Negril, Jamaica
Image courtesy of Tourism Media

Headed to the tropical paradise of Jamaica? Leave without sampling these five island staples and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince anyone you actually went.

Hot sun, white sand and a  meal-to-write-home-about are the staples of any trip here. These tips will help make sure you don’t miss the most delicious part of your Jamaican vacation.

The Food: Jerk

jerk chicken jamaica


The Key: The best jerk is done in a split oil-drum -turned-barbecue-grill,  on a street corner or in a ragtag shack leaving plenty of room for the billowing smoke to fill the air. If it’s really good you’ll smell it long before you taste it. The result of the cooking technique is a smoky flavour that isn’t overpowered by the strength of the scotch bonnet peppers in the sauce. It’s most popular on chicken and pork. Try both. Often.

Where to get it: Everywhere. From street corners  in Kingston to the always popular Scotchies just outside Montego Bay.  Boston Bay in Portland, Jamaica is regarded as the birthplace but you won’t have a hard time finding it anywhere on the island. Follow your nose (and the local’s recommendations.)

The Food: Oxtail

The Key: A slow simmer brings the beef meat that is often discarded in much of North America to a tasty , stew-like finish. A dish smothered over white rice is good. With “Rice and peas” – brown rice cooked with red kidney beans and coconut cream similar to New Orleans’ “Red beans and rice” –  it’s even better.

Where to eat it: Someone’s house. There are restaurants around the island that will offer up a version but none match a home-cooked variety. Make a friend and get yourself invited to dinner.

The Food: Ackee and Saltfish

jamaica breakfast


The Key: The Jamaican national dish is a star feature at any traditional breakfast or brunch. At first glance it may remind you of scrambled eggs, it’s not. (Though the texture and ability to capture the flavour of what it’s cooked with is similar.) In North America, you may find it in cans in specialty stores, but nothing will compare to having it fresh. It’s loyal accompaniment? Codfish, diced and mixed with sauteed and spiced tomatoes and onions. The combination is as familiar in Jamaica as “macaroni and cheese” back home.

Where to eat it:  Ask the chef in your hotel about it and he’ll likely include a small portion at the next morning’s meal or be able to point you to a hyper-local restaurant nearby.  Any traditional Jamaican breakfast will have it at it’s heart.

The Food: Tropical ice creams

The Key: You can get vanilla and chocolate anywhere. This is the place to take advantage of the fresh fruits and liquors the island is known for: Rum & Raisin, Guava and Soursop are all worth their own scoop.

Where to eat it: Jamaicans flock to Devon House when they want a flavourful cool treat. The bonus: The grounds are a national historical site. You can grab your cone (or cup), explore the history and gardens on the 11-acre grounds  and then double-back for another.

The Food: Red Stripe beer

The Key: Okay, technically it’s not a food but  Red Stripe beer is synonymous with Jamaican cuisine. Created on island in 1928, the refreshing beverage can now be found around the world as a symbol of Jamaican cool.  Washing down any of the dishes above with anything else just won’t taste the same. (The only reasonable substitute would be the island’s famous Blue Mountain coffee – and only at times when a Red Stripe might be inappropriate. Blue Mountain is thought by some to be the best coffee in the world.)

Where to drink it: Preferably under a palm tree with your feet buried deep in white sand but any place you’re looking for an island vibe will do.