Jamaican Food… Gotta Taste to Believe

By Sabrina Caserta – Staff Writer

Every week, we will feature some aspect of Jamaican culture and history. This week, American Zachary Hintz, talks about his delightful encounter with Jamaican food.

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Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaica's national dish, a favourite among Jamaicans.

Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish, a favourite among Jamaicans.

I am delighted by Jamaican cuisine. It is slowly but surely becoming the next best cuisine. National Geographic ranked Jamaican dish ‘ackee and saltfish’ as only the second best dish in the world. So I had to find out for myself. I’ve never been to Jamaica but my best friend is Jamaican and I’ve had the pleasure of consuming Jamaican food. And I will tell you all about it.

Jamaican food is very rich in both flavor and history, and is also very important to the culture in Jamaica. It is a result of a mixture of cooking techniques, flavors, and spices, influenced by the indigenous people of Jamaica as well as the Spanish, British, African, Indian, American, and Chinese. To properly discuss Jamaican food, I will break it down into the three categories of food: beverages, entrees, and desserts: as well as tell you about the importance of food in the Jamaican culture.

Red Stripe

Popular Jamaican lager Beer called ‘Red Stripe’.

Jamaican beverages are very unique. Typical beverages include bush tea, a tea made with mint, brown sugar, and water, carrot juice, cucumber juice, ginger beer, and Guinness punch, sorrel drink, which is made with cinnamon sticks, sugar water, and sorrel. Other drinks consist of limeade, mango juice, peanut punch, sky juice, suck-suck, which is a refreshing cooler drink. More drinks involve ting soda, and pineapple soda. A popular type of milkshake in Jamaica is known as Irish moss. Irish moss is made with seaweed found off the coast of Ireland, honey, vanilla, and other natural ingredients. I, myself, found this interesting because it definitely does not sound like the typical ingredients a milkshake consists of milk and ice cream. Red Stripe beer is also a product of Jamaica, famous for its unique shaped can. Jamaican rum beverages, typically mixed with fruit, or fruit juice are also very popular.

Jamaican entrees consist of a wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits, and meats. The Rastafarian movement also influenced many popular vegetarian dishes. This is known as Ital cooking. The word ital is derived from the word vital, which reflects the Rastafarian practice of deriving words by replacing significant syllables with the character “I.” Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, fried plantains, which are basically like a fried bananas, jerk dishes that can range from pork to fish based, rice and peas, a vinegary concoction called escovitched fish, and Jamaican beef patties, or a turnover filled with spiced meat. The national dish of Jamaica is Ackee and Saltfish, which is a codfish dish, with a yellow fruit called ackee.

World renowned chef Anthony Bourdain eating Jamaican food during a recent feature on Jamaica.

World renowned chef Anthony Bourdain eating Jamaican food during a recent feature on Jamaica.

Popular desserts include mango and sop-sop ice-cream, made with coconut milk Tropical fruits also make typical desserts. Irish moss is also another dessert. Jamaican fried dough is another favorite, as well as ginger cake. Plantain tarts are also commonly eaten in Jamaica. Jamaican upside-down cake is another example of a popular dessert.

Jamaican food not only satisfies the taste buds of the Jamaican people, but it also plays a part in daily life, with lunch historically being the main meal of the day. This is followed by a light meal of bread or bulla. Rice is a ubiquitous ceremonial food. Along with “ground provisions” such as sweet potato, yam, and green plantains, it is used in African and East Indian ceremonies. It also is served with curried goat meat as the main food at parties, dances, weddings, and funerals. Sacrificially slaughtered animals and birds are eaten in a ritual context.

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Jamaican Jerk

Several African-religious sects’ use goats for sacrifice, and in Kumina, an Afro-religious practice, goat blood is mixed with rum and drunk. A “country” morning ritual, called “drinking tea,” (aka having Breakfast) includes boiled bananas or roasted breadfruit, sautéed callaloo with “saal fish” (salted cod), and “bush” or “chaklit” (chocolate) tea. Afro-Jamaicans eat plantains, or fried dumplings and a hot drink early in the evening. A more rigid work schedule has forced changes, and now the main meal is taken in the evening. This meal may consist of stewed or roasted beef, boiled yam or plantains, rice and peas, or rice with escovitched fish.

As delicious and culturally important as Jamaican food is, I will stop here. I hope you all learned a little more about Jamaican food, and that maybe some of you will be inspired to try a Jamaican dish.

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