Jamaican cuisine: 10 things we love

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Where to eat in Jamaica
Where to stay in Jamaica

Jamaican cuisine: 10 things we love

Seasoning and spice

Jamaican food is all about flavour and balance, and seasoning. Our food has layers, and that’s something I really love about it. Our soils enrich our produce in a way that’s unique. Spices like pimento, scallion, thyme, ginger, cloves and more combine to elevate the flavours, and add Jamaican character to dishes. Heat from scotch bonnet chillies is optional but popular.

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Seasonal seafood

Snapper is the fish we tend to utilise the most, but we do get good mahi and wahoo. Those are the kind of big fish we can catch in our native waters. We also love grouper and mackerel, and sprats, which run at certain times of the year, traditionally eaten at Easter. We fry them until crispy and they’re everything!

Seafood Jamaica

Generational skills sharing

I tell people that all Jamaicans know how to cook. There are a lot of people that will tell you they don’t but intrinsically I think there is that spark of magic in us that we just love food, we know how to handle food, we grew up around it – a lot of what happens in your family and home life happens around food. You think of all the little tips and tricks you need to learn how to make a lot of different things. I think it’s a generational thing. Our food has been influenced by lots of different cultures.

Ice cream on Sundays

Surrounded by shade-giving mango and ackee trees in Kingston, I Scream at Devon House is famous for its award-winning Jamaican ice cream flavours and generously sized single-scoop cones. A weekend visit is a Sunday tradition for many locals and families, for whom the grapenut, rum and raisin, subtle coconut and malty stout are a refreshing taste of home. My favourite is coffee but all the flavours are great. The grapenut has a vanilla base but also has grapenuts in there that give it a kind of malty flavour. I put raw grapenuts on top of the ice cream for crunch. They’re very firm, almost like peanuts.

Barrel-aged rum

The intensity of Jamaica’s sun and tropical climate sees sugar cane thrive. Acres of tall sugar cane are burnt, harvested and the juice extracted for making molasses and sugar. For rum, the molasses is diluted with natural limestone water and yeast, then fermented and distilled before being aged in oak barrels. Its interaction with the wood brings out complex flavour profiles. One year in the tropics is equivalent to nearly three years of aging in temperate climates, so the flavours develop at pace with intensity and complexity.


Oxtail stew

Ask what Jamaica’s national dish is and you’ll hear oxtail as often as ackee and saltfish. This cut is marinated in pimento, thyme, ginger and more, then seared to lock in flavour before braising on the bone to create a rich gravy with butter beans. Best served with rice and peas. Check out olive’s Jamaican oxtail stew recipe to have a go yourself.

A casserole pot full of oxtail stew, with a plate of stew next to it

Blue Mountain coffee

The richness of the soil combined with the cool, moist air at over 2,000 feet in the Blue Mountain region create ideal conditions for coffee. It is grown across three parishes in legally specified regions and regulated by the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority to ensure the quality is authentic and graded A1. The cherry coffee is patiently given time to develop its flavour before being handpicked and processed within 24 hours to preserve the freshness.

Blue Mountain coffee


Bammy is made of casava root pressed into little cakes and is one of those things we will have eaten from knee-high to grand pappa. Everyone does it a little bit differently. I like to soak mine in a bit of vanilla milk and salt; some people tend to use coconut milk, while others just use coconut water. These are then fried.

Bammy Jamaica

Cooking over wood and coals

Barrel barbecues are everywhere in Jamaica. Traditionally cooked in old oil drums over pimento wood, modern pan chicken still retains its smoky character and charm. The chicken is marinated in jerk rub or traditional spice blends before being slow-cooked over coals, and remains a firm favourite as street food as much as in restaurants.

Ackee and saltfish

This is traditionally a breakfast dish. Ackee is indigenous to Jamaica, grown and picked from trees when its bell pepper-shaped fruit is fully ripe. Only the flesh around its seeds is edible, and must be boiled to remove its toxins first. Paired with salt fish, it’s eaten with fried plantain, dumplings, boiled green banana and callaloo, a collard greens-style dish with a texture like spinach.

Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish from Original Flava

Where to eat

Miss T’s Kitchen, Ocho Rios

A colourful, welcoming gem in the heart of bustling Ocho Rios that celebrates the heart and character of Jamaican food and culture. There are no walls, for a comfortable al fresco experience. misstskitchen.com

Miss T's

Pretty Close 876, Gordon Town, St Andrew

Riverside outdoor kitchen where traditional dishes are cooked over coals beside the waterfall pools. It’s reservation-only so make sure to book. Wednesdays-Sundays.

Uncorked, Kingston and Montego Bay

A favourite of locals, with an extensive menu of global cheeses and delicious dishes with smart wine pairings. Instagram @uncorkedja

Teddy’s Beach Grill at Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios

Dine with your feet in the sand beneath the canopy of a large almond tree at this relaxed oceanfront beach bar and grill. jamaicainn.com

Waah Gwaan Café, Kingston

A perfect fuel stop for some likkle bickle or cooling off with an iced smoothie packed with good stuff. Instagram @waahgwaancafe

Where to stay

Blowout: Jamaica Inn

A favourite of Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill, this family run boutique hotel oozes old-school class with the lightest of touches. Its social director, Shadow, a fifth-generation Labrador puppy, greets and guides guests into the tranquil pace of life at Jamaica Inn. Staying here can be a digital detox, with no clocks or TVs in the bedrooms and access to the private beach direct from deluxe verandas or across the croquet lawn. The hotel’s history-steeped legacy underpins forward-looking and environmentally conscious commitments, setting an example for sustainable hospitality in Jamaica with renewable energy, a turtle conservation programme and more.

Doubles from £509, check availability at booking.com, britishairways.com or virginholidays.co.uk

Jamaica Inn

Budget: Spanish Court Hotel

This is a well-connected favourite from which to explore Kingston’s vibrant food scene. It’s packed with luxury for the price. Music’s influence is present in all corners of this hotel, from the record players in the bedrooms to the décor of its Strings & Stones Bar. Order the lava stone shrimp or lobster tail, served sizzling hot for you to finish to your preference. You’ll find a menu of hearty Jamaican dishes in the comfortably formal Rocksteady restaurant, representing the hotel’s international clientele in a localised way.

Doubles from £189, check availability at booking.com, expedia.co.uk or thomascook.com

Spanish Court Hotel

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