Snapper fish or King Fish. Both types are chosen for their firm textures and naturally sweet, nutty flavor. Red Snapper is prepared by frying it crisp and garnishing it with a peppery-vinegary dressing made of colorful julienned bell peppers, hot peppers, onions and carrots. It’s the highlight of Easter holidays and the cuisine tastes even better as a morning left over. Its most popularly enjoyed with fried bammy and festival or with thick slices of fresh white bread.

Best Places to Get It

  • Kingston: Hellshire Beach---Whitebones Seafood and Bar---Gloria’s Rendezvous---Star Apple---Strawberry Hill Hotel---and Patrice’s Restaurant
  • Resort towns: Rick’s Café in Negril, Pier One in MoBay, Kuyaba in Negril, Alton’s Place in Negril, Manor Restaurant, Sandals Grand Riveria in Ocho Rios, Marguerites in MoBay and The Native in MoBay

Jerk Chicken and Jerk Pork
The secret is in the sauce. Jamaican jerk may in fact be the island’s most iconic cuisine. Food networks have added their own twist to the recipe, but the traditional Jamaican jerk seasoning and its preparation go as far back as the 1800s and consists of powerful aromatic herbs, found only on the island. The taste is spicy hot, juicy, fragrant and smoky, all at once, and it is worth its usually long wait.

What it consist of: chicken or pork meats rubbed with jerk sauce. The sauce may consist of scotch bonnet pepper, pimento, thyme, scallion, ginger, lime and other ingredients, which are processed into a coarse paste and massaged into the meat. Meats are grilled for up to 40 minutes, until cooked through and served with roast yam, breadfruit or sweet potatoes, rice and peas and plantain or festival and bammy. Jerk meats are available in restaurants and jerk pits right across the island wide.

Best Places to Get it

  • Kingston: Scotchies Jerk Center---Jo Jo’s Jerk Pit---Island Grill--- and Andy’s Jerk
  • Resort towns: The Pork Pit in Mobay, MVP Smokehouse in MoBay, Boston Bay Jerk in Portland, Scotchies in Ocho Rios and Mobay, Ossie’s Jerk Centre in Negril, One Stop Jerk in Faith’s Pen and Alton’s Place in Negril

Jamaican ‘Curry’ Goat
Curry goat is a spicy-hot, Indian-inspired dish that is representative of the island’s mixed cultural heritage. The fiery flavors of the curried powder mixed with hot peppers and strong herbs on goat meat, is a piquant delight on taste buds. The dish was once prepared only on special occasions, such as wedding feasts, funeral gatherings and Christmas celebrations. Now, the cuisine is enjoyed at local restaurants and cook shops across the island, at any day of the week.

What it consist of: goat meat and potatoes. The meat is chopped in cubes with bones still intact. Herbs and spices are added, including Scotch Bonnet pepper, black pepper, garlic, onions and curry powder. Cooked right, curry goat is more tender and flavorful than any beef stew. The bright yellow and spicy cuisine is served over white rice or rice and peas with fried plantain and shredded vegetables.

Best Places to Get it

  • Kingston: Sonia’s Homestyle Cooking---Tastee Restaurant---Island Grill---Moby Dick Restaurant and Lounge---Hot Pot---Star Apple---Dukunoo Den Café---and Patrice’s Restaurant
  • Resort towns: Sweet Spice in Negril, Giddy House in Negril, Reggae Pot Restaurant in Negril, Kuyaba in Negril, Pelican Grill in Mobay, Slips and Bites in Negril, Faith’s Pen Rest Stop near Ocho Rios

Jamaican Spicy Patties
Tastee Patties are the familiar golden, flakey, hot patties that captured Jamaican hearts 40 years ago. Since then, it has become an exceptional Jamaican staple and a foodie’s must-try. It continues to receive international recognition for its special recipe. Tastee beef patties were traditionally known as the working man’s meal, but quickly became the people’s favorite golden flaked pastry. Today patties are eaten with just about any filling, including chicken, lobster, ackee, callaloo or cheese. The island has several versions of the original brand and all deserve sampling.

What it consist of: Tastee Patties is the original brand of Jamaican beef patties. Its tender filling and light, flaky crust is inimitable. Other good makers of patties are prominent across the island.

Best Places to Get it

  • Kingston: Tastee Patties---Sugar and Spice Bakery---Juici-Beef Patties---and Devon House Bakery
  • Resort towns: Tastee Patties in Mobay, Sugar and Spice Bakery in Ocho Rios, Juici-Beef Patties in Ocho Rios, Stanley Patties in MoBay, and Niah’s Patties in Negril
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