Jamaican patties and jerk chicken were my only experience with Jamaican cuisine prior to visiting, these foods commonly found in New York. I loved trying authentic versions of these delicious old favorites and also learning about a whole new world of mouthwatering dishes. Jamaican cuisine is amazingly vibrant with influences from several continents creating a unique blend and eating around town was a huge highlight of our trip. If you stay all inclusive, you would miss out on all of this fantastic food and that would be a shame! There were so many items I had on my list of ‘foods I need to try while in Jamaica,’ and the strip of Seven Mile Beach provided tons of restaurants to help me fulfill my quest, and belly!
So here is my list of quintessential Jamaican foods, and where to get them on Seven Miles Beach:
I always love trying local fruit, it’s exciting to find how different and similar flavors can be. One of our friends at our hotel chopped off the top of coconuts for us to sip the water and another split his sour sop with me after I asked what it was. The sour sop was amazing and so bizarre. Very tangy and had a stringy strange texture. Definitely try it if you can find it! Outside there are fresh fruit stands up and down Seven Mile Beach, and many people who will walk up and down the beach selling fruit. We walked up to a stand, instead of them approaching us for a change. They were nice polite young men and had a great batch of fruit and let us try pieces of ones we had never had before.
We ended up with a bunch of tiny Jamaican bananas much like the ones we have at home, but fresher! They accompanied all of our breakfasts. The Jamaican ‘apple’ which really wasn’t similar in taste to our apple in America – it was more mild and floral with a pear texture. Wish we had them at home! Last but not least we tried the Julie Mango. Yes! I have a namesake fruit in Jamaica and it is juicy and delectable. Also, not exactly a fruit, but almond trees are everywhere and their seeds fall to the ground. Try and crack them open, or buy a bag of fresh almonds from a vendor – they’re so sweet and wonderful.
Ackee and Saltfish
A traditional breakfast dish and my number one must eat while in Jamaica. Honestly, the idea of fish for breakfast wasn’t exciting – it’s not something I’m used to so early in the morning. However it was one of the best things I have ever eaten! It came out looking very similar to scrambled eggs, but eggs aren’t in the mix. The dish is mainly composed of ackee, a fruit which is toxic when not ripe, salt cod, peppers, onions, and goes great with a side of toast and will keep you good and satisfied throughout the morning. You will find this dish at most places serving breakfast. We had it at our hotel called the Hidden Paradise which served a great breakfast.
Fun to say and to eat! This popular side dish was a favorite for us because it is mostly comprised of a healthy dark leafy green vegetable along with onions, peppers, scallions, and garlic. It tasted great and we felt good about eating it too. The recipe is originally from West Africa, and many Caribbean islands have a different take on it. We enjoyed this delight daily at the Hidden Paradise with breakfast.
Jerk chicken (or pork, or anything!) is a must in Jamaica. It’s the burger and fries to America, spaghetti to Italy, sushi to Japan. You have to get it! You’ll find little pits lining the streets making it and almost every restaurant serves it. A great popular spot to get it is Bourbon Beach.
You can watch the chicken smoking on the coals, warm by the far. Sit at the bar, inside the open air restaurant at a table, find a table on the sand where the ocean front view is unmatched, or take it to go! The chicken is tender and has the perfect heat, absolutely scrumptious. Don’t forget a side of rice and peas – another Jamaican favorite.
I liked jerk seasoning before I went to Jamaica, but I came back with a bit of an obsession. I have to visit my favorite Caribbean places to get my fix and found frozen jerk shrimp in the grocery store which are really great! To keep your jerk cravings at bay you can buy some spices at a local shop to bring home and keep the memory alive and the belly happy.
One of the tastiest treats you can get on the island! Savory little pastries filled with meat, veggies, or a combination of both. They’re undeniably delectable. There are plenty of spots to get a Jamaican patty, the guy on the bicycle sells them – many restaurants sell them premade – but, there is one place you can see them rolled by hand and fried up right in front of you. Niah’s is the best of them all. A brother and sister duo have a little shack on the beach and whip up some of the freshest patties you will ever have in your life.
Niah himself is a very interesting man and will be happy to tell you about his Rastafarian culture. If you are into healthy cuisine, ask him for some of his vegetable dumpling stew or a baked patty instead. This is a grab and go spot, you can head to the nearby picnic tables or take it to the beach. Either way, this is destined to be a most memorable meal.
I was so happy to have my fish dish smothered in this lip smacking sauce. Brown sugar helps to create the dark color of the sauce, but onions and garlic make it savory. We had dinner at Coletta’s and they have a lovely rendition. The atmosphere is very quiet, homey, and comfortable.
If you are a lobster lover you’ll be happy to know that they are fished right off shore. Fresh lobster is everywhere! My Mom got hers from Woodstock which is right on the beach. Perfectly yummy and pre cracked so there is less of a hassle. A plus that comes with eating here is access to beach chairs afterwards.
Conch is also a local shellfish and we tried ours at Sweet Spice Restaurant located in the downtown area. The conch was tender and soaked up an excellent thick garlic sauce. Along with the conch we were given a complimentary fish broth which was so great and we tried a portion of escovitch fish – another Jamaican specialty of lightly fried fish smothered in spicy onions and peppers.
Blue Mountain Coffee
I can’t exist without coffee. Each morning I happily sipped on Blue Mountain coffee to start my day right. Strong without a hint of bitterness, I made sure to bring some home and it went way too fast. Next door to our hotel was a little coffee shop with a real sweet lady running the show. She had the ingenious idea of iced coffee on a stick.
Wow, I’ve never seen that before. I had to go for it just for the novelty. So good, but it’s hot in Jamaica so you have to slurp it down fast!
If you are of legal age, you can’t leave Jamaica without trying a Red Stripe! I’m not a big drinker, but I always like to try local beers when traveling. We went for a Red Stripe light and it was very refreshing served cold on a hot afternoon.
A few tips about eating around Seven Mile Beach:
-A note to health nuts – it isn’t easy to find all of the fancy health foods that exist in America like Greek yogurt or almond milk. Salads consist of cabbage and sometimes cucumber or tomato if you’re lucky. Your healthy choices will be a bit more limited, but eat your fruit, nuts, callaloo, and fresh fish dishes and you will survive your time in Jamaica healthily.
-Napkins are a commodity. You may get one, you may get none. I never realized how I took napkins for granted until I was left without them. What shocked me the most is when I got back into an American airport for a layover coming home, there was a wad of napkins on the seat someone left as trash. We have no idea how lucky we are for the smallest of details.
-Bones will most likely be in your fish and other meats. Be careful, eat slowly.
-Many restaurants run on ‘island time.’ It’s hot. People are laid back. Your food will come out when it’s ready and it’ll be worth the wait.