FOOD. We all love it, and – conveniently – can’t live without it. We don’t mean to boast, but there is just something special about Jamaican food, and anyone who has been here can attest to that fact. But if you’re looking for insider information on what we eat on a day-to-day basis, you’ve come to the right place. These five food experiences are what Jamaica is all about – plus they’re yummy, affordable and unforgettable.
1. Patty. Words cannot express my feelings for patty. When I am in the deep recesses of my mind, patty comes to me in a vision and brings me sweet peace. Oh beef patty, how I crave your savoury goodness. No, but seriously, as a lunch time (or anytime!) meal, nothing does the trick better than a patty – or two. The delectable crust envelops warm, meaty goodness, and – not to worry – vegetarian options abound at “ital” restaurants for any non-meat eaters. There is nothing better than a vegetable or a callaloo “yatty.” Top it off with a coco bread (a warm, buttered loaf) and something to drink and you’ve got yourself an inexpensive, belly-filling, heart-warming meal.
2. Box Lunch. A box lunch a day keeps the hunger at bay. If you’re looking for an affordable dinner, and the closest thing to a Jamaican home-cooked meal you can find, a box lunch is the way to go! The staple constituent is rice with a supporting cast of anything from fried chicken, to curried goat, to some vegetarian alternative. My advice: get the box lunch from a street vendor instead of a big restaurant. Not only will you be supporting a local micro business, but that’s where you’ll get the meal that was cooked with ‘love’, as we say here. (PS, love is delicious.)
3. Ackee and Saltfish. It may sound cliché seeing as how it’s the national dish, but rest assured, ackee and saltfish is pretty much a vital part of the Jamaican food scene. Nothing says hearty breakfast better than this daytime favourite. Your taste buds will thank you for being bold and fearless in the face of this strange-looking concoction, cooked up with tomatoes, pepper and other spices. I beseech you earnestly to employ proper breakfast etiquette and include some fried dumplings with your meal.
4. Pan chicken/ pork/ fish/ etc. Notice I said “pan chicken” and not even “jerk chicken” because if you want the real thing, you have to go to the source! You can get pan chicken from late evening to late at night in most major town squares. But even if it’s not readily available, the effort to find it will be worth it. This is the original jerk! It’s usually served hot and fresh off the grill, wrapped in foil paper, with slices of bread, festival, or bammy, and … okay, pon a serious level, I’m getting hungry!
5. Run a boat. Now this is one you may find hard to locate, but if you do get to come across it, you will have without a doubt gotten one of the most authentic Jamaican eating experiences there is. The great thing about running a boat is that it’s not about what is cooked, but with whom it is cooked. The basic idea is that everybody puts money together and whatever the cash can buy purchases the ingredients to put on a pot right there in the middle of the yard. It’s a great way to spend time and share love with new friends. Oh, and you can request that someone cook “dutty gyal”. The outcome may surprise you!
Pictures by Marianna Frg.