How Jamaican Traditions Work

By: Kathryn Whitbourne  | 

Traditional Jamaican Food

Ackee fruit on display in a market stall.
Lew Robertson/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Jamaican food tends to be on the spicy side and is a mix of African, European and Indian influences. Some food items are world-famous. Take, for instance, jerk chicken, which has graced many restaurant menus internationally. Despite its global popularity, it will never taste the same as it does in Jamaica because it's cooked differently there. The word "jerk" comes from the Spanish word charqui, which refers to dried strips of meat, sort of like beef jerky. In Jamaica, jerk pork or chicken is marinated with a paste of pimento, super-hot Scotch Bonnet peppers and other spices, and cooked barbecue style outdoors on a lattice of pimento wood, which produces a delicious smoky flavor. The method of cooking is said to have originated with the Taino Indians thousands of years ago [source: The Kitchen Project].

Another internationally famous food is the patty, the hamburger of Jamaica. Patties are shaped like turnovers and filled with spicy ground beef -- although chicken, lobster or vegetarian patties are also common. The turnover pastry was introduced by the English while East Indians added cumin and curry flavors to the beef. Patties are usually eaten at lunch time in Jamaica with a soda or juice and are best consumed a few minutes after they are baked.


The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish, a marriage of two very unlikely ingredients. Ackee -- a relative of the lychee -- was brought to Jamaica from West Africa as food for slaves by Captain Bligh (of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame) in the late 18th century. Jamaica is one of the few places where this nutritious plant is eaten -- perhaps because the ackee becomes poisonous if the fruit is forced out of the red pod rather than allowed to open naturally [source: University of the West Indies]. Saltfish (dried salted cod) from Canada was commonly given to slaves to eat because it was cheap back then [source: Tropic Isle Living]. Ackee, which looks like scrambled eggs when cooked, combines with saltfish -- and perhaps some tomato and salt pork or bacon -- for a hearty Sunday breakfast.

Jamaican cuisine may be world-renowned, but did you know that Jamaica is also famous for its coffee? It's true: Jamaican coffee is some of the finest and most expensive in the world. The best is grown on the slopes of the Blue Mountains and is considered a very mild, balanced blend. Most of it is exported to Japan, but buyers in the U.S. can expect to pay about $50 for a pound of the stuff [source: Porto Rico Importing Company].