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20 of the Most Popular Jamaican Dishes

Carolee is a passionate writer with a love for learning and teaching. She has published numerous recipes for Jamaican cuisine.

Jamaica's most popular dishes

Jamaica's most popular dishes

Introduction to Jamaican Culture

I am Jamaican, a proud daughter of my island. My man calls me an empress. This is a respected name for women among our people, especially in the Rastafarian culture. I am not Rasta yet, but I love the Rasta life. This article is not about the Rasta culture but the food culture of the Jamaican people. We are a diverse nation. Our motto is "Out of many; one people". Our motto simply means that our ancestry is from many people, nations and backgrounds. However, we are one culture as we have become our own people who have fought our own battles for our freedom. Yes, we would like to believe that our ultimate home is Africa, but to deny our other ancestry would be hypocrisy.

Because of our diverse background, our food has become diverse in its own right. Our dishes are mostly combinations of different cuisines from Asia, the Southern US, Africa and Europe. Below is a list of 20 such dishes. There are others, but these are very popular on the streets or in our "Country style" or "Jamaican style" restaurants or, as we commonly call most of them, "cook shops".


20 Jamaican Dishes Served Every Day on Our Island

1. Jerk chicken is the most popular Jamaican dish known worldwide for its authentic Jamaican jerk flavor. Using spices such as the pimento, scotch bonnet pepper, scallion, onions and thyme. There are some with their secret ingredients, but those are the basic ingredients. Served jerk pan style or authentic original style roasted over coals on top of the pimento wood.

2. Jerk pork is second and uses similar seasonings as the jerk chicken. It's not as popular as the chicken because it’s more expensive. The most known place in Jamaica to find jerk pork is in Boston, Portland. Because of the popularity of the jerk pork found in Boston, people from all over the island will name their dish "Boston Jerk Pork", which would increase sales, as it is believed that the best tasting pork originated in that part of the island.

3. Red peas (kidney beans) soup is made with salt beef and/or pig tails. Pigtail in Jamaica is cured with salt and has to be soaked overnight or pre-boiled for a few minutes to get some salt out before cooking. The dish is made with the peas, taro, yellow yam, dumplings and scallion, pimento, thyme and pepper. You have a choice to use coconut milk or not, depending on your taste.

4. Steamed fish. In Jamaica, this is actually stewed fish. It is mostly done on the beach, especially Healthshire and some other very popular beaches around the island. Scallion, pimento, pepper, thyme, bammy and sometimes carrots and potatoes are done with this dish. Every cook has their own steam fish style, so everywhere you go, you get a different flavor.

Jamaican Food and Ingredients







5. Fried fish and fried bammies. In case you are wondering, bammies are made from cassava. Cassava has been in Jamaica for a very long time and was the main staple of the Arawak Indians. The root is grated or milled, squeezed dry and then made into flat (1/2 to 3/4 in thick cakes). Bammy is a tasty food and is very popular with fried, steamed or roasted fish.

6. Roast fish. This is really a fish steamed in foil. The fish is seasoned and stuffed with callaloo (the Jamaican spinach) and steamed on a grill. You can season with the jerk spice and it becomes jerk fish.

7. Stewed peas. Most households make this dish once per week every week. It’s made with red kidney beans called red peas here in Jamaica. We cook the peas with the pig tail and salt beef until all is soft, then we add our seasonings and cook until a gravy is formed. This is quite similar to the soup, but the soup has more water while this is served with rice. The soup is a dish by itself. In the stewed peas, we put some tiny little dumplings called spinners. The taste of the stewed peas and soup are distinctly different.

8. Chicken foot soup. The feet of the chicken are used to make soup. We use pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, cho-cho, yellow yam and a packet of soup powder mix that comes in different flavors.

9. Manish water. This is a soup made from the head, feet and tripe of the ram goat. In some countries, it’s known as Billie goat. It is very important to use the ram goat because it gives a different flavor than the "she goat" (yes, that’s what we call a nanny goat). Another important ingredient in the mannish water is young bananas. You slice the bananas thinly with skin and all and cook them in the soup. Ingredients include yellow yam, dumpling, potato, pumpkin and carrots. You can add other things if you like. Use a ram goat noodle to flavor the soup!

10. Cow cod soup is another manly soup that only the strongest of men eat. In Jamaica, we don’t say "eat soup". We say "drink soup" because soup must have a lot of fluid that we drink from the soup bowl. In case you are wondering what the cow cod is, it is the testicles of the bull. We call both male and female cows, even the bull, but it’s really bull cod soup. Add your ingredients to your preference.

11. Curried goat. This is maybe the third or fourth most popular dish, but it is not 100% Jamaican. The idea of the curry is Indian, but the method of making the dish is Jamaican. Indians will burn their spices in the oil before adding the meat. Jamaicans add their spices directly to the meat, rubbing in the flavor with their hands. We make sure the oil is smoking, then we add the meat and cover the pot. We stir the meat ever so often to keep it from burning. When we are satisfied that the seasoning has penetrated the meat enough and it has a good color, we add a little water. If there is fluid in the pot from steaming the meat, we let it cook in its own juices until ready to eat. Serve with white rice and boiled green bananas.

12. Curried chicken is a very popular quick meal that friends make when they are on the river at a cookout or after a football match. It is done similarly to the curried goat but cooked much quicker. The chicken is cut into small to medium or even bite-sized pieces.

13. Fricassee chicken is commonly known as stewed chicken. It is usually seasoned with all your favorite spices and placed in a pot with hot oil and covered to let steam and cook in its own juices. Browning or soy sauce is used to make it dark. Did I mention that Jamaicans like their meat dark?

14. Brown stewed chicken. This is done by frying the chicken until dark brown, then stewing with seasoning and water until the gravy has a nice consistency. This is the most popular Sunday dinner served with rice and peas.

15. Tripe and beans. The cow tripe is cleaned and washed in the river. I like it if I make it myself because the truth is I am a bit persnickety when it comes to my food. Broad beans are cooked with the tripe and stomach to make a nice stew, eaten with rice.

16. Oxtail and beans. I love the tail of the ox, which is larger than the regular cow tail. This part of the animal is closer to the spine, so when jointed, you get a nice looking piece of meat. It takes a long time to cook, so start cooking 3 hours before dinner. It is often cooked with broad beans.

17. Saltfish (cod fish) run dung (run down). This dish is definitely maybe one of the most original and authentic Jamaican dishes you will find anywhere. The coconut milk is reduced to about a third, then the cod fish, which has been soaked or boiled, is cut into bite size pieces and added to the coconut reduction. Season with scallion, thyme, scotch bonnet pepper and lots of black pepper. Served with dumplings, renta yam and boiled bananas or roast breadfruit.

18. Ackee and saltfish. This is our national dish and should be at the number one spot, but unfortunately, a lot of people around the world don’t know about ackee and certainly not the dish. Ackee is a fruit that is consumed like a vegetable. It is usually cooked until tender (about 15–20 minutes). The cod fish is boiled with the ackee to give the ackee flavor and to reduce the saltiness. The cod fish is cut into very small pieces after being boiled. The water that was boiled is thrown away and the cod fish is cooked with scallion, onions, garlic and pepper. Then the ackee and black pepper are added. Stir thoroughly and serve with roast breadfruit or yam, boiled bananas and dumplings. Also very nice with warm bread or white rice.

19. Fish tea. This is actually fish soup. There are different versions, some lighter than others, drinking like a broth, while others are a full meal. The most common fish to use for this is the doctor fish, which is said to put back strength in the body. Add your preferred vegetables but remember to add the young green bananas.

20. Cow foot. This one I am not very fond of, but many people love it. It takes a while to cook and is served with almost any staple you want. Remember to season this well to make sure it’s flavorful. You may add beans if you like.

© 2012 Carolee Samuda