The mere mention of the words ‘Jamaican food’ can inspire the need to teleport right back to the amazing Jamaican restaurant that stirred your love for the popular Caribbean cuisine in the first place. There’s just something about the seasoning and spices used in this type of Caribbean cooking that can turn even the toughest critic into the most mellow foodie, and this will likely be your experience once you find that Jamaican dish that resonates with your soul… or your palate.
During a visit to Jamaica you’ll find that there are endless options when it comes to finding something delicious to eat, but if you’re unfamiliar with the names of the various dishes, you might be a little lost when you’re offered some of the national favorites. You may also be confused over where to find the best versions of the different dishes, because according to every single person in and out of the food business on the island, their version is the absolute greatest!
Save yourself some of the deliberation by getting more familiar with popular Jamaican food items so you know what’s on your plate in Jamaica, and even before that, what to order so that your money is well spent.
Want to enjoy unlimited breakfast, lunch and dinner while in Jamaica? Have a look at one of Beaches family friendly all-inclusive resorts, or one of Sandals adults-only all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica. Serving world-class gourmet food at upto 16 restaurants per resort, Beaches and Sandals offer more than any other all-inclusive resort on the planet!
In this article on the Beaches Blog:
11 traditional main dishes in Jamaica you’ll want to try
6 traditional Jamaican side dishes
6 tasty Jamaican snacks for in-between
6 delicious Jamaican desserts you’ll have to try
15 Jamaican drinks to enjoy on the beach
Ackee and codfish, or ackee and saltfish as it is more popularly known, is Jamaica’s national dish. It is made with the ackee fruit, which was imported to this region from Ghana in Africa by slaves in this territory. Now the fruit grows in abundance in Jamaica, and has become an island staple served side by side with stewed salted codfish sautéed with vegetables and other herbs and spices. The trick to making this dish is knowing when the ackee fruit is ripe. You’ll know when it’s ripe because that’s when the ackee pod typically bursts open, revealing a yellow fruit inside. The yellow part is the part you eat, and ackee can resemble scrambled eggs when cooked.
Jerk meals are incredibly popular in Jamaica and beyond, but they originated in Jamaica. There is a special method for cooking meats that result in this flavor, and a particular homemade sauce that is used in most instances for the incredible, spicy taste. To make jerk chicken, you’ll need to marinate the chicken with jerk spices, which usually include ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, scotch bonnet pepper and pimento. Ingredients are also sometimes placed onto the meat with the dry rub method. After the meat is given sufficient time to soak in the flavor, it is slow cooked on an open grill, often over hot coals. You can have jerk meals at some of the poshest restaurants in Jamaica, and also on the street side. Don’t be apprehensive if you see jerk chicken being grilled in a metal drum at the roadside – often this is the tastiest variety. Jerk chicken tastes great on its own, but even better with bread or festival on the side.
Jamaican food is the introduction for a lot of people to oxtail, which is literally the tail of cattle. Like with most other stew dishes, the oxtail is first seasoned with herbs and spices, fried, and then slow cooked. This process can take a couple hours, on a low heat, or in a pressure cooker. Served with rice and peas this is one of the heartiest and most delicious meals you will have in Jamaica. You’ll find oxtail being offered at most local Jamaican restaurants, but read the reviews before settling to ensure you get a good introduction.
Also read: 17 amazing things Jamaica is known for.
Curried meats are popular in Jamaica, particularly goat, mutton, and chicken. In Jamaica, the popular South Asian dish is served with a special Caribbean twist; ingredients like garlic, onion, ginger, hot peppers and herbs are tossed in, and then the meat is slow cooked to bring the flavors out. Often potato is added, which can help increase the thickness of the sauce. You’ll find curried meat options at most local restaurants in Jamaica.
The making of the Jamaican Fish Escovitch dish begins with a fried whole fish, usually Red Snapper. It is then topped with pickled vegetables, including carrots, onions, peppers, pimentos and chayote. Jamaican Fish Escovitch is often paired with bammy (see side dishes, further down this article), and inspiration for this dish is said to have been brought to the island with Spanish Jewish settlers hundreds of years ago. Eating this meal, the day after it is prepared is recommended by some, so the flavors have some time to sink in. This is a popular Easter lunch inclusion in Jamaica.
Brown stew chicken is a comfort dish, known and loved in the Caribbean. Jamaica is no exception, and the spices used in the Jamaican version of this dish really take it to the next level. This dish consists of chicken, which is sometimes fried before being stewed, and vegetables, which are slow cooked with spices and a measured amount of water until the meat is tender, and the gravy is delicious, thick, and possibly the best thing you’ve ever tasted in your life.
Run-Down refers to fish stew in Jamaica, and this is another mouthwatering dish you’re not going to be able to get enough of. The stew comes together with garlic, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers, spices and carefully cut pieces of fish. Mackerel is a popular choice for fish stew, though cod is sometimes used. The process of preparation involves slow cooking in coconut milk, and in the end the fish stew is served with dumplings and green bananas that have been boiled down to the perfect consistency. You’ll know the dish is ready when the fish starts falling apart, and the stew is thick and creamy.
If you’re travelling to Jamaica with kids, Pepper Pot Soup is a great way to get them to eat vegetables. It is a traditional Jamaican dish, usually made with ingredients like callaloo, okra, coconut milk (for texture), ground provisions and meat. This soup is very filling, and you can adjust the recipe to suit your preferences if you decide to make it for yourself.
Insider Tip: If you’re traveling with kids to Jamaica, consider staying at a Beaches Resort with a waterpark. In Negril, you can opt for Beaches Negril which is located on the beautiful Seven Mile Beach, or Beaches Ocho Rios which is conveniently located nearby Jamaica’s most popular points of interest (see our article listing the top things to do in Ocho Rios).
You might be a little concerned if offered Fish Tea while in Jamaica, but you should know from now that this is not your typical tea. In fact, it is a spicy fish soup. Sometimes you’ll find the broth versions that are light, or fuller versions which tend to be heartier. Jamaican Doctor Fish is typically used for this dish, and Fish Tea is said to be energizing. This dish includes vegetables and green bananas, and is also considered to be an aphrodisiac.
Jamaicans love soup on Sundays, and the Rastafarian inspired Jamaican corn soup is a local favorite. The ingredient list for this dish can be extensive, and includes onion, garlic, celery, coconut milk, yellow split peas, pumpkin, potatoes, scotch bonnet pepper, ginger, carrots, corn, and more. Needless to say, the soup is very filling and flavorful, and will make you feel right at home in Jamaica.
Jamaica Red Peas Soup has a very distinctive taste, and is usually made with a combination of pig tail, beef, red kidney beans, pumpkin, dasheen, pimento seeds, and other ingredients. It is best served hot, and you can leave out the meat if you prefer, though many Jamaicans will tell you that Red Peas Soup is incomplete without a little pigtail!
Jamaican rice and peas is a lot harder to make than it sounds. Worlds apart from your grandmother’s rice and peas (which might have been great), this dish is one of those that brings Jamaican dishes together, and the method of preparation can make or break the result. In Jamaica, peas actually refer to beans, red kidney beans in particular. Coconut milk and other spices add to the flavor of Jamaican rice and peas, which is often paired with jerk chicken.
It’ll be a festival in your mouth with this treat that usually comes alongside jerk chicken meals or fried fish, and other dishes. It is made with cornmeal, sugar, flour, spices, milk or water. The combined ingredients are fried until golden brown, and the result can be compared to that of floats sold in other Caribbean countries, just in a cylindrical shape.
Fried plantain is addictive (in the best way!), and so are plantain chips which can be found at most local supermarkets in Jamaica. During your holiday on the island, you’ll have many opportunities to try this dish which is typically made by frying ripe plantains – the riper, the better. You’ll just need to peel and slice the plantains to your desired size (not too thick), and then gently place them into a frying pan with hot oil. In Jamaica after the plantain is fried, it is sometimes coated with butter, and salt and pepper is sprinkled over top. You’ll love this with ackee and saltfish, or any other dish for that matter!
Callaloo is one vegetable that even kids have a hard time saying no to when it is cooked just right. The green, leafy vegetable is served as a side in Jamaica with most meals, but it can also be made into a super tasty soup. Some say its flavor is comparable to that of kale, and when it’s on your plate more than likely it’s been sautéed with onions, garlic, and perhaps even scotch bonnet peppers. Don’t be surprised if you see it on your breakfast plate.
Made from cassava, bammy is a name you’ll have to get familiar with in Jamaica. To make bammy you’ll first need to grate some cassava root, dip it into coconut milk, and fry until golden brown. It is usually served as a side dish, at any time of day, but is popularly served alongside callaloo. Some people eat bammy for breakfast with syrup, but it works just as well along with your main dish.
Breadfruit is amazing, and there are just so many ways to prepare it. It is referred to as a ground provision in the Caribbean. In Jamaica, some residents believe breadfruits were brought to the island in 1793 from Tahiti. Breadfruit is classified as a fruit, but it falls into the starch category in the Caribbean. Preparation methods for breadfruit in Jamaica include grilling, baking, or making it into a puree. Breadfruit is highly nutritious, and very tasty.
Similar to the traditional Spanish empanada, Jamaican patties are flavorful, and usually filled with chicken, beef or vegetable filling. As you bite into the flakey pastry, you’ll taste the well-seasoned meat or vegetables on the inside, which in most cases have gone through a process of being sautéed with onions and other spices. The patty is the shape of a half circle, and its color is influenced by turmeric or curry, giving it an orange/ yellow tint. Jamaican patties are usually baked, and some places offer more choices of filling, like ackee and saltfish, lobster, or fish.
Stamp and Go, also known as Jamaican saltfish fritters is a common breakfast item in Jamaica, and ingredients for preparation include flour, saltfish, green onions, peppers and other spices. The name Stamp and Go is often related to 18th-century British sailing ship traditions, particularly when officers wanted something done in a hurry, and would shout the order “Stamp and Go!” To make this dish, you’ll first need to make a batter, and fry it in oil on both sides until golden brown.
Expert Tip: When making Stamp and Go, it is advisable to prepare the saltfish the day before for a faster cook time.
Coco bread is starchy, and a little bit sweet. It consists of some of the usual ingredients used in the bread making process, but often coconut milk is added, and sometimes sugar. After it is prepared, it is cut into squares, and folded once over. This makes it a great choice for sandwiches and you’ll find everything from fried fish, to Jamaican patties being placed into its folds. Coco bread is very filling, so tread lightly!
Solomon Gundy is one of those dishes you’ll find in the Jamaica food encyclopedia, and it is more or less a pickled fish pâté served with crackers, usually as an appetizer, or even a hors d’oeuvre. As with most other dishes in Jamaica, expect it to be infused with spices, for that signature Jamaican flavor.
Porridge is a popular breakfast staple in Jamaica, and is typically made with oats, cornmeal, or plantain. This dish is a go-to for breakfast for many people as it is quite filling, and the recipe can be modified according to individual preferences.
Mannish water in Jamaica is not eaten so much for its taste; Jamaicans believe this spicy soup is actually an aphrodisiac. It is made from goat head, with a combination of other ingredients including green bananas, scallions, garlic, small dumplings, scotch bonnet peppers and other ingredients. It is commonly served with roasted yam. In some versions of this dish, tripe and other parts are included. You’re unlikely to find Mannish Water at a restaurant, but it is available at some roadside stops.
For this dish, sweet potato is finely grated, and then ingredients like coconut, brown sugar, raisons, vanilla, cinnamon, and a variety of other spices are tossed in. Sometimes a sprinkling of rum is added, and then the dish is baked. The goal is for it to come through the baking process still being slightly softer on top, and firm at the bottom. This is definitely an item you’ll want to try while in Jamaica.
There’s more than enough dessert to go around in Jamaica, and pinch-me-round is at the top of everyone’s list. You’ll recognize it easily as it is a small round tart with pinch like marks around the edges for stylistic effect, which is filled with grated coconut, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla. Crunch your way through to the gooey center for a delicious burst of flavor. Some people believe this dessert has Portuguese roots.
Coconut drops are delicious, and are simply made by dripping a hot mix of diced coconut, sugar and spices onto a banana leaf, where it cools quickly and forms its shape. Both kids and adults love it, and when making it (if you choose to) you should keep in mind that you should not over mix, as a textured result is what you’ll want to aim for in the end.
Banana bread is a popular Caribbean treat, and it is made with ripe bananas, and spices including nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. In Jamaica, coconut, lime and rum are sometimes added to traditional banana bread recipes, resulting in a dish you’re sure to want to recreate once you get back home!
This is a beloved Jamaican dessert which is made with grated cornmeal, cassava, or sweet potato. Ingredients include coconut milk and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Some people add a little rum to spice things up. Usually it is baked until the top is bubbly. This dish is as unique as it is enjoyable.
Toto is essentially a coconut cake, which is a traditional Jamaican dessert. Its roots go back to the colonial era, when slaves often only had coconut molasses and flour to put together a meal. While the basis for this dessert remains the same, there are a few added ingredients today which have helped seal its place as a permanent fixture of Jamaican family events.
By the time you’re ready to leave Jamaica, hopefully you’d have had a chance to taste Red Stripe, a local favorite which is also available outside of Jamaica. It is light-bodied, and is a great addition to most meals. It’s also a great companion on the beach side. While in Jamaica, look out for Red Stripe Light, Red Stripe Bold and flavors including lemon and sorrel.
Signature Rastafarian colors, green, yellow and red make this cocktail stand out. It has various frozen layers, and includes strawberry daiquiri and mango. All-inclusive resort chain Sandals Resorts is credited for creating this recipe, but now you can find it at bars across Jamaica.
Want to enjoy unlimited and ice cold Red Stripe beers and rum-infused cocktails? Stay at any of the Beaches Resorts in Jamaica, and unlimited premium brand (alcoholic) drinks are included during your stay! Perfect for when you just want to float around a lazy river, sipping your drink.
Blue Mountain Coffee has earned a reputation over the years for being the best, and one of the most expensive coffee brands in the world. Its rarity adds to the price, and that is partly due to cultivation limitations in the mountains. Blue Mountain coffee lovers enjoy the fact that it is not bitter, it is mild, and there are various versions of it that you can purchase easily while in Jamaica. An interesting fact is that 75 percent of Blue Mountain Coffee goes to Japan, and this might well be because Jamaicans just aren’t huge coffee drinkers. Be sure to buy a separate stash for yourself, and also some to take home as souvenirs.
Some Jamaican rums to look out for while on the island include Appleton Estate Rum, Hampden Estate Pure Single Jamaican Overproof Rum, Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum, Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum, Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve, and Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum. There are others, but these are likely to be the ones you’ll hear about while on the island, and there are various tours you can sign up for while in Jamaica to do taste tests, like the Appleton Estate Rum Tour.
Rum punch is an easy one, and Jamaican rum punch usually includes Jamaican strawberry syrup, or fruit juice mixed with Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum or Appleton Rum. Rum punch is something you’ll find easily at most bars or social gatherings in Jamaica, just because it’s so easy to make, and goes a long way.
The holiday season in the Caribbean is often synonymous with sorrel making and going from ‘house to house’. The latter which includes stopping off at the homes of various relatives and friends, and sharing in the festivities.
Sorrel is in demand around the holidays, and it is made with the sepals of a hibiscus plant. The plant’s color results in the drink also being of the same hue. Sorrel is slightly sweet, with hints of spice, much due to ingredients like ginger, star anise, cinnamon and allspice being added in. To make sorrel the leaves are boiled, and then the ingredients are mixed with water, and sometimes rum.
Sorrel is believed to have health benefits, a fact which has made it popular even outside of the holiday season; it is said to help with controlling cholesterol levels, and regulating blood pressure problems.
Ting is an underrated tropical soft drink made with grapefruit concentrate. You can spice it up by using it as a base for a cocktail; it goes well with citrus vodka, and can be your go-to drink while in Jamaica.
There’s something about malt that makes it highly addictive. The Jamaican Malta for example is hugely popular in Jamaica. It is a carbonated malt beverage, and its color resembles a stout. Jamaican Malta is best served cold.
Jamaican ginger is one of the best varieties in the world, and this is something which helps make Jamaican ginger beer stand out. Sugar, honey, and lime juice are some of the ingredients typically involved in the making of ginger beer, and if it’s done right like it is in Jamaica, it makes a great chaser for local rum.
Guinness, vodka, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and ground nutmeg bring this satisfying, creamy creation together. It is usually served chilled, and is a great way to enjoy the popular stout with a twist. This punch is notoriously sweet and bitter at the same time!
If Red Stripe had a tall and strapping older brother he would be named Dragon Stout. This is a dark, rich stout, and it is made using caramel, roasted malts, brown sugar, and other ingredients. You’ll love its distinctive smoky taste if you’re a fan of stouts, and also its rich, and smooth texture.
Sangster's Original Jamaica Rum Cream Liqueur is a great find while in Jamaica. Lovers of creamy rums will appreciate this drink produced by J. Wray & Nephew, particularly as there are different flavors to choose from. It’s so delicious that you should save some space in your suitcase from now to be able to take some back home with you.
Tea can refer to anything from coffee, to hot chocolate in Jamaica, but often when there is more weight behind the true meaning of the word, this would be in reference to “bush tea”, made from local plants, or tree bark.
There are many tours you can engage in on this island which take you through botanical gardens and teach you the uses and medicinal benefits of the many different plants found on the island. This knowledge is common in Jamaica, and has been passed down through generations. Knowing the benefits of “bush tea”, it has become a staple on the island, so don’t hesitate to try the various local tea varieties.
Coconut water is one of the most refreshing things you can drink while relaxing on gorgeous Caribbean beach. You’ll see coconut trees everywhere in Jamaica, but fortunately you won’t have to climb one to indulge.
You’ll either be approached by a coconut vendor, or you’ll run into one and make your own introduction, and when this happens, they’re likely to break a coconut open in front of you using a cutlass (machete), then hand you a straw to drink straight from the coconut.
If you have your own water bottle with you they’re also able to pour the coconut water in there, and some offer cups or bottles. Inside more mature coconuts you’ll find coconut jelly, also known as the meat of the coconut. Many people love eating this, and it can be quite filling.
Enjoy as many coconuts as you please, as they are fat-free, with plenty of antioxidants. Keep in mind though that coconut water is also a natural laxative.
Coffee cocktail lovers will adore Tia Maria, which is made by blending Blue Mountain coffee beans, Jamaican rum, vanilla, sugar and other ingredients. The result is sweet and delicious, and sometimes milk is blended in over ice, or the concoction is just placed into a glass with ice, and then served. Throw in a banana for even more of a twist to this cocktail, and you’ll have something pretty close to a Dirty Banana – just be ready with a witty answer just in case the bartender questions how dirty you really want it.
While in Jamaica, we recommended that you try everything at least once. It might take some time to get used to the cuisine here, but most of it is super delicious, and you’ll very likely find yourself craving things like oxtail and rice and peas, corn soup, and even ackee and codfish once you get back home. Don’t be shy to ask for a recipe or two of the things you love most. For more travel tips, read our post on Jamaica Travel Tips - Dos and Don'ts.
What is the national dish of Jamaica?
Ackee and Saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish, and considered the national food of Jamaica.
Is all Jamaican food spicy?
Jamaican food doesn’t have to be spicy. Jamaicans use a variety of herbs and spices in meal preparation, and the result ranges from sweet, savory, spicy, and everything in between. If you don’t like spicy food, be sure to ask before you order how hot a meal is expected to be.
How hot is the Jamaican Scotch Bonnet pepper?
The Jamaican Scotch Bonnet pepper has a heat rating of 80,000 - 400,000 Scoville units. This is considered very hot by the standards of most, and in Jamaica scotch bonnet peppers are often used in pepper sauce recipes. For the sake of comparison, jalapeno peppers are about 2,500 - 8,000 in heat units.
What do Jamaicans eat for breakfast?
Breakfast is an important meal for Jamaicans, and most ensure they get their absolute fill before heading out and starting their day. Popular breakfast options include Johnny cake with salt mackerel, steamed cabbage and saltfish, ackee and saltfish with bammy, callaloo with ripe plantain and hard dough bread, cornmeal porridge, saltfish fritters, fried dumplings and Jamaican hot chocolate tea. Jamaicans prefer tea over coffee, so you’re likely to find locals sipping on mint tea, or other herbal ‘bush’ variations.
How many meals do Jamaicans eat a day?
One to two meals per day will suffice for most Jamaicans, with breakfast and dinner being the most important meals.
What is the best Jamaican food?
There are so many interesting things to try in Jamaica, and the best food will depend on your individual taste. However, Jamaican jerk chicken is immensely popular, as is ackee and saltfish, and oxtail stew with rice and peas.