When planning a trip to Jamaica, especially for foodies, tracking down the best Jamaican food is a priority! During our first trip to Jamaica about 18 years ago we stayed at an all-inclusive resort and didn’t realize focus on what to eat in Jamaica. We ate what the resort fed us. During our latest trip, though, we wanted to try as much traditional Jamaican food as we could. In our Jamaican food blog, we wanted to share our tips on the must-eat Jamaican dishes and a few recommendations on where to eat these dishes. We also cover what to drink in Jamaica.
Traditional Jamaican Food Guide – What To Eat In Jamaica
Many people who travel to Jamacia book all-inclusive resorts, which is fine. But, then they never leave the resort nor find out what to eat in Jamaica. They don’t seek out a great Jamaican restaurant to try some traditional dishes, off the resort property. There’s so much great traditional Jamaican food that you just don’t get at the typical all-inclusive resort.
It’s also important to know that Jamaica is a melting pot, where the cuisine has been influenced by European, Indian, and African influences. It’s why the food on the island is different from other Carribean islands. It also means that there are a lot of great dishes to track down that are not commonly found on other islands in the region.
We researched what to eat in Jamaica, and offer a few recommendations for some Jamaican restaurants. But, first I want to answer the frequently asked question: What is Jamaica known for when it comes to food? What is typical Jamaican food? Because food in Jamaica is more than just jerk chicken.
Learn more about travel to Montego Bay in our Jamaica Travel Guide, which includes advice on food in Jamaica and what to do in Jamaica.
What is Jamaican Cuisine
If I had one word to describe the Jamaican diet, it would be hot! Yes, the Jamaican people are known for being amazingly friendly. But, traditional Jamaican food also caters to the local palette, and that means Jamaica food carries some heat! Perhaps those smiles are masking tongues tingling with spice! Jamaican traditional food is not quite as spicy as Szechuan cuisine in China, but it could be up there in the consistency of the heat. It’s slow and steady.
But, there is more to the most famous Jamaican dish than spice and heat. Authentic Jamaican cuisine is a result of the melting pot that is Jamaica itself. Earliest settlers were Spanish, and then, of course, the British controlled the island up until about six decades ago. But, Jamaica is also home to Chinese and Indian settlers. And, although some of the items that could top a list of Jamaican national foods are meat products, there’s no shortage of island influence, as many of their dishes include fish as well as tropical fruits. It is true, though, that the most famous Jamaican dishes are those that carry with them a little bit of fire – either literally or figuratively.
Our List of 20+ Must Eat Jamaican Dishes
Jerk Chicken – Is this the Jamaica National Dish?
When people think about traditional Caribbean food and traditional Jamaican cuisine, many people think of authentic jerk chicken. This is regardless of whether they are thinking about Jamaica or one of its neighbors! Jerk is the most popular dish in Jamaica. We ate some amazing authentic Jamaican jerk chicken while on our Jamaica vacation. We also ate jerk pork as well. And, jerk fish, and jerk short ribs…you get the picture. It seems that many Jamaican dishes involve some kind of jerk.
Whatever the main protein (pork, chicken, or fish) it is marinated with a mix of seasonings, including Scotch bonnet pepper, pimento, allspice, and other spices. And, the best jerk is cooked slowly over an open flame, outside. And, one might argue that jerk chicken is the national dish of Jamaica, but there are so many ubiquitous foods on the island that it’s hard to say just what is the national dish of Jamaica. What we can say is that it is one of the most typical Jamaican dishes, and definitely to most well known.
What to eat in Jamaica: Jamaican jerk chicken.
Where to eat Jamaican chicken: Scotchies in Montego Bay is often credited as being the best jerk chicken in Jamaica. We also ate some amazing jerk chicken during our tour of Croydon Plantation in the Jamaican mountains.
How to make Jamaican jerk food at home: This is the brand we brought home with us!
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
Jamaican Meat Pie
Wondering what is the most popular food in Jamaica? Could the best Jamaican restaurant be a fast food joint? We ate some lovely higher end Jamaican cuisine at Sugar Mill Restaurant in Montego Bay, and they took real Jamaican food like the meat patty and elevated it. That said, eating the Jamaican meat pies was one of the highlights of our trip to Montego Bay. For us, it was one of the best Jamaican food items we ate, and could also be one of the most popular Jamaican foods! The Jamaican meat pie is a popular Jamaican food, most similar to an empanada. It’s a pastry filled with spicy meat and lots of yum.
Probably the most famous Jamaican takeaway, we scoured Montego Bay for the best patties. Because as much as our meals at Sugar Mill were amazing, the Jamaican patties are an integral part of the Jamaican food culture. And, grabbing a Jamaican beef patty is similar to grabbing a burger for an American – part of the national identity!
What to eat in Jamaica: Jamaican meat pie. The beef pie is the most traditional, but beef and cheese, and chicken curry are also popular.
Where to eat Jamaican patties in Jamaica: The two most well-known places for patties are Juici and Tastee. And there is a bit of a rivalry (think McDonald’s versus Burger King).
How to eat Jamaican meat patties at home: Yes they have this Jamaica famous food product on Amazon!
Learn more about the Jamaican Meat Patty.
Coco bread goes hand-in-hand with Jamaican meat pies. It’s a flour and yeast bread that is flavored with coconut milk. Although typically used for sandwiches, it is most famously known to be served with Jamaican meat patties. It comes in a brown paper bag, along with the patty. It’s popped open and the patty is placed inside. It’s a heavy snack and meant to satisfy someone for a good portion of the day.
Jamaican Curry Goat
I love how much of the Jamaican cuisine we tried was made with humble meats, or parts of the animal that are not all that common elsewhere. That included goat! That said, we had a hard time tracking down curry goat during our trip to Jamaica. Apparently, a lot of hotels don’t offer it regularly because Americans don’t eat goat and don’t order it (Hey, America, eat goat!). And, our meals during our excursions were pretty set. But, we managed to secure a last minute chow down of Jamaican curry goat while staying at Half Moon. Yes, it was a little gamier than a beef curry, but the meat was fairly tender, and the curry flavor was amazing! It’s more likely to find curry goat at festivals and parties more than at Jamaican restaurants. It could be one of the best Jamaican dishes you can track down.
I would also recommend travelers eat at Sugar Mill, one of the best places in Jamaica for contemporary Jamaican cuisine, and a prime example of modern Jamaican cooking. They occasionally offer a curry goat ravioli as a special. If they have it, order it! I loved the way Chef Chris at Sugar Mill is able to take some popular Jamaican dishes and elevate them to fine dining. Instead of looking like Jamaican typical food, it looks more like a ravioli from Italy.
Where to eat Jamaican curry goat: I was told the Chill Out Hut in Montego Bay has great curry goat, but we didn’t get a chance to try it ourselves. The versions at Seagrape Terrace and Sugar Mill at Half Moon, though, were spectacular! This might not be a popular food in Jamaica for tourists, but try it if you find it.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers – What Makes the Traditional Food of Jamaica Spicy
Remember the heat that the Jamaican people love in their cuisine? A lot of it comes from Scotch Bonnet Peppers. The peppers take their name from the Scottish-style hats some of the British military wear. They come in green, yellow, and red colors. They may be small, but they pack a punch. It seems all of the popular foods in Jamaica are spiced with the Scotch Bonnet, and I am okay with that.
And, how spicy are the Scotch bonnets? They are significantly more spicy than jalapeños and are more like habanero peppers. So, yeah, that’s hot. But, they are not generally eaten fresh. Instead, they are made into hot pepper sauce to go with jerk chicken and other Jamaican dishes. Or, they are baked or cooked into various dishes, including shrimp fritters. I tried to eat as many Jamaican dishes with them in it because I just fell in love with the flavor!
What to Eat in Jamaica: I don’t recommend eating the peppers on their own, instead, watch for them cooked into all sorts of typical Jamaican food.
Where to eat Scotch Bonnet Peppers: If looking for a nicer evening out, the Houseboat Grill in Montego Bay offers a few dishes, including peel and eat shrimp, and shrimp fritters that are served with a spicy hot Scotch Bonnet Pepper buerre blanc. When wondering what Jamaicans eat, it might not be a fancy French buerre blanc sauce, but this was pretty tasty nonetheless.
How to eat Scotch Bonnet Peppers at home:
Jamaican Side Dishes & Other Traditional Jamaican Foods
Whether it’s curry goat, jerk chicken, or a grilled fish, most Jamaican meals offer amazing Jamaican side dishes, many of which I had never tried before. Sometimes they can be listed separately on a Jamaican restaurant menu, other times, they just come with the ordered protein. Jamaican traditional dishes generally do include some sort of tasty side dish.
Rice and Peas
If someone were to ask me “What do Jamaicans eat” I would skip over jerk chicken and say rice and peas. They seemed to be everywhere and must be a top typical food in Jamaica. But, this is not a dish with “peas” as Americans and Brits tend to think of them. Instead, this is more like rice and beans, with red beans that are similar to kidney beans. And, they are found on almost every Jamaican lunch or dinner plate on the island. Definitely, a typical food of Jamaica, even if it was one I had never heard of before.
In my humble opinion, I did not enjoy rice and peas as much as red beans and rice, a traditional Gulf Coast food, which tends to be moister. But, it’s one of the Jamaican staple foods, so try it!
I ate bammy during our first meal in Jamaica, and I fell in love! Bammy is made from cassava or yuca. It is soaked in coconut milk, and then deep fried. But, they can carry a bit of spice. They often are flavored with black pepper, or, of course, Scotch Bonnet peppers. It’s another example of how Jamaican traditional foods use very humble ingredients. Bammy quickly became one of my favorite Jamaican dishes. And it has one of the best traditional Jamaican food names (although some of the next few Jamaica dishes do too!).
Learn to make Jamaican cuisine at home with bammy from Amazon:
In a similar category to bammy is festival, a deep fried cornmeal fritter. It is similar to a cruller in the US, but less sweet. It’s often served with jerk chicken and other main dishes often during a typical Jamaican dinner. One of the best we had was at Scotchies along with our jerk chicken and jerk pork.
How to make festival at home:
Dumplings – Fried and Steamed
I love any cuisine that focuses on dumplings and other bread and dough like products. It’s why I love Italian food so much, and constantly crave dim sum in Hong Kong. It’s also why I love Czech food – loads of dumplings! Traditional food in Jamaican includes a lot of dumplings, again made with humble ingredients.
It seemed like a lot of Jamaican food dishes included dumplings. One of my favorites was a steamed dumpling served with stewed chicken our first breakfast in Jamaica. But, fried dumplings are popular too, and often served alongside ackee and saltfish (see below). This steamed dumpling above included stewed chicken, fried plantains, and callaloo (see below).
After all of this protein and starch, how about a Jamaican dish that includes a vegetable? Callaloo is a green leafy vegetable, similar to kale, that is popular across the Caribbean. It’s usually served steamed or sautéed with peppers and onions and ends up alongside dumplings, steamed or fried plantains, or other typical Jamaica dishes.
Escovitch is a style of cooking, more than a specific Jamaican dish. It uses vinegar, onions, and spices brought to Jamaica by early immigrants. We had an escovitch fish, but we also had a sauce that included spicy, pickled, shredded carrots to spread onto festival at Sugar Mill Restaurant. It was spicy and cool, and quite refreshing on the festival. Although not technical one of the Jamaican side dishes, I didn’t know where else to put it.
How to eat escovitch at home:
Where to Eat These Jamaican Side Dishes: I would recommend Peppa’s Cool Spot, a Jamaican food restaurant set a little inside the hills over the Montego Bay beaches. They offered each of these side dishes (and more) on their Jamaican menu.
Ackee and Saltfish
When asking what food is Jamaican known for, this one probably doesn’t come to mind for culinary travelers. Saving this one for (almost) last, a traditional Jamaican dish found on a Jamaican breakfast menu. Saltfish is just what it sounds like, salted fish. It’s along the lines of a Spanish or Portuguese salted cod. It’s a fish that is salted and dried and then reconstituted later, to help it last longer. I ate a good amount of saltfish while in Jamaica, and I found it a little more salty and a little more dry than it’s European counterparts.
And, yes, I was eating it as one of the top Jamaican breakfast foods, where it is served with ackee, something I had never heard of before landing in Jamaica. Ackee is a fruit that looks a little like jackfruit, native to Western Africa. When cooked it looks a little like scrambled eggs. I didn’t find the ackee to have its own unique flavor. It more takes on the flavor of the dish it is cooked into, much like tofu.
What to eat for breakfast in Jamaica: Ackee and saltfish, yes in the morning!
Where to eat ackee and saltfish in Jamaica: It’s pretty common to find on hotel buffets, but some hotels will use canned instead of fresh ackee. It’s worth it to try at least one.
How to eat ackee at home: Yes, you can get canned ackee on Amazon. It’s not likely to find fresh as it is poisonous until it is cooked.
Jamaican Rum Cake
I’m not a big one for desserts, and we didn’t eat a lot on our Jamaican holiday. But, we tried a Jamaican rum cake just before we left. Rum cake is also known as a fruitcake, or even Christmas cake, in Jamaica. Essentially fruit is soaked in wine and white rum overnight and then baked into the cake.
Just a note, when I opened this package, the rum smell was pungent. I felt like I got a little buzz off of just the smell. But, it’s totally moist and juicy too.
How to enjoy Jamaican rum cake at home:
Other Jamaican Food Dishes
What do Jamaican people eat? There were some other good Jamaican foods that we ate during our trip to Montego Bay. Try to track down some of these Jamaican dishes. These might be a little harder to track down, or might not be as appetizing to an American palate. We ate most of these dishes at Peppas’s, which I would wholeheartedly recommend for good Jamaican food. They had a nice outdoor garden, cold beer, and some of the best selection of traditional foods in Jamaica that we saw.
Run Down, or Run-Dun, is a traditional fish stew made with garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers and fish. It’s all slow-cooked in coconut milk. It’s often served with dumplings. It’s called run down because it is slow cooked for so long that the fish breaks apart and starts to look almost runny.
We love oxtail, and I tend to associate it more with Italian cuisine. In Jamaica, stewed oxtail is braised in a spicy sauce until the meat is tender. With larger pieces of oxtail, try to dig out some of the juicy bone marrow. For some reason, many Americans are hesitant to eat oxtail. If it helps, if you’ve ever eaten osso bucco in an Italian restaurant, you’ve eaten oxtail.
Another dish that many Americans might be hesitant to try is mutton, which is lamb. In Jamaica, they slow cook the mutton, which can be a less than tender cut of meat, in a curry sauce until it is tender.
Grilled Fish With Curry
I often don’t end up ordering grilled fish when traveling, mostly because I don’t like having to fight with bones. But, the grilled fish with curry in Jamaica had such a lovely sauce, it was worth the work and the mess.
This is probably a little less traditional of a dish but was made truly Jamaican with the addition of the scotch pepper sauce that came with the fritters. If you see this on a menu, order it!
What To Drink In Jamaica
Blue Mountain Coffee
When talking about popular Jamaican drinks two things come to mind – rum and coffee. And, we took advantage of both of them on our visit to Montego Bay. But, the coffee was particularly interesting. We learned all about coffee production in Jamaica during our visit to Croydon Plantation. And, we drank a good amount of it too!
Where to drink Blue Mountain Coffee: Almost everywhere!
How to enjoy Blue Mountain Coffee at home: It’s easily found on Amazon. And, don’t be surprised with a little sticker shock. It’s expensive in Jamaica too. But, you pay for the best!
Red Stripe Beer
I feel like this is almost all I drank during our first trip to Jamaica. This time we knocked back a few. Red Stripe is certainly a must-drink beer in Jamaica. It’s easy to drink, and when served cold on a warm day, it’s the perfect match to spicy Jamaican dishes.
Where there is Red Stripe, there is also rum. Again, it’s not hard to find rum in Jamaica, particularly when staying at an all-inclusive resort. Of course, the most famous rum is from Appleton Estates. But try to track down some of the more high-quality rums, including Blackwell and Wray & Nephew. Some of their aged rums can be pretty pricey, but tasty and totally different than the rum used in a typical rum punch. And, speaking of, don’t limit yourself to a rum punch or rum and coke. Ask the bartender or mixologist at your hotel what their specialty drink is. Chances are it will be bright, tasty, and perfect for Instagram! As an alternative, try Sangster’s Rum Cream too!
Want a little more inspiration on why you should visit Montego Bay? About this video of rum drinks with a view over the water:
Montego Bay Map – Where To Eat in Jamaica
It’s not hard to find Jamaican food in Jamaica, you just need to know where to look. Here’s our Montego Bay map to help you find things to eat in Jamaica.
Where to Stay in Montego Bay
We stayed at two Jamaica hotels during our trip. They were as different from each other as beer and champagne! There is a such a variety of Jamaica accommodation options.
First, we stayed at the Riu Palace, one of the all-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay Jamaica. The Riu offers an easy, and good value, option for a Montego Bay vacation. It’s only about 5 minutes from the Montego Bay airport, and they offered some pretty decent local Jamaican food at their buffet. They also make some tasty frozen drinks!
After the Riu, we checked into Half Moon Bay, one of the best resorts in Montego Bay. It’s only a 10-minute drive further from the airport than the Riu but feels like a lifetime away. Set on over two miles of Montego Bay beach, the hotel has a prestigious history as the go-to Jamaica hotel for celebrities and royals. The food is impeccable, and the service top notch.
Rooms at Half Moon start around $330 a night, and there are half board and all inclusive options. Check out reviews of Half Moon on TripAdvisor. Get the best prices for rooms and suites at Half Moon on Booking.com. It is one of the best resorts in Jamaica!
Check out our review of Half Moon Jamaica
What To Do in Jamaica
There are only so many meals one person can eat in a day. If looking for some Montego Bay activities that don’t involve drinking rum on a beach (although there is nothing wrong with that), check out our roundup of how to plan a trip to Jamaica, including top Montego Bay attractions.
Learn more about travel to Jamaica including What to do in Montego Bay.
And, for the true foodies who want to bring the best of Jamaica home with them, visit a Jamaican grocery store! It’s possible to purchase all sorts of jerk seasoning and jerk sauces at the airport, and most duty-free shops across the Jamaica island. But, a real Jamaican food store offers the brands the locals use at the prices the locals pay! But, you don’t even need to leave home to make authentic Jamaican recipes at home. Many of the same seasonings and the same brands are available on Amazon too! We included some of those ingredients above.
FAQs – Jamaican Food
Check out this list of the best restaurants in Montego Bay.
It’s true that certain types of Jamaican food can be a little heavy. I mean, even the bammy is soaked in coconut milk, which is probably why I loved it so much. Try some of the seafood restaurants in Jamaica to keep things lighter.
I am admittedly not the best source for Jamaican food facts, as I am still (happily) learning. Check out how to make your own Jamaican food recipes from a Jamaican cookbook, available on Amazon.
Find more Jamaica hotel deals on Booking.com to help you plan your Montego Bay travel.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
Pin It! What to Eat in Jamaica – Traditional Jamaican Food
When traveling to Jamaica, use the Montego Bay airport lounge to make travel a breeze! Check out our review of the Priority Pass Lounge program, and consider using it during your travels to Jamaica. Click here
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.