Street Food Discoveries: Unique Jamaican Street Treats

I’ve been researching Caribbean street food, and one point keeps coming up – from post to post to post: Jamaican grab-and-go is unique, even among its regional neighbours. So I thought we should take a gander today, and see what the hullabaloo is all about! I wasn’t disappointed…

Jerk Chicken - © Jamaican Yellow PagesJerk Chicken on the grill. Any time of the day or night!

Jamaica is famous for its cultural diversity, its colourful customs and its rich, flavourful signature foods. Most folks have at least heard of Jerk spice and consider it the ‘typical Jamaican flavour’. But that’s a single, specific tradition. A stroll down a Jamaican food market reveals a whole flock of other classic treats that beg the visiting foodie to try them. Maybe get hooked on them!

Jamaica is one of the largest Caribbean islands and has been a melting pot of cultures and cuisines over hundreds of years. It has every kind of terrain, from highlands to beaches and jungles to grasslands, providing all kinds of ingredients for the creative cook. And it’s surrounded by some of the most productive waters in the western hemisphere. What more could you ask for?

On our menu today

Jerk: It’s nothing less than the signature flavour of the Island. It’s rich and hot and tangy, redolent of cumin, nutmeg, allspice, smoked paprika, cinnamon red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper. Brown Sugar gives it a definite sweet-Spicy character. Everybody knows about Jerk Chicken. But it’s also lavished on Pork, Sausages and even Goat.

Curry: Jamaican Curry will give the hottest Asian Curries a run for their money. The pepper used is generally the fiery Scotch Bonnet. Other leading characters in the play include Turmeric and Allspice.

Curry Goat - ©

The result is a blast of heat with a ghost of a nutty finish, and a bright yellow colour. It’s customarily the flavouring component of sauces and stews. But it’s also used as a dry rub, like Jerk.

Soup: More Jamaicans drink Soup on a hot day than partake of cold drinks. So say those who know. It’s a little like the British custom of drinking tea even on the hottest days. You perspire, it evaporates, you feel cooler. Flavours range from chicken to peanut to other, regional specialties. Thicker soups are called stews, and  there are hundreds of those on the streets.

Patty: Here’s another Jamaican signature dish we’ve al at least heard of. Looks like a hand-sized Calzone or Cornish Pasty. The semi-circular pastry envelope is tinted bright yellow with a glaze of egg yolk mixed with turmeric. The flavour may remind you of an Indian Samosa.

Jamaican Patty - ©

Fillings may include: ground beef (traditional), can include chicken, pork, lamb, vegetables, shrimp, lobster, fish, soy, ackee, mixed vegetables or cheese.

Pepper Shrimp: You get these from street stands in a plastic baggie. They’re simply boiled shrimp stuffed in the bag heads up, and dredged in Scotch Bonnet Pepper. They’re everywhere on the island. But they’re particularly associated with St. Elizabeth Parish, where they are said to have the best seafood in  Jamaica.

Fried Fish: Again, just what it says. Different kinds of fresh fish are cooked to order, sloshed with vinegary escovitch sauce and hot peppers, with Bammy on the side.

Jamaican Fried Fish - © Taste Altas

Bammy is a flatbread made from shreded cassava and pan fried. It’ll soak up any zippy Jamaican Sauce, thick or thin. You don’t want to waste a drop!

Boiled Crab: What it says. They simply fresh-boil large crabs in a broth of peppers and spices. And they’re so popular, folks often have to stand in line. Available any time of the day or night. this lesser-known treat is considered a must to try when you’re on the island.

Roasted Yams: A simple dish, but you have to use the right yams. Jamaican Yellow Yams to be precise. Pierce them with a fork, brush with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast them for 45 minutes at 400 F.

Baked Yellow Yam - © Trip Advisor

The result is something like a cross between a boiled and a baked potato, with a starchier texture. Like Bammy, it’s a beloved side that goes with all Jamaican spicy dishes.

Coconut Water: Just what it says. Water from inside an unripe coconut. Advocates say there’s nothing better to quench your thirst on a scorching day. Or cleanse your palate after a nosh of Jerk or Curry. No problem on the island; coconuts are everywhere!

Sky Juice: What we would call a Snow Cone. It’s fruit juice over shaved ice. But food watchers say it’s morphing as we speak into Bag Juice, frozen juice in a plastic bag. You sip it up through a straw as it melts. It’s literally on every street corner in urban areas.

Every aspect zings!

The special zing of Jamaican street food extends through the classic flavours and exotic ingredients to colours and aromas you won’t find anywhere else. Many of us are lucky to have Caribbean grocery stores in our own neighbourhoods. I live in a suburb with an official population of 23,000, and we have three! Even if you have to go out of your way to get the goods, it’s worth the effort. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and try Jamaica’s famous street foods!

~ Maggie J.