Michael Wang

Jamaican cuisine includes a mixture of cooking techniques, flavours, spices and influences from the indigenous people on the island of Jamaica, and the Spanish, British, Africans, Indian and Chinese who have inhabited the island. It is also influenced by the crops introduced into the island from tropical Southeast Asia.

Main Features

Jamaican cuisine includes various dishes from the different cultures brought to the island with the arrival of people from elsewhere. Other dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. In addition to ingredients that are native to Jamaica, many foods have been introduced and are now grown locally. A wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits and meats are available.

Some Jamaican cuisine dishes are variations on the cuisines and cooking styles brought to the island from elsewhere. These are often modified to incorporate local produce. Others are novel and have developed locally. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod) – the national dish of Jamaica – fried plantain, "jerk", steamed cabbage and "rice and peas" (pigeon peas or kidney beans). Jamaican cuisine has been adapted by African, Indian, British, French, Spanish, Chinese influences. Jamaican patties and various pastries and breads are also popular as well as fruit beverages and Jamaican rum.

History

The Spanish, the first European arrivals to the island contributed dishes such as the vinegary concoction escovitched fish (Spanish escabeche) contributed by Spanish Jews. Later, Cantonese/Hakka influences developed the Jamaican patty, an empanada styled turnover filled with spiced meat. African cuisine developed on the island as a result of waves of slavery introduced by the European powers. More Chinese and East Indian influences can also be found in Jamaican cuisine, as a result of indentured laborers who replaced slaves after emancipation brought their own culinary talents (especially curry, which Jamaican chefs sometimes use to season goat meat for special occasions).

African, Indian, American, Chinese and British cuisines are not new to the island. Through many years of British colonialism, the cuisine developed many habits of cooking particular to a trading colony.

The Jamaican cuisine is quite diverse and mention must be made of the Rastafarian influence. Rastafarians have a vegetarian approach to preparing food, cooking, and eating, and have introduced a host of unique vegetarian dishes to the Jamaican cuisine. They do not eat pork, and the strict ones do not eat meat, including poultry and fish. There are even some who believe in cooking with little or no salt and cooking in an 'Ital' way.

Popular Dishes

Ackee and saltfish

Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. To prepare the dish, salt cod (salt fish should be soaked overnight to eliminate most of the salt) is sautéed with boiled ackee (The ackee fruit was imported to The Caribbean from Ghana before 1725), onions, Scotch Bonnet peppers (optional), tomatoes, and spices, such as black pepper and pimiento. It can be garnished with bacon and tomatoes, and is usually served as breakfast or dinner alongside breadfruit, hard dough bread, dumplings, fried plantain, or boiled green bananas.

Ackee and saltfish can also be eaten with rice and peas or plain white rice. When seasonings (onion, escallion, thyme, garlic) and saltfish are combined with plain rice it is often called seasoned rice which is a one pot meal that is usually eaten on Fridays as an inexpensive meal for dinner.

Brown stew chicken

Brown stew chicken, also referred to as stew chicken, is a dish typically eaten for dinner throughout the English speaking Caribbean islands. The dish is popular in Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and in Caribbean communities throughout the world. The dish is called brown because of the distinct dark color of the dish. The color is achieved by browning the chicken in brown sugar, which creates a rich gravy to which main vegetable components like onions, garlic and carrots are added.

Curry goat

Curry goat is a curry dish originating in South Asia and has become very popular in Indo-Caribbean cuisine. This dish has spread throughout the English speaking Caribbean and also the Caribbean diaspora in North America and Great Britain.

Curry goat is a popular party dish in Jamaica, and at a 'big dance' a local expert or 'specialist' is often brought in to cook it. It is considerably more mild than the equivalent dishes from the Indian subcontinent and is flavored with a spice mix that is typical of Indo-Jamaican cooking and Scotch Bonnet Peppers; it is almost always served with rice and, in restaurants in North America and Great Britain, other typically Caribbean side dishes such as fried plantain may be served as an accompaniment.