When planning a trip to Jamaica, especially for foodies, tracking down the best Jamaican food is a priority! The problem is that many people book Jamaica 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 Jamaican dishes, off the resort property.
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?
Learn more about travel to Montego Bay in our Jamaica Travel Guide.
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 it carries some heat! Perhaps those smiles are masking tongues tingling with spice! It’s not quite as spicy as Szechuan cuisine in China, but it could be up there in the consistency of the heat.
But, there is more to the most famous Jamaican food than spice. Authentic Jamaican food 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 6 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.
What to Eat in Jamaica – The List
Jerk Chicken – Is this a Jamaica National Dish
When people think about traditional Caribbean food, 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.
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 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
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. 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 food items!
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 McDonalds versus Burger King).
How to eat Jamaican meat patties at home: Yes they have them on Amazon!
Learn more about the Jamaican Meat Patty.
Jamaican Curry Goat
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 more gamey 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.
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!
What to eat in Jamaica: Curry goat
Where to eat Jamaican curry goat: I was told the Chill Out Hut in Montego Bay has grest 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!
Scotch Bonnet Peppers
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.
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 dishes. Or, they are baked or cooked into various dishes, including shrimp fritters. I tried to eat as many 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.
How to eat Scotch Bonnet Peppers at home:
Jamaican Side Dishes
Whether it’s curry goat, jerk chicken, or a grilled fish, most Jamaican meals offer amazing 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.
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. But, this is a 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.
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 me more moist. 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 meal, 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.
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. 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!
It seemed like a lot of Jamaican food dishes included dumplings. One of my favorite 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 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, or steamed or fried plantains.
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.
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.
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!
Ackee and Saltfish
Saving this one for (almost) last, a typical 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 fruit cake, 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
There were some other good Jamaican foods that we ate during our trip to Montego Bay. Try to track down some of these Jamaican food dishes.
We ate each of these dishes at Peppas’s, which I would wholeheartedly recommend for good Jamaican food.
Montego Bay Map – Where 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.
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 round up 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
- Where can I learn about the best places in Jamaica for food? Check out this list of the best restaurants in Montego Bay.
- Where can I find more healthy Jamaican food? 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.
- Where can I learn more about the best Jamaican dishes and traditional Jamaican recipes? 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.