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5 Favourite Jamaican Dishes

by Karen Kwan

I went to Jamaica for the first time last month. It was a quickie trip to Negril—just long enough to get a very welcome dose of warmth and sunshine, but not long enough for me to eat enough of the delicious meals. If you’ve got a trip to Jamaica coming up: (1) I’m jealous, and (2) make sure to eat these five dishes.

1. Jamaican Breakfast

I stayed at the Moon Dance Cliffs, a positively lovely boutique hotel. Not one for you if you want to party hard, but perfect if you just want quiet time, stunning sunset and sunrise views and great food. I couldn’t get enough of their Jamaican breakfast, for example. It includes ackee and saltfish, callaloo (a spinach-like veggie), festival and plantains. Ackee and saltfish is often referred to as Jamaica’s national dish and it’s made of salted cod, ackee (a West African fruit), peppers, tomatoes and spices; it was hard for me to distinguish the ingredients; I just knew it was a darn tasty scramble. But even tastier? The festival—warm, fried dumplings (somewhat doughnut-like in flavour)—and the fried plantain; the delicate sweetness of these two are a nice balance to the saltiness of the rest of the plate.

ackee-saltfish

2. Braised Oxtail

Is oxtail actually tail? It indeed is. If you can get past that (I know this may make some people squeamish), it’s an absolutely delicious and tender cut of meat when braised in a red wine-based sauce. Braised oxtail is a dish every meat lover should try at least once. But it won’t be just once, because you’ll want to have it again.

3. Jerk Chicken

Perhaps the most well-known Jamaican dish, jerk chicken is a flavourful, spicy dish. Jerk refers to the jerk seasoning (the key ingredients are allspice, thyme, scotch bonnet peppers and garlic) and it can be used on fish and veggies, but is used most often on chicken and pork. At home in Toronto, I like to get jerk chicken at Albert’s Real Jamaican Food and I’m planning a visit real soon so I can get my fix.

jerk-chicken

4. Curried Goat

The idea of eating goat fills many people with the horror—I was the only “adventurous” eater on my trip who ordered this dish. And while I felt a pang of guilt when I saw a cute goat skipping along the road in Negril the next day, at dinner all I felt was supreme satisfaction with how happy my belly was. The meat (which you might mistake as a less gamey lamb) was beyond tender and flavourful. I’m not the type to order the same dish twice, but I very much wanted to have this dish again during my stay. Like jerk seasoning, the curry sauce includes allspice. Enjoy the dish with a side of rice and peas so you can mix it with the delicious curry sauce.

5. Jamaican Coffee

Every morning at home, I brew what amounts to a mug and a half of coffee, which I never finish or truly enjoy—it simply does the job. That is, until I brought home a package of coffee from Negril. I now savour every sip of my coffee’s deep richness. Every scoop of grounds I use now fills me with dread as my Jamaican coffee supply is quickly dwindling. Buy a few bags if you enjoy a good cup of joe—it’ll knock your socks off.