International Cooking: Food from Jamaica

I think it’s been a while since I’ve cooked Caribbean food so I was looking forward to enjoying some food from Jamaica. I was especially interested in the jerk chicken, which I’d heard about but never actually tried before.

Jamaica is an island country in the Caribbean sea. It’s the third largest island in the area, after Cuba and Hispaniola (which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

Originally, the land was inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people. However, after Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494, the Spanish took over, and many of the indigenous people were either killed or died from disease. After that, the Spanish brought in African slaves as laborers.

In 1655, England conquered the island and named it Jamaica; under Spain it was previously known as Santiago. The island became a leading exporter of sugar and was important to the British Isles. In 1838, the British emancipated all slaves. The former slaves mostly decided to become subsistence farmers rather than continue to work on the plantations, so the British brought in indentured workers from China and India. Jamaica gained independence in 1962, though is still a part of the Commonwealth.

Jamaica is the origin of the Rastafari religion and reggae music, and is prominent worldwide in sports such as cricket, sprinting, and athletics. When it comes to press freedom, democratic governance, and sustainable well-being, Jamaica ranks well.

What Do People Eat in Jamaica?

Jamaican cuisine is influenced by the wide variety of cultures found on the island, including Amerindian, African, Irish, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern people.

A wide range of vegetables and tropical fruits are available, many of which were introduced from Southeast Asia and Africa and are now grown on the island. Ackee, the fruit used in the most popular Jamaican dish, came from West Africa.

Seafood and meat such as goat, chicken, pork, and beef are commonly enjoyed. Many vegetarian dishes can be found too due to Rastafarian influences.

Popular desserts include ice cream in flavors such as grapenut and rum and raisin. There are a lot of desserts made with cassava, bananas, plantains, and cornmeal too.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Jamaican dishes I didn’t make!

Coco Bread and Beef Patties

Coco Bread and Beef Patties

This is a popular meal in Jamaica – bread made with coconut milk, folded around a pastry stuffed with spiced beef. I thought it sounded like an unusual combination that just might be delicious, so I decided to try it. I was not disappointed; this was amazing and I was glad to have leftover coco bread and beef patties so that I could enjoy this a few more times.

Coco Bread

Coco Bread

I feel like I have made these or something very similar before during this challenge, but now I can’t find which week it was. If I do, I will update this post!

This is a pretty standard bread recipe, except it includes coconut milk instead of water, and it’s enriched with egg and a bit of butter. You shape the bread by rolling it into a circle, brushing with butter, and folding half the dough in half. Then you brush the dough again and bake.

These came out tasting really good. I couldn’t taste the coconut, but I think that might be a good thing. I’m not sure I would enjoy bread that tasted super coconutty.

The recipe I used is from African Bites.

Beef Patties

Jamaican Beef Patties

Pastries like these seem to be pretty common in the Caribbean; I made a different version for the Bahamas and they were very good.

I started making the pastry by combining flour, salt, curry powder, and turmeric. Then I cut in some cold butter. The recipe said to use a food processor but I actually prefer doing it by hand with a pastry blender so that is what I did. Then I added some cold water and a little vinegar. When my pastry dough came together, I formed it into a disk, wrapped it in plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour.

Next, I started cooking the filling. I browned some ground beef, then added onion, habanero (instead of Scotch bonnet which I can’t easily get), and garlic. After a few minutes, I added beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, allspice, salt, bay leaves, and thyme. I was also supposed to add Pickapeppa sauce which is a popular condiment in Jamaica. Worcestershire came up as a substitute, but I was already using that. I did still have a bottle of Salsa Lizano from Costa Rican week, which I have seen referred to as Costa Rica’s version of Worcestershire sauce. So I used that instead. I’m sure the flavor wasn’t exactly right, but I knew it would at least work.

After simmering the meat mixture for a while, I added some breadcrumbs. I thought this was an interesting step. The recipe says the breadcrumbs are there to add body, but I feel like they may also help to absorb some of the oil from the beef so that the filling isn’t too greasy.

I let the filling cool a bit before assembling my patties. I rolled out the dough and cut circles out of it. Then I folded it around the filling and used a fork to seal the edges. I brushed the patties with egg and baked them for about 25 minutes, and then they were done.

These were really delicious! Full of flavor and quite spicy, but not too spicy. I also found they reheat well after freezing.

The recipe I used is from Serious Eats.

Fish Tea (Fish Soup)

Fish Tea (Fish Soup)

I know fish tea doesn’t sound that appetizing, but it’s the name used for a simple fish soup in Jamaica. It can include fish and seafood of all kinds, but I went with a simple fish and shrimp recipe. The vegetables used can vary, but it is common to include okra, pumpkin, or plantains.

I started by cooking some onion, carrot, and celery in a little oil. Then I added garlic, thyme, and habanero (in place of Scotch bonnet pepper). Next, I added potatoes and chicken broth, and brought the soup to a boil.

Once the potatoes were nearly cooked through, I added some cod, and a few minutes later I added shrimp. Once they were cooked, I added a little lime juice and served the soup.

Although this was a very simple dish, I really enjoyed it. It’s something I can see myself making again.

The recipe I used is from the Lemon Bowl. I did adjust the timing because I didn’t want to cook my fish and shrimp for 30 minutes like the recipe said. I cooked them until they were just cooked through. I also did not serve with cilantro as indicated because I’ve noticed cilantro isn’t actually a common Caribbean herb and I’m not sure how authentic that would have been.

Jerk Chicken, Rice and Peas, Steamed Cabbage, and Festival

Jerk Chicken, Rice and Peas, Steamed Cabbage, and Festival

This was the meal I had been most looking forward to this week. I’d heard of jerk chicken of course, but this was my first time actually trying it. I served it with some side dishes that commonly accompany jerk chicken in Jamaica: rice and peas, steamed cabbage, and festival.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed by this meal. The festival were pretty good but I didn’t really enjoy the rest. I’ll include more detail in the sections for each component.

Jerk Chicken

Jerk chicken is very popular in Jamaica, but the same method and seasoning is also commonly used on pork. Chicken pieces are marinated in a flavorful blend of spices and then grilled.

I started by making my jerk seasoning, which contained a long list of spices:

  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Ground ginger
  • Dried thyme
  • White pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground allspice
  • Smoked paprika
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Coconut sugar (I replaced this with brown sugar)
  • Cayenne pepper

There was also meant to be bouillon, but I don’t have that in dry form so I added some salt instead. The recipe made more than I needed, even after halving it, so I will have to see if I can find a use for the remainder.

I rubbed my chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks) with some of the jerk seasoning, as well as garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.

Next, I made the marinade. I blended thyme, green onion, garlic, fresh ginger, habaneros, soy sauce, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, chicken bouillon, and orange juice to make a smooth paste. The orange juice was meant to be pineapple juice, but I forgot to get it when doing my regular grocery shop. I went to a closer store to pick it up but they didn’t sell pure pineapple juice so I substituted it with orange juice instead.

I covered the chicken in the marinade and left it to sit in the fridge overnight.

When it was time to make dinner, I cooked the chicken in the oven since I do not have a grill; I followed the oven method given in the recipe. I simmered the marinade remaining in the chicken bowl, which I could have used to brush over the cooked chicken. But I didn’t use it because I did not enjoy the flavor.

My issue is that the allspice flavor was way too strong. And I actually used a little less than the recipe called for because I thought it seemed too much. My father-in-law thought the cinnamon was too strong, and I also used less of that (I personally didn’t taste that so much). So although the chicken was edible, I can’t say I really liked it that much.

I don’t think the recipe is bad because it has a lot of good reviews. If you would like to try it, it’s from African Bites. Maybe I just don’t like jerk chicken! I’d be willing to try another recipe that goes a bit easier on the allspice if anyone wants to suggest one to me.

Rice and Peas

This is a popular dish in Jamaica and can be served as a main dish or a side. The ‘peas’ here are actually red kidney beans, and the rice is cooked with coconut milk.

I cooked my soaked kidney beans with garlic, allspice, ginger, and salt. Once they were done, I added coconut milk, thyme, green onions, onion, and an habanero pepper (instead of Scotch bonnet). When the water was boiling, I added the rice. Then I just let it cook, covered, on low heat until it was cooked.

I don’t always love coconut but this dish was quite good. The recipe I used is from Jamaican Foods and Recipes.

Steamed Cabbage

I was told by someone on the Jamaican subreddit that I needed to make sure I served ‘steamed veg’ with my jerk chicken, so I decided to make this steamed cabbage recipe.

I sautéd some onion, garlic, habanero (instead of Scotch bonnet), and thyme, then added tomato and cooked that for a few minutes. Then, I stirred in some carrot and bell pepper, and finally the shredded cabbage a few minutes later. This order is a little different from the recipe’s instructions because I wanted to cook the cabbage less; I don’t generally like cabbage so much when it’s cooked for too long.

This dish was all right; it was just steamed cabbage after all! As far as a steamed cabbage dish goes, I’d say it was good.

The recipe I used for this is from Jamaican Foods and Recipes.


I was looking forward to making these! Festival are little fried dumplings that are often served with fish or jerk chicken.

To make the dough, I combined flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Then I added milk until the dough formed. I created oval shapes from the dough and deep-fried them until golden.

These tasted pretty good, though I personally felt they were a little too sweet as a side dish to a main meal. However, they were really dense, which I was not expecting. I can only guess it has something to do with the cornmeal.

If you would like to make these, the recipe I used is from Jamaican Foods and Recipes.

Guinness Punch

Guinness Punch

This is a drink made by blending Guinness, condensed milk, spices, and Supligen, which is a milk-based meal supplement drink. I’m not a big Guinness fan (nor do I really like beer at all) but I was intrigued by this drink. I thought there was probably enough milky sweetness to counteract a lot of the beer’s bitterness, so I decided to try it.

To make this, all I had to do was combine Guinness with milk, condensed milk, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I used milk instead of the supplement, which the recipe said you could do, and I added a little extra vanilla.

This tasted quite good. I found that the drink just tasted sweet and milky at first until I swallowed, and then I got the bitterness of the Guinness. I’m not sure I liked this enough to make it again, but I’m glad I tried it.

The recipe I used is from Jamaican Foods and Recipes.

  • Ackee and saltfish – this is Jamaica’s national dish. Ackee is a fruit that is poisonous if not ripe and prepared properly, but it is popular in Jamaica. In this dish, it is boiled with salted cod, onions, Scotch bonnet peppers, and tomatoes. This is a common breakfast, usually served alongside breadfruit, bread, dumplings, rice and peas, or boiled green banana.
  • Curry goat – seasoned with garlic, ginger, thyme, onions, Scotch bonnet peppers, and curry powder. Goat is more expensive than chicken or beef so it’s usually reserved for special occasions. Similar curries made with cheaper meats are more common for everyday meals.
  • Run down – a soup made from reduced coconut milk with a variety of seafood, plantains, yams, tomato, onion, and seasonings. Run down is a traditional breakfast dish, usually served with dumplings or baked breadfruit on the side.
  • Gizzada – also known as pinch-me-round, these small tarts are filled with a sweet, spiced coconut filling.

Final Thoughts

This week was all right and I did mostly enjoy the food from Jamaica. I just feel a bit let down by the jerk chicken. My favorite this week was the beef patty in coco bread. Not a combination I would have come up with myself, but it was very good.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Japan.

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