Food is an important aspect of a person’s culture. Many of us are taught traditions in the kitchen through the hands of our no-nonsense matriarchs. Or others have memories of bonding with cousins and great uncles over delicious and warming holiday dinners. Eating is often a way to feel instantly connected to our culture and our families.
I’m Jamaican and many of my greatest family memories include food. I am lucky to live in New York where Jamaican food is extremely common so, even if I don’t feel like cooking myself, I can still run to the store to grab my favorite meal.
Jamaican food is an underrated delicacy and here are just a few must-have Jamaican dishes:
1. Ackee and saltfish
I’ve heard many non-Jamaican people liken ackee to scrambled eggs. However, though they are both generally served for breakfast, the tastes are completely different. Ackee is more mild and takes on the taste of the thyme, peppers, and onions it is simmered with.
2. Fry dumpling
A kneaded ball of flour, that is deep-fried until crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, is just the best. These pillow-like dough-balls are best and tastiest alongside a huge plate of ackee and saltfish. Jamaicans tend eat this meal for a breakfast that will keep them sated through most of the day.
Similar to the fry dumpling, festival is also deep-fried. However, instead of a just flour-based dough, festival has more of a cornmeal batter and is slightly sweeter. It’s traditionally served with fried fish, and according to legend, it got it’s name because it’s fun to eat.
4. Jerk Chicken
This is the “gateway Jamaican food.” Most people have either had or seen some variation of this on a American menu. But the most authentic jerk chicken is both spicy, smoky, and cooked in a barrel grill or over an open fire.
5. Escovitch fish
A succulent fried fish (almost always of the porgie or red snapper variety) that is then smothered with crisp and vinegar-tangy onions, peppers, and carrots. It is usually served with a hefty mountain of just-cooked festival.
These delicate green are chopped and then quickly sautéed with onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s best served alongside boiled dumpling and boiled green bananas. It’s incredibly easy to eat your greens when they are this tasty.
This dish has strong Indo-Carbbean roots and can be found all across the Caribbean, primarily in countries like Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. It is light and flaky flatbread that is usually filled and wrapped around a spicy and fragrant curry.
8. Brown stew chicken
This dish consists of flash-fried and then slowly-simmered chicken that is traditionally served with rice and peas. Due to the addition of a few tablespoons of brown sugar, the dish manages to be a bit sweet and savory at the same time.
An extremely decadent dish that is stewed for hours until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Oxtail, the culinary term for the tail of a cow, is pretty pricey so if a Jamaican cooks this for you, you should truly feel honored. Rice, peas, and steamed cabbage are frequent accompaniments.
10. Stamp and Go
This dish of deep-fried saltfish fritters are seasoned with onion, scallions, and thin slivers of spicy Scotch bonnet peppers. These little morsels are perfect as an appetizer or to eat alongside an icy glass of rum and Ting.
Plan-tin (the Jamaican way to pronounce it) is vaguely similar to a banana but so much better. There are few things in life as delicious as a perfectly ripe and perfectly fried plantain. It can and should be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
12. Stew Peas
This dish includes stewed kidney beans that can either be made the ital way (vegan) or with salted pigs’ tails and beef for the meat eaters. Coconut milk and boiled dumplings are then added to thicken the stew. It then becomes a warming and hearty meal that is usually served over white rice.
13. Curry Goat
A dish that’s slowly stewed into a spicy, turmeric-ladden curry sauce. It’s usually served over a bed of steamed white rice. First time eaters might be a little nervous for fear of a gaminess to the meat, however the slow-cook process results in nothing but a well-seasoned flavor.
14. Beef Patty
Just behind jerk chicken, this might be the second popular Jamaican food. It’s characterized by a golden and flaky crust and spicy ground beef in the middle. Warm coco bread and a bottle of kola champagne are the perfect accompaniments.
Armed with this list of yummy food, I suggest you get out there and sprint to your closest Jamaican restaurant. While the woman behind the counter might not have the sunniest disposition or even thank you for your patronage, I can bet that the food will be incredible. And isn’t that the most important thing anyway? Happy eating!