There is no better way to experience authentic Jamaican cuisine than to leave the confines of your resort and eat with the island’s locals. Jamaican food is a mouth-watering combination that reflects the different cultures that have played a part in the island’s history over the years.
Although there is a cultural fusion of the cuisine, there are still plenty of local ingredients that are featured in many of the dishes, including most famously the spicy and hot Scotch bonnet pepper, which is the key ingredient in any jerk worth eating.
Chicken and Pork
Jerk chicken and pork is the most well-known dish in Jamaica, and it is prepared by seasoning the chicken or pork with the Scotch bonnet peppers, onions, thyme, and scallions. The meat is then wrapped in pimento leaves and slow cooked for 8 hours in a pit of hot coals. Nowadays, many cook the meat on a pimento wood rack, in an oven or grill over hot coals.
Other than the flavorsome and delicious jerk chicken and pork, Jamaican restaurants typically feature hearty and generous meals that use the best local ingredients. Fish and seafood are popular for obvious reasons and are prepared in numerous ways. Escoveitched fish served with a tangy sauce made from vinegar, hot peppers and onions is a favorite among locals (a meal you can often get at Hellshire Beach in Portmore).
Side dishes are typically made up of vegetable that has been infused with big flavors. Callaloo is one of the most popular vegetables and is a leafy green color that is very similar to spinach. You can enjoy it with boiled green bananas or pickled codfish and mackerel.
Despite Jamaica having a warm tropical climate, the locals love hot, hearty soups. Pepperpot soup (a tasty option) is made with callaloo, and creamy pumpkin soup and is a firm favorite.
Conch stew, brown chicken stew, curried goat, and oxtail soup are all welcome additions to any menu.
And don’t forget to have a Red Stripe beer or coconut water to complete the authentic experience.
Here are some of the best places on the island for traditional Jamaican cuisine.
The Pork Pit – Located at 27 Gloucester Avenue, the Pork Pit has some of the most amazing jerk in Montego Bay. The jerk chicken and pork are slowly cooked on a large grill over hot pimento wood and coals. Add some rice and peas or festival and a cold beer, and you have the ideal meal.
The Pelican – Just down the road from the Pork Pit, the Pelican offers island classics in a rustic setting. The conch chowder, curried goat, Escoveitched fish, and oxtail stew are all incredible. And don’t forget to try the rum bread pudding or lemon meringue pie.
Sweet Spice – This delightful restaurant, located at 1 White Hall Road, offers meals that are reminiscent of the way many locals prepare food for their families. The generous portions of hearty food make this a favorite. The curried goat, brown chicken stew, and lobster are all worth a try.
The Hungry Lion – Located on West End Road, this establishment offers an array of seafood and vegetarian meals, as well as Rasta-style vegan food. The thick and creamy pumpkin soup will have you drooling, and the red snapper with rice and peas is a firm favorite.
Rick’s Cafe – Known mainly for its 35-foot cliff dive, this restaurant offers some of the best broiled spiny Jamaican lobster, blackened tuna, and jerk chicken. Escoveitched snapper is a favorite for tourists who spend their time relaxing by the cliffside pool.
Chelsea Jerk Centre – Located at 7 Chelsea Avenue, this is the place to be if you want mouth-watering jerk pork or chicken. There are different stations where you collect all the different parts to make your meal, including the jerk, beans, rice, and a cold beer. You can also try Pepperwood Jerk (Scotchies) which is just a stone’s throw away.
Norma’s on the Terrace – This restaurant is run by owner Norma Shirley, whose modern twist on traditional Jamaican food named her as one of the top chefs in the Caribbean. The different lobster and conch dishes are high on the list of recommendations.
A trip to Jamaica just would not be complete without sampling the authentic flavors and textures of local food. All of the above restaurants have everything you need to complete your Caribbean food adventure. Of course, this is not an exclusive list. There are tons of other places I didn’t include in this write-up. Be sure to sk the locals here about their favourite spots (you may just find a special gem).