Jamaica is a gastronomic playground, offering food cultures inspired by its inhabitants over the last few centuries. The island’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by the cooking traditions and practices of the Indigenous peoples, Spanish, British, and Asian settlers, and African slaves and their descendants. From roadside grills to five-star eateries, expect to taste a melting pot of flavours in Jamaica. Here are six fabulous foodie experiences for your next visit to Jamaica:
Probably the most notable Jamaican dish is jerk – a spice rub reportedly concocted by runaway slaves while hiding in the hills in the 1600s. As the story goes, the African slaves used freshly picked herbs to season pork or chicken, and then smoked the meat at a high heat under the trees to prevent detection.
Today, Jamaica has so many places to eat jerk, but many locals swear by Scotchies, a local joint that makes savoury pork and chicken smoked over pimento wood.
Jamaican Eats and Beats
On the island’s west side, Negril has a slew of spots for tasty Jamaican cuisine. For a sit-down dinner, head to the nearby Pushcart Restaurant at the legendary Rock House Hotel. This boutique resort was once a hangout for Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, but today, it’s popular among tourists and locals alike for the food and live music.
“If you want to explore Jamaica, you come here,” says the waiter.
On the menu is Curry Conch – a type of sea snail that’s slow roasted in West Indian curry and root vegetables – as well as hot peppa shrimp that “you’ve gotta work for.” Faced with a heaping plate, we pick off the shell and gobble up the spicy pieces of meat by the dozen.
Festival at Murphy’s
On the roadside near Rock House, there’s Murphy’s – a tiny shack that doesn’t look like an eatery at all. But venture inside for the meal of your life: huge grilled lobsters, halved and spiced, along with a finger-licking “Devil’s Chicken,” thick with a sweet and spicy sauce.
Chef Murphy also brings out a plate of “festival” – corn bread fritters used to sop up sauces. Murphy has added a special twist, making a dessert version that tastes like a hot cinnamon bun. And in case you’re wondering, locals dubbed this beloved dish “festival” because your mouth celebrates upon first bite.
“Are You Tastee or Juici?”
The culinary craze extends to Jamaica’s fast food scene. There’s a heated rivalry between the two Jamaican chain restaurants for best patty. Locals line up at lunch hour for flaky patties filled with ground beef, vegetables, chicken or cheese. It’s almost like a religion: ask any islander, and they will tell you if their loyalties lie with Tastee or Juici.
Smorgasbords and Secret Speakeasies at Sandals
Continue the feeding frenzy at the luxurious Sandals Ochi Beach Resort. This all-inclusive beachside resort boasts 16 restaurants and 13 bars, including a jerk shack, a Southern-inspired eatery, a Spanish tapas bar, Japanese teppanyaki and sushi bar, and several Caribbean inspired bistros. And some nights, the resort hosts an all-you-can eat chocolate buffet, complete with chocolate fountain.
The resort also has a hidden amenity: it houses the Caribbean’s first speakeasy, a secret club that serves fancy cocktails inspired by the 1920s Prohibition era. Inside The Rabbit Hole, there’s an amazing live jazz singer who belongs on Broadway and old-fashioned drinks made from special liquors. But you need a password to get into the bar (seriously, admission will be denied without it). Ask the concierge or your personal butler.
If you really want to immerse yourself in Jamaican cookery, take an intensive culinary class at the stunning Prospect Plantation. Overlooking the ocean and flowering gardens, Chef Abra teaches the art of mastering jerk chicken over a pimento wood fire (“Massage your meat!”).
Students also get a taste (literally) of other traditional Jamaican dishes, such as steamed callaloo (Jamaica’s spinach), shrimp in coconut sauce, banana fritters, and Festival.
No matter where you go in Jamaica, you won’t leave this island hungry!