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21 Classic Jamaican Dishes You've Probably Never Had Before

Jerk *is* life, but there are more spices to love.

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Hey folks! I'm Krysten, from BuzzFeed Food. I'm American-born but Jamaican-raised with a palate primed for unruly spice levels thanks to my Caribbean roots. (Shoutout to the Scotch bonnet peppers!🌶️ )

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I grew up eating Jamaican food on the regular. Here's a plate of some Jamaican staples (fried plantain, roasted breadfruit, and escovitch fish) my grandma recently whipped up after I returned from a recent trip to Jamaica with the goods. #casual

When I travel to Jamaica, I try to take advantage of the crazy-vast and inspiring cuisine the island has to offer.

Mostly because I don't have the luxury of eating my grandmother's home-cooked food every day. 😭

Everyone may know (and love) jerk chicken, but Jamaican cuisine has way more to offer than jerk seasoning. Here are some of my favorite dishes found in Jamaica (and other parts of the Caribbean too!). Ready for some food porn? 🔥

1. Ackee and Saltfish

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What is it: The official national dish of Jamaica (and my heart) is made up of ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, and saltfish, a dried and salted version of cod often used in Jamaican and Caribbean cuisines.

What to eat it with: Breadfruit, boiled green bananas, hard dough bread, fried plantains, dumplings, or rice and peas.

Fun facts: Unripe ackee is poisonous when consumed, and saltfish was the original result of preserving codfish before today's modern method of refrigeration.

Find recipe here.

2. Sorrel

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What is it: A red drink brewed from hibiscus. It's available year-round but is the beverage of choice at Christmastime on the island. You can make it ~boozy~ by adding rum, which a) helps preserve it, and b) keeps the holiday spirit going.

Drink with: Jerk chicken, jerk pork, curry chicken, curry goat — listen to thy taste buds!

Fun fact: To some, sorrel is regarded as a diuretic.

Find recipe here.

3. Festival

africanbites.com / Via africanbites.com

What is it: Another popular fried dough option in Jamaica, festival differs from johnnycakes (see below) in that they're sweeter, shaped like an oval, and made with cornmeal.

What to eat with: Fried fish, escovitch fish.

Fun fact: Legend says these cornbread fritters got their name because they are fun to eat — like a ~festival~ or party in your mouth.

Find recipe here.

4. Escovitch Fish

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What is it: One of Jamaica's oldest dishes, "escovitch" refers to the method of marinating fish in a spicy sauce. The name comes from the Spanish word "escabeche," which means "marinated." The fish is lightly fried, drained, and then soaked in a marinade of vinegar boiled with onions, choco (a native vegetable), carrots, hot peppers, and pimento.

What to eat with: Bammy (see below), if you're trying to flex your *true* foodie status.

Fun fact: It was a go-to meal for holidays observed by Jews and Christians alike when no cooking was done.

Find recipe here.

5. Bammy

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What is it: A flat, round bread made of cassava flour that is said to be one of the oldest prepared foods in Jamaica.

What to eat with: Bammy and fried fish is a popular combination; it's usually served as a starchy side complement.

Fun fact: It's said to be the bread that Christopher Columbus ate with his crew at their first meeting with the Arawak indians, who were the first inhabitants of Jamaica.

Find the recipe here.

6. Sweet Potato Pone

What is it: Not to be confused with Jamaican sweet potato pudding, pone is a sort-of-kinda pudding made with sweet potato, cassava, or cornmeal and mixed with sugar, spices, and coconut. Sometimes coconut milk is poured over before baking to achieve a custard-like finish.

Fun fact: The word "pone" is Native American in origin. Other variations of the word include "cornpone" or "ponebread."

Find recipe here.

7. Chicken Foot Soup

jehancancook / Via jehancancook.com

What is it: A traditional Jamaican soup made with chicken feet, carrots, yam, boiled dumplings, and seasoned with Jamaican spices like Scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, and garlic.

Fun fact: Chicken feet are considered delicacies in Chinese cuisine and in a handful of other Asian cuisines.

Find recipe here.

8. Cornmeal Porridge

africanbites.com / Via africanbites.com

What is it: A breakfast porridge made of cornmeal and flavored with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and milk or coconut milk.

Fun fact: Cornmeal porridge is often fed to infants in many Caribbean and African cultures as a nutritional supplement.


Find recipe here
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9. Rice and Peas

What is it: One of Jamaica's most popular dishes made from rice cooked with beans with coconut milk and seasonings stirred into the mix. Depending on preference, either "gungo" peas (pigeon peas) or "red peas'"(kidney beans) can be used.

What to eat with: Anything you'd eat with rice, really. ✌️

Also found: Throughout many other regions in the Caribbean.

Fun fact: It's nicknamed "Jamaican Coat of Arms" because of its role as a mainstay dish in Jamaican cuisine.


Find recipe here
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11. Oxtail Stew

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What is it: A hearty and flavorful stew of oxtail, lima beans, allspice, thyme, and garlic. You know you have a good oxtail stew in front of you when it takes very little prodding with a fork for the meal to fall off the bone. Also, oxtail gravy = major key. 🔑

What to eat with: Rice and peas, white rice.

Fun fact: Oxtail was originally deemed inedible and cast aside as "fifth-quarter" meat.

Find recipe here.

12. Irish Moss Drink

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What is it: A drink made of Irish moss — a red seaweed and popular superfood in Jamaica known for its healing properties. The seaweed is washed, dried, and bleached for an extended period of time before it is boiled and strained. The remaining liquid is then sweetened and seasoned with ingredients like rum, nutmeg, cinnamon, and condensed or coconut milk.

Fun fact: Irish moss is considered to be a miracle ingredient in the cosmetics industry, nicknamed "wonder seaweed" for its long list of topical benefits.

Find recipe here.

13. Fried Dumplings

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What is it: A fried ball of dough, usually reserved for breakfast. Most fried dumplings are made of flour but some also include other starches such as cornmeal, cassava flour, or grated plantains.

What to eat with: Ackee and saltfish, callaloo.

Fun fact: It's also known as "journey cake" because of its popularity among travelers.

Find recipe here.

14. Callaloo

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What is it: A popular dish made widely throughout the Caribbean that features the main dark and leafy vegetable known as callaloo in Jamaica (or water spinach in other nations). The preparation of this dish à la Jamaica includes steaming the callaloo leaf and then cooking with saltfish or mackerel, salt, onions, and scallions.

What to eat with: Plantain, breadfruit, bammy, fried or boiled dumplings.

Fun fact: The callaloo leaf belongs to the amaranth family.

Find recipe here.

15. Red Stew Peas

africanbites / Via africanbites.com

What is it: The ultimate comfort dish, this stew is made using kidney beans and meat (usually pigtail) simmered in a coconut milk broth of spices and spinners (boiled, oval-like dumplings).

What to eat with: White rice.

Fun fact: There are no actual peas in this stew. Kidney beans are referred to as red peas in Jamaica — hence the name of the dish.

Find recipe here.

16. Grater Cake

Varun Baker / Via varunbaker.com

What is it: A dessert made of grated coconut and sugar and sometimes flavored with ginger. Coconut and sugar are boiled and spread onto a baking sheet to harden. Once hardened, it's cut into triangles or squares

Fun fact: Before the ~invention~ of white sugar, grater cake was made with what was called "wet sugar" back in the day — also known as raw or unrefined sugar.

Find recipe here.

17. Saltfish Fritters

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What is it: A Jamaican staple at breakfast, these fritters are made by coating soaked and dried saltfish in flour, adding in onion, garlic, and peppers, and then frying to perfection.

What to eat with: Scotch bonnet or sweet chili pepper dipping sauce

Fun fact: The sweet version of these fish cakes are known as 'bakes' in Barbados.

Find recipe here.

18. Peanut Punch

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What is it: Sometimes made with Guinness, sometimes made with oats, the core ingredients of this drink are peanuts, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and your choice of milk.

Fun fact: The myth behind this drink is that it has ~aphrodisiac~ powers.

Find recipe here.

19. Ital Stew

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What is it: This vegan- and vegetarian-friendly stew (also known as vege-stew) is aligned with the well-known Rastafarian movement. Ital food can be summarized as unprocessed, vegetarian, and from the earth. Normally made without the addition of salt, ital stew consists of a handful of vegetables (pumpkins, cassava, breadfruit carrots, turnips, sweet potato, yams, onions) boiled in vegetable broth and then flavored with coconut milk and a variety of herbs and spices.

Fun fact: "Ital" is a variation of the world "vital" and speaks to the movement's roots in protecting the life force on the planet, in part through spirituality and conscious eating.

Find recipe here.

20. Christmas Cake

jamaicans.com / Via jamaicans.com

What is it: Also known as rum cake or black cake, this traditional cake is super strong and sweet thanks to the fruits (ground raisins, currants, dates, and prunes) soaked in rum and port wine for several months in advance before baking. If you use this same exact recipe but swap the baking for steaming, you'll end up with Christmas pudding – which can be served cold with either a hot brandy sauce or rum butter.

Eat with: Friends and family at Christmastime — or whenever you find yourself in the mood. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Fun fact: Frost this cake with a layer of marzipan frosting spiked with rum, and you have yourself a traditional Jamaican wedding cake.

Find recipe here.

21. Jerk Pork

Chris De La Rosa / Via caribbeanpot.com

What is it: Pork dressed in only the finest jerk seasoning. The real gem of this is how the meat is prepared. There are a handful of methods for preparing jerk pork, but modern-day preparation trades in old-school hunting for cooking the meat on a wooden grill or in a covered pit.

Eat with: Festival, rice and beans, French fries (don't knock until you've tried it!).

Fun fact: Famous American novelist Zora Neal Hurston went on a wild pig hunt with the Maroons once and later concluded, "It is hard to imagine anything better than pork the way the Maroons jerk it."

Find recipe here.

Have you tried any of these? Let us know what your favorite Jamaican dish is in the comments!

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