Food is central to travelling and culture, so during my very first trip ever to Jamaica I told myself I wanted to treat my tastebuds in a way that would be unique to my experience on the island… and that is the story of how I ended up spending my entire week eating “Ital”.
But what exactly is Ital? Ital is a way of eating – a dietary lifestyle – central to Rastafari beliefs. The word itself rhymes and derives from “vital” and thus the commonly heard expression “Ital is Vital”. The philosophy behind this culinary culture is to increase Livity, or the life energy that Rastafari generally believe lives within all human beings. As such, one must eat pure, natural and from the earth.
Ital diets can range from vegan to vegetarian to pescetarian. Meat, chicken and dairy are typically forbidden. Additionally, some strict Rastafari will not consume alcohol, rock salt and do not cook in metal cooking utensils.
Regardless of these variations, Ital food is always wholesome, natural and nourishes the mind, body and soul. You do not need to be a Rasta to eat at a “Rastaurant”. In fact, I recall from one of my previous trips meeting a neighbourhood local who just came to eat better and to manage some health conditions he was suffering from.
So no matter what your usual food habits may be, eating Ital is a must-do when visiting Jamaica! A true local experience and here’s why!
GOOD FOOD – from callaloo to rice & peas to veggie chunks and Ital stew, the food is always delectable and healthy. Dishes will usually feature staple ingredients such as scallions, scotch bonnet, ginger, thyme and coconut milk. Enjoy new flavours and tastes while sipping on some fresh fruit juices (pictured below- soursop).
COLOURFUL SETTINGS – 99.9% of the Ital places I’ve come across are always super colourful. The setting is always one of a kind and loaded with interesting details!
SUPER COOL WALL ART – most often then not, the walls are adorned with hand painted signage, usually illustrating important symbols and figures central to Rastafari culture.
GOOD SOURCES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT RASTAFARI BELIEFS – While you wait for your food, read the writings on the wall and learn along the way.
MUSIC, MUSIC, AND MORE MUSIC – Stickers and flyers of artists and upcoming concerts often compose part of the colourful settings and are a good way to discover new musical talents or events.
NEW INGREDIENTS & CONCOCTIONS – you might be offered something novel to chew on at the end of your meal (below, moringa) or spot some unique herbal concoctions that you probably won’t find back home…
INCREDIBLE PEOPLE WITH INCREDIBLE STORIES – two things are always, always guaranteed when eating at an Ital spot: food and people. The food will rarely disappoint and you will inevitably make some amazing encounters, even if it’s just over a quick chat. For instance, I met Cutty Kan (below) at his Ital food shop in Trenchtown, to only later find out that he used to cook for Bob Marley when he lived in the neighbourhood in his younger years!
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