When you think about Jamaica, tropical weather, pristine nature, Rastafarians and reggae music probably come to mind. Jamaica, however, is also known for its unique culinary traditions and delicious foods. Guests at Camp Cabarita Eco Resort and Lodge rave about the farm to table traditional Jamaican meals included with their vacations. Eco travelers particularly enjoy touring our vegetable gardens and touring some of our neighbors’ farms as well. Camp Cabarita also offers day tours to popular attractions and even includes a trip to Negril’s seven-mile beach. Whether or not you stay at Camp Cabarita Eco Resort, it makes sense to learn about the best and most common roadside foods. Some of the best Jamaican foods are available on the street from roadside vendors. Learning about the best street foods in Jamaica in advance will both let you know what to look out for and give you the confidence to make you a bit more adventurous when trying local food.
Jerk is a seasoning and style of cooking native to Jamaica and is known worldwide. Meat is wet marinated or dry-rubbed with a Jamaican jerk spice. The jerk spice is made from allspice, ginger, onions and Scotch bonnet peppers (a habanero chili pepper). Jerk can be very spicy, depending on your palate and how much scotch bonnet pepper is included in the preparation. We recently wrote “Jamaican Jerk: The best article on the internet on Jerk,” which is a great way to learn about this iconic dish and quite a bit about Jamaican history.
Coconut or Jelly
Coconuts are available year round in every part of Jamaica. “Coconut water” is the liquid that fills the hollow cavity in the middle of each coconut. Coconut water is easily absorbed by the body and full of electrolytes, which is part of the reason it has become a popular sport performance drink and overall hydrating health beverage. Coconut water is isotonically balanced (or about the same viscosity as blood), which is why it absorbs so easily and quickly. The traditional Jamaican way is to drink it directly out of the coconut, but it’s also often served with a straw. When the water is gone, ask the “jelly man” to chop it in half so you can enjoy the fleshy white meat, which a rich source of healthy fats.
Jamaican patties are savory pastries with vegetable or meat/vegetable filling. Patties are tinted a golden yellow color, which comes from the combination of egg yolk and turmeric used in the dough. Varieties include beef/chicken/vegetable, which is mixed with onions, garlic and spices. Patties are essentially a Jamaican interpretation of meat or pot pies popular in Western countries. Patties are sold under the brand name “Juicy” across the island and the company’s red sign adorns many short order kitchens. Patties are deep fried in vegetable oil so they are not exactly health food, but they are a tasty, filling and inexpensive meal on the go.
The breadfruit originated in the South Pacific. It was introduced to Jamaica from Tahiti by Captain Bligh. Breadfruit is a highly productive tree crop that produces large, starchy, bread-like fruit with a potato-like flavor. The name breadfruit comes from the bread-like texture and taste of this unique fruit when it is cooked. Breadfruit is prepared dozens of ways, but simply roasted over hardwood coals is one of the best. If you are served breadfruit at a restaurant, try drizzling it with Pick-a-Pepper sauce, which is a popular tamarind-based “A1-esque” Jamaican condiment.
Pepper shrimp can be found all over Jamaica, particularly near rivers, such as the mountains that surround Camp Cabarita near the border of Hanover and Westmoreland. St. Elizabeth is another area that has many shrimp during season. You will find Pepper Shrimp packed in clear bags, sold on the roadsides by local women yelling ‘swims, swims!’ This seasonal treat is actually a species of freshwater crayfish (col. shrimps) which is steamed and served whole in a spicy sauce made from local scotch bonnet peppers, vinegar and spices.
Peanut Stew is a traditional African dish, re-inspired in Jamaica with local ingredients. In Jamaica, Peanut Stew is usually vegan. Typical ingredients consist of yam, Irish potatoes and corn cob segments which are stewed with tomatoes, turmeric, garlic and other spices. Consistency varies, and sometimes it is more soup than a stew. Peanut Stew is usually seasoned mildly.
This is in fact a fish soup or fish boil. Common ingredients include dumpling potato, yam and corn. Fish tea is deliciously thick in texture and quite filling. The fish included is a seasonal “catch of the day.” Fish Tea is a classic Jamaican fast food cooked in large pots on open hardwood fires at roadside stands and restaurant throughout the island.
Goat meat is very popular in Jamaica. Goat is a sweet, rich meat that tastes similar to lamb. Goats roam Jamaican countrysides foraging on a wide variety of grasses, shrubs and leaves. Talk about free-range meat! Lamb is a popular meal for Jamaicans during birthday times, and Christmas curried goat is goat marinated overnight with curry paste and then cooked in a pot. It is usually served with rice./box]
Fried chicken is available in small cook shops across Jamaica. Fried chicken with rice and bean (col. peas). Jamaican slaw or finely shredded cabbage and carrots is a common garnish. If you like hot, spicy food your in luck. Chances are Scotch Bonnet Pepper and onion slices soaking in vinegar are available. Vinegar based red pepper sauces are also popular.
Drops are a traditional Jamaican sweet treat. Drops are clusters of coarsely cut dry coconut meat, ginger, sugar and honey that are gently baked until tender but dry. Jamaican ginger is prized internationally and grows wild in the hill and mountainside around Camp Cabarita Eco Resort. Both ginger and coconuts are natural remedies that aid digestion, so these drops are a great dessert choice. Look for drops in small shops and local grocery stores.
Many fruits local to Jamaica are also known throughout the world; banana, pineapple, papaya (or paw-paw), guava and melons are all grown locally. Many of these fruits are available all year round, but you will probably find they taste sweeter in the summer months. Various types of mango are popular and taste very different from the ones sent overseas. Mangoes are available all year round in the resorts but you need to travel in summer to catch them in season.
The otaheite or mountain apple, which was brought from Tahiti by Captain Bligh, the naseberry, which has brown skin and flesh with seeds and is renowned for its extremely sweet taste. Another popular fruit is the star fruit, which gets its name from the star pattern on its flesh. It is a somewhat starchy fruit, usually eaten with a spoon.