Eating My Way Through Jamaica

Food is love, no matter where you're from

Eating My Way Through Jamaica

I did not fly all this way for a hamburger.”

The Caribbean sun was relentless as I stood looking at a chalkboard listing foods I’d never heard of, much less tasted.  While traveling on my own outside of Canada by myself is something completely new to me, trying new foods isn’t. A month ago I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Jamaica as a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board.  Why not learn to eat like a Jamaican while I'm there? 

I had so many questions.  What is there, beyond Jerk Chicken?  Do they have fast food in their country, too? What would they eat for breakfast?  The food certainly did not disappoint, and I learned so much along the way that I can't wait to share with you!

Jamaican Patties

One of the first things I heard about from my group when we left the plane was Jamaican patties.  Everyone was surprised I'd never tried one, and despite my efforts it took until the end of the trip before I finally had the chance to taste these delectable treats. Jamaican patties are like a savory turn over, with a flaky pastry and spicy meat filling of either beef, chicken, or vegetables. I can see why these were such a favorite of my travel companions!  Jamaicans love their patties and I'm told that many will have a favorite patty stand that they visit.  I've never seen patties here in Vancouver, but I'm thinking I may have to source them out now!

Jerk Chicken

What better way to discover jerk chicken than to have some right where they marinate and cook it in front of you? At Scotchies, we saw how the chicken is rubbed with spices such as allspice, cloves, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, salt, scallions, and scotch bonnet peppers,  then cooked over an open fire, like a pit barbeque. The result was tender, spiced chicken that I could have sat and nibbled on for hours. I was surprised that it wasn't spicier, but maybe they were being kind to our Canadian taste buds. Our hosts were very careful to warn us about the hot sauce, however! The scotch bonnet pepper is used extensively in Caribbean cooking, and we had the chance to try all different kinds of hot sauces at almost every meal. Our hosts were happy to teach us about many of the side dishes that often accompany jerk chicken or pork. We ate rice and peas, which actually contains either pigeon peas or kidney beans, bammy (a flatbread made from cassava), breadfruit, a fried bread named festival, and sweet potato. 

What Do Jamaicans Eat For Breakfast?

My question about what Jamaicans eat for breakfast was answered when we dined at Halfmoon Resort in one of their royal villas!  Jamaica's national dish is ackee and saltfish (pictured above).  At first, I thought it was scrambled eggs! Ackee, a fruit, grows on trees in a pod, which splits open once it's ripe. I was shown an ackee tree, and told that when the pod splits open the seeds actually spray poison on the ground and nothing can grow there, except possibly crab grass.  The edible portion of the fruit has to be prepared carefully so that one won't become sick.  To make this popular dish, the ackee is sauteed with onions, spices, and salt cod. 

Fried platains (pictured above) are a very popular side dish in Jamaica as well.  Plantains are staple in many tropical or African countries where, much like potatoes in the West, they are steamed or fried.  These were one of my favorite snacks in Jamaica, much like eating roasted sweet potatoes or oven fries. 

Are you going on vacation soon? How can you eat like a local? 

I was lucky in that our hosts were happy to help us out, but there were times that we ordered on our own and in those instances, I relied on the expertise of the naitive Jamaicans with our group. "Order me what YOU would eat," I'd say and every time I was presented with something amazing. Steamed fish in spicy sauce, jerked conch, even an omelete with hot peppers and vegetables. I swear I've never eaten so well on a vacation. People were delighted to share with me what they loved to eat, and I found that while we are thousands of miles and an entire culture apart, food was a great way to share what we love.

In fact, I loved it so much I came home aching for a way to share some of the experience with my own family, and whipped up a pot of rice and peas, fried some plantains, and have been searching for scotch bonnet peppers to try jerk chicken. 

Food is love, after all, no matter what country you're from.

She may go by the name Scatteredmom online, but Karen really is anything but scattered when it comes to the kitchen.  Churning out tasty treats within view of the Georgia Strait on Canada's west coast, Karen will hand you an organized weekly meal plan or teach you how to make meals from scratch.  As Mom to a teenage boy, she knows exactly what it takes to keep kids full and happy-which has really come in handy with her job as the Food Editor at Yummy Mummy Club.

A strong supporter of Food Revolution who has been endorsed by Jamie Oliver himself, by day Karen can be found working as a special education teaching assistant, running a kitchen and showing teenagers how to cook nutritious meals for themselves.  By night, when she's not chatting on Twitter and answering cooking questions,  she writes her popular blog Notes From the Cookie Jar, or posting mouthwatering recipes over at Chasing Tomatoes.  Not afraid to give her opinion and passionate about community, Karen spoke at Blissdom Canada 2010 and her writing has been published in Canadian Living magazine, as well as in various online publications. 

Follow Karen on Twitter @scatteredmom