We can’t take a proper tour of the world’s best street foods without a stop in Jamaica. The country itself is a stew of many contributing cultures and it’s amazing to see how all those culinary traditions have combined to create a unique Jamaican Food Identity!
A typical roadside street food shack menu: Complete with Cow
Foot, Cow Head, Cow Skin Beans and Turkey Necks…
As a result of a series of what might otherwise be considered impossible coincidences, Jamaica has absorbed cultural and culinary influences from Africa, Ireland, England, France, Portugual, Spain, India, China and the Middle East. And let’s not forget the original, indigenous Caribbean foundation that still underlies all Jamaican dishes.
Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time there will tell you that Jamaicans who don’t have a mom to cook for them source a lot of their food from street vendor carts, stalls and small cafés. That’s led to the development of a rich and diverse street food culture that has adapted to serve just about every taste.
Everyone has their own idea of what Jamaican street food is – usually something to do with Patties or Fried Plantains (see photo, top of page). But that’s just the start, the stuff the travel agencies showcase…
On our menu today
Patties: Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat. I think we’re all familiar with those half-moon-shaped folded pastries which some will say look very much like Empanadas. Or even Italian Calzones.
Patties are probably the first Jamaican food many folks try – filled with Curried Chicken or Beef, though the traditional filling has always been goat. They’re baked, not fried.
Roti: A hand Pie. Jamaican Roti are built on large tortilla-like flatbreads (the Roti of India, supersized) and stuffed with Curried Chicken or Goat and potatoes. Although today, you can find a plethora of other fillings including vegetarian and vegan. The flatbreads are traditionally rolled or folded up forming a closed package.
Jerk: A technique rather than a specific dish, and a purely Jamaican invention. ‘Jerk’ refers to a collection of spices (principally thyme, chili peppers and allspice)…
…and a manner of marinating that traditionally produces Jerk Chicken or Goat. Though many other foods are also accorded the Jerk treatment now-a-days.
Cabrito or Kabritu: The pan-Caribbean Goat Stew. It originated on Montserrat and now considers Bonaire and Aruba it’s homeland. And in Jamaica, it’s become a staple. ‘Cabrito’ also refers to the specific type of goat used: food writer Daniel Vaughn says: “Cabrito is the veal of the goat world. A goat is milk-fed and slaughtered young, usually around a month old. […] Keeping them on their mother’s milk ensures more tender meat as well, but it comes at a price.” In Jamaica, Cabrito is a stew flavoured with curry and Scotch Bonnet peppers. Every cook has their own secret recipe…
Akee and Saltfish: The Jamaican ‘Breakfast of Champions’, and the country’s national dish. Akee is a unique fruit from a family of Asian/African trees which includes the Lychee and the Longan.
You have to prepare it properly before eating to avoid unpleasant digestive consequences. But there’s nothing else like it, and everyone loves it! Recipes abound…
Bammy: A Cassava Flatbread. This breakfast favourite is fried and dipped in Coconut milk. It’s also a popular side with stuff like Jerk Chicken or Curry. The epitome of grab-and-go food! As we said, this is probably the most popular – maybe even ubiquitous – veggie side in Jamaica, and it’s also consumed with relish as a vegetarian main. Quick, easy and inexpensive to make.
Callaloo: A side and a veggie main – a ‘dish for al seasons’. It’s simply the local leafy greens steamed with peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and thyme.
As we said upfront, it’s both the preferred side dish with jerk and curry dishes, and a widely beloved vegetarian/vegan main. We’re told Jamaicans eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Quick, easy and foolproof to make.
And that doesn’t even touch the seafood
… Like Spicy Sprimp, Spiny Lobster, and all kinds of fish. Jamaica is an island, after all, surrounded by bountiful waters! But that’s a post for another day all by itself….
~ Maggie J.