10 of the Best Jamaican Food Dishes You Need To Try


Jamaica is such a vibrant country and its food certainly reflects that. From delicious tropical fruits to succulent seafood and spicy meat dishes, there’s a whole array of Jamaican cuisine to enjoy. Blending African, Spanish and Asian influences, it has developed its own unique style over the years. We’ve picked 10 of the top Jamaican food dishes that you should try, that will give you a true flavour of this beautiful island.

Ackee and Saltfish

The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish. Although it looks a bit like scrambled eggs, ackee is actually a fruit. It wasn’t originally indigenous to Jamaica but now grows there abundantly. The fruit has to ripen on the tree before picking as the unripe fruit contains a toxin. Once ripe, ackee has a number of health benefits due to the high number of nutrients it contains. To make ackee and saltifsh, fry salt cod, scotch bonnet pepper, tomatoes, onion, garlic and scallion with boiled ackee. As Scotch bonnet pepper is over 40 times hotter than a jalapeno, you can always omit it or chop it very finely. We tried ackee and saltfish for breakfast at Kanopi House in Port Antonio, but it can be eaten at any time of day. It’s served here with fried dumplings, another popular Jamaican dish. Ackee is also used to make a sweet wine and as a herbal treatment for many ailments.

Ackee - the national dish of Jamaica with salt fish and dumplings
Jamaica Jerk

Whilst Jamaican jerk chicken is famous all over the world, you can also try Jamaica jerk pork, sausage and even rabbit. The term jerk refers to the method of seasoning and cooking and the technique dates back to the 1600s. At that period, runaway slaves who were known as Maroons escaped to the mountainous regions of Jamaica. There, they encountered the Taino and Arawak tribes who had developed specific ways of preserving meat by hanging it over a low fire. It is thought that the covered pit used to cook jerk was a way of hiding any smoke from cooking, which might lead to their discovery and recapture. The village of Boston in Jamaica is considered to be the birthplace of jerk cooking, and if you visit today you can still try authentic jerk cooked on open pits. The pimento wood logs give the jerk meat its unique flavour. As for the spiciness, it’s down to the Scotch bonnet pepper used in the marinade. We loved it but we drank a lot of water to combat the fieriness! We also made a milder version by omitting the Scotch bonnet pepper, on a culinary tour of The Great House in Yaaman Adventure Park, thanks to our friendly and knowledgeable instructor.

A culinary tour of The Great House at Prospect Plantation in Yaaman Adventure Park in Jamaica
See more about our tour here:

Jerk chicken is often served with rice and peas, like the delicious version we sampled at GoldenEye, the iconic resort in Oracabessa Bay. I was pleased to see that the peas are actually red kidney beans, as I’m not a huge fan of peas themselves.

Jamaica jerk chicken - nice and spicy!
Jamaican Patties

No visit to Jamaica would be complete without sampling traditional Jamaican patties. It’s thought that they derive from Cornish pasties, introduced to the Caribbean by colonialists from Britain. These developed into Jamaican patties, filled with ground beef, chicken, shrimp or cheese. Vegetarians should be aware that some of the cheese patties actually have beef mixed in with them. Many people eat them with cocoa bread in a sandwich as a real carb fest! A few of the most popular patty stores are Juici Patties, Mothers and Tastee.

Delicious Jamaica patties filled with chicken, meat and cheese

Source: Ritcharnd Moskow, Wikimedia Commons

Run Down

One of our favourite Jamaican recipes, run down is made from fish such as mackerel, tomato, onion, garlic, scallion, Scotch bonnet pepper and coconut milk. It takes its unusual name from the fact that its cooked until it “runs down” or falls apart. It is eaten at all times of the day, and often served with baked breadfruit, plantains, boiled bananas or dumplings. We savoured this run down dish at Moon Palace, a luxury resort in Ocho Rios.

Run down dish - one of Jamaica's most tasty food specialities
Fried Fish

We had some of the best food in Jamaica at Miss T’s Kitchen,  an authentic Jamaican restaurant in Ocho Rios. They do some great dishes including these fish bites and escovitch, which is topped with Scotch bonnet peppers, onions and pickled carrots.

Fried fish fillet in Jamaica
Oxtail

Another Jamaican food that we tried at Miss T’s is oxtail stew, with butter beans, carrots and spinners, aka boiled dumplings. The meat is braised for several hours, making it extremely tender.

Jamaican oxtail dish
Callaloo

This popular Jamaican side dish is made with amaranth, also known as callaloo and cooked with onions, scallions and salt. It tastes a little like spinach and contains many nutrients like vitamin A, B and C, calcium and iron. It’s served here with festival, a fried pastry made from cornmeal, flour and brown sugar.

Jamaican callaloo - a tasty vegetable dish
Curried goat

One of the most well known Jamaican dishes is curried goat. When slavery was abolished in Jamaica, many people came from India to work on the plantations and popularized curries on the island. If you’ve tried it elsewhere and found it a bit overpowering, try it in Jamaica as it’s braised for many hours and has a more subtle taste than you’d expect. It’s usually served with rice and peas or boiled green bananas, and used to be reserved for parties or other celebrations but is now more frequently consumed.

Jamaican goat curry served in a traditional pot
Ice Cold Jelly Coconut

You’ve probably tried fresh coconut from the shell as well as coconut milk, but have you ever eaten coconut jelly? It holds a special place in the heart of most Jamaicans and you will see lots of roadside stalls selling “ice cold coconut jelly”. It comes only from green coconuts, not the brown ones and is believed by many to help flush out the digestive system.


Jamaica Rum Cake

You can’t leave Jamaica without tucking into the Caribbean rum cake. Tortuga is one of the best known brands, and their rum cakes are hand glazed with 5 year-old Tortuga Gold rum.

Other popular Jamaican desserts are gizzada, a mix of coconut flakes, brown sugar, flour and spices and plantain tarts. Don’t miss picturesque I Scream store at Errol Flynn Marina in Portland or the historic landmark store at Devon House in Kingston.

Tortuga rum cake from Jamaica
Enjoy these traditional Jamaican dishes with a locally brewed Red Stripe beer, a cup of Blue Mountain coffee or the obligatory rum punch – well it would be rude not to ;-).  It’s best enjoyed on a beach in Jamaica, but if you can’t get there then the Jamaica Garden Terrace in Canary Wharf, London is a good port of call.

A rum punch cocktail at the Jamaica Garden Terrace in Canary Wharf, London, UK
I don’t know about you, but all this talk of food has got us hungry! Which of these Jamaican food dishes would be your favourite? 

10 Best Jamaican Food Dishes You Need to Try in Jamaica - click here for the full article on Jamaican food dishes

  • Wow, all these dishes look and sound amazing! I would definitely love to try the Jamaican Patties!

    http://roadesque.com

    • Suze

      I must say, they were yummy – the pastry is so perfect

  • My favorite Jamaican dishes: the patties and the jerk chicken. This post makes me want to book a trip back to Jamaica ASAP!
    Jessica

    • Suze

      Yes we really liked the jerk chicken too, though the milder versions!

  • These are definitely meals that are out of my comfort zone

    Candice | Beauty Candy Loves

    • Suze

      Some of them were definitely out of mine too, but they tasted pretty good!

  • Travel Textbook

    This is making me reeeeallly want to go to Jamaica! Looks so delicious.

    Lucy x

    • Suze

      I hope you get the chance to visit, Lucy! The food really is great there

  • It all looks so delicious!

    • Suze@luxurycolumnist

      Thankfully we were doing quite a few adventure activities to keep the weight off 😉

  • Lucy Williams

    Interesting read, I didn’t know there were so many Jamaican dishes! I have had jerk chicken & rum cake, but I would like to try more dishes now!

  • Ooh. Sumptuous looking. I gotta be honest with you, girl. I haven’t tried any of these. But I’m most certainly willing to!

  • Jennifer Dombrowski

    I love curried goat! I was skeptical about trying it the first time, because goat can seem odd to eat, but it’s delicious. I also love Jamaican jerk spice. I make a pork roast with it and serve it with a mango chutney. So good!

    • Suze@luxurycolumnist

      Ooh I love the idea of pork with mango chutney, sweet and savoury is a great combination

  • Karla Ramos

    Curried goat— I’m not sure! I’m not that brave but we have a lot of jamaican patties here and I love it.

    • Suze@luxurycolumnist

      I have to say I was a bit apprehensive but as there were lots of dishes I was happy to try a little bit and it was not bad at all!

  • Katherine Nairn

    Those pictures, whoa, so many wonderful looking Jamaican dishes. I haven’t tried any of these, the fish dishes are definately on my list.

    • Suze@luxurycolumnist

      They really cook fish well, and there are so many amazing different types to eat!

  • I’ve always been super curious about Jerk Chicken; I feel as though it’s something I’d really enjoy! If not, there’s always fried fish to enjoy, mmmm!

    Gabrielle | A Glass Of Ice x

    • Suze

      The fried fish was amazing, so fresh and delicious! You have to try jerk chicken but I’d start off with a mild version

  • Oh yummy these all look amazing. I love Jamaican jerk though!

    • Susan Renner-Eggleston

      Isn’t it tasty! Can’t get enough of it

  • Christine Tran

    Suze all of this looks so good!!!! I love Jamaican food but it’s hard to find in San Francisco. I need to get to Jamaica and eat all of this!!

    • Susan Renner-Eggleston

      I hope you get the chance to go to Jamaica and to try the authentic flavours, Christine!

  • I love Jamaican food! There’s a new Cottons restaurant opening in our complex and I can’t wait to try it out!!!

    • Susan Renner-Eggleston

      Ooh that sounds good, thanks for the tip Honey

  • FlyDriveExplore

    The Jamaican patties look good. This was one of the few tastes of Jamaica we could get in our local town when I was a kid, although we did call them Jamaican ‘pasties’.

    • Susan Renner-Eggleston

      Interesting that you called them pasties, as they were inspired by Cornish pasties – so tasty aren’t they!

  • Ellie Adams

    I have heard so much about Ackee and saltfish so I definitely need to try this if I ever head to Jamaica (which I’m considering doing soon so will have to get your tips). Curried goat is also my fave!

    Elle
    xx

    • Susan Renner-Eggleston

      I really enjoyed ackee, it reminded me a lot of scrambled eggs but I think that’s because it looks so similar when cooked!

  • Had no idea that was the history behind jerk seasoning – love authentically made jerk chicken!

    • Susan Renner-Eggleston

      It’s fascinating isn’t it! Love a good jerk chicken too

  • Barb

    These dishes look amazing, especially the rum cake and the coconut jelly. Your post makes me want to fly to Jamaica.

  • Jenna

    Yum! All of this food looks amazing! Making me hungry, lol 🙂 I’d really love to try Callaloo, and I love Jamaican jerk chicken–all of the other dishes look great too though!

  • Yum all of your pictures are making me hungry!! I’ve always loved Jamaican Patties but I haven’t hadn’t on ein years. I’ll definitely need to change that soon!

    http://thecourtneydiaries.com

  • Hayley Rubery

    Omg I shouldn’t have read this post whilst hungry… everything looks/sounds amazing!! The rum cake and fried fish looks delicious!

    Hayley xo
    http://www.frockmeimfamous.com

  • Dean Baker

    What an amazing place to visit! Thanks for the share, love checkin out your blog.
    Dean

  • One of the best things about travelling is to try different flavours around the world! The food looks delicious – makes me want to visit Jamaica!

    Miriam xx

  • I had no idea oxtail was Jamaican also what did goat taste like? I’m not very adventurous when it comes to meat but I am very intrigued!