Jamaican food: how to cook like a local
This Caribbean island has married diverse foods from across the globe to forge its own culinary identity
Want to learn about Jamaican food? Looking for Jamaican recipes? Read Craig and Shaun McAnuff's guide, then check out our guide to Cuban-American cuisine.
Craig and Shaun McAnuff are brothers from south London who share recipe ideas @originalflava_. They were taught to cook traditional Caribbean recipes by their beloved nan, who grew up in Jamaica. Their cookbook, Original Flava: Caribbean Recipes From Home, is out now (£20, Bloomsbury).
Eating out on this Caribbean island means experiencing a sense of togetherness, fun and flavour, and savouring the generous slice of history that comes with so many of the island’s dishes. Take the Jamaican patty, for instance – a culinary mash-up of the Cornish pasty, Indian curry spices and indigenous fiery scotch bonnet peppers. Or the island’s most famous export, its beloved jerk chicken, goat and pork, thought to be a mix of indigenous Taíno cooking methods (barbecuing meat slowly over the wood of the island’s allspice trees) and spicing (hot peppers, allspice berries, thyme and ginger) bestowed by African slaves.
Ackee, originally from West Africa, forms the national dish when boiled and sautéed along with saltfish, onions, scotch bonnet peppers and tomatoes. Breadfruit, a savoury fruit brought to the Caribbean from the South Pacific by Captain Bligh, is used in lots of side dishes, as is plantain, the starchy cousin of the banana, which was introduced to the region from Southeast Asia by Spanish explorers. The island is also known for its high-quality ginger, another Southeast Asian adoption. And for its Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, Arabica Typica imported from Martinique in the 1700s.
Jamaican cooking tends to be fresh and simple. In addition to the bountiful seas that surround it, the island’s tropical climate lends itself to growing a range of produce and many people grow much of what they eat in small kitchen gardens and abide by a policy of thrift – Saturday soup is an institution, usually made in the morning then shared with anyone who might visit.
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For a food culture that’s primarily known for its grilled and stewed meat dishes, there is one exception to the rule: the Rastafari movement began in Jamaica in the 1930s and its followers embrace ital (natural, often organic and vegetarian) foods.
Jamaican recipe: traditional rum punch
What to eat in Jamaica
The Jamaican beef patty is an institution and not to be missed. Made with a crunchy, flaky pastry that contains turmeric to give it Caribbean kick and colour, it’s filled with a rich, spicy minced beef filling. It’s often eaten stuffed inside soft coco bread as a hefty sandwich.
The GOAT (aka the ‘Greatest Of All Tastes’ for many Caribbean food lovers) is one of the most iconic Caribbean dishes, truly soul-satisfying. Some people like it with rice and peas but others believe it should only be served with white rice. Try olive's version of a goat curry.
Roast seafood mix
Conch, a local delicacy, similar to crab or lobster, is a local shellfish. Roasted, grilled or boiled, then stewed or baked in foil with a mixture of vegetables, it’s really tasty. If you want to recreate it in the UK, try using scallops.
Make sure you use ripe plantains for these American-style pancakes – the riper the plantain the sweeter the pancake will be. All sorts of toppings are possible but it’s hard to beat sticky maple syrup and fried plantain.
Ackee and saltfish
Jamaica’s national dish, it’s usually eaten in the morning but is delicious at any time of day. Ackee – which has a texture similar to scrambled eggs – is available in UK shops in tins but in Jamaica it’s picked fresh from the trees when ripe (if it’s not ripe it can be poisonous).
Find recipes for the above dishes in Shaun and Craig's cookbook, Original Flava: Caribbean Recipes From Home, out now (£20, Bloomsbury). Photographs by Matt Russell.