The best local dishes from Jamaica usually combine stewed, slow-cooked or broiled seafood or meat with plenty of seasonings and spices – often the red-hot scotch bonnet pepper. Jamaican cuisine is all about flavor and this island nation has plenty of its own versions of Caribbean favorites. From unique soups to crispy patties and the famous jerk chicken, Jamaica has something for all meat-eaters. But with restaurants that source vegetables from their own farms, there’s plenty on offer for vegetarians, too.

    If you want to get a glimpse at the local food scene and broaden your culinary horizons in Jamaica, it’s worth getting acquainted with some of the country’s most famous dishes. Here are those we highly recommend trying.

    1

    Jamaican jerk chicken and pork

    One of Jamaica’s most famous dishes

    Jerk chicken is one of the most well-known dishes to come from Jamaica. The meat is marinated in spices with scotch bonnet pepper, pimento and scallion before being cooked over coals and pimento wood. It’s often served with side dishes such as plantains, rice and beans, and sweet potatos.

    Jerk chicken is just as popular in Jamaica as it is internationally, so you won’t struggle to find it on the menu at any Jamaican restaurant. If you’re on the island, Scotchies has 3 locations and the one in Montego Bay is popular with both locals and visitors for its jerk chicken and pork.

    2

    Ackee and saltfish

    The national dish of Jamaica and a breakfast favorite

    Ackee and saltfish is a staple of a typical Jamaican diet. The ackee fruit now grows in abundance through Jamaica, and its yellow inside is used to make a breakfast treat (though it’s common to eat for dinner, too). The fruit is added to ingredients such as sauteed codfish and plenty of herbs and spices. Common sides include Jamaican dumplings, hardo bread and coleslaw.

    Because ackee and saltfish is Jamaica’s national dish and a staple, it’s easy to find at just about any restaurant on the island. Many restaurants prepare ackee and saltfish by harvesting their own crops. You might want to look for the more remote places to eat as these are the ones that operate farms.

    3

    Sweet potato pudding

    A delicacy to satisfy your sweet tooth

    Sweet potato pudding is a favorite dessert among Jamaican locals. Sweet potato plus ingredients such as raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla are added to a Dutch pot, which has hot coals placed on the lid as well as underneath. The result is a delicious dessert with a custardy layer on both sides.

    If you want to eat like a local, treat yourself to a warm sweet potato pudding with ice cream as a Sunday dinner. If you’re traveling in Jamaica and fancy a real treat, head to Pudding Man, a restaurant in Priory that has featured on international cooking shows.

    4

    Oxtail

    Slow-cooked cattle tails with local sides

    Oxtail is a popular Jamaican stew dish made from the tail of cattle. As is common with Jamaican cuisine, this dish is seasoned with plenty of herbs and spices for maximum flavor. It’s usually served with rice and peas, though beans are a tasty alternate.

    Bear in mind that while oxtails marinated with jerk sauce are meaty and rich, they’re quite tough due to the tongue’s cartilage. Keep an open mind – it’s a local favorite, and you’ll find it on the menu at just about any Jamaican restaurant.

    5

    Curry goat

    A spicy delight with a Jamaican twist

    The Jamaican curry goat is a spicier take on the Indian version. If you’ve never tried goat, many people say it tastes slightly gamier than lamb, but it’s still juicy and tender. And with seasonings such as onion, garlic, hot peppers, ginger and a variety of herbs, there’s no denying that it’s bursting with flavor.

    In Jamaica, curry goat is a popular meal on special occasions, including Christmas. However, due to its popularity, it’s available year-round at most restaurants. Try it with sides like rice and peas or beans.

    6

    Jamaican patties

    Enjoyed by meat-lovers the world over

    A Jamaican patty tastes similar to a Spanish empanada, though they’re usually spicier thanks to the use of scotch bonnet peppers and an array of other spices. These flaky dough treats are usually filled with sauteed vegetables and meat such as chicken or beef. Some restaurants make them with fillings including fish, lobster or ackee.

    In Jamaica, you’ll find these patties everywhere, from roadside shacks to upscale restaurants. If you fancy splashing out on a restaurant that’s renowned for its Jamaican patties, head to Devon House Bakery in Kingston.

    7

    Fish and festival

    Generous servings of seafood with deep-fried dumplings

    Naturally, the locals on the island of Jamaica love their seafood dishes, and fish and festival is one of the most popular. It’s essentially a big plate of freshly caught seafood such as crab, kingfish and parrotfish with festivals (deep-fried dumplings). It’s a great sharing dish if you want to sample a range of seafood delights.

    Festivals can also be a tasty side dish on meals including the famous jerk chicken. You can eat them on their own, but they complement this fish platter dish perfectly. You’ll find fish and festival at just about any seafood or Jamaican restaurant.

    8

    Run down

    Stewed fish with plenty of seasonings

    Run down, also spelt as run-dun, is a fish stew that’s coupled with onions, tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers and a variety of spices. It’s usually made using mackerel, though cod makes a tasty alternate. Coconut is used during the slow cooking process, giving it that uniquely Caribbean burst of flavor.

    The locals are happy to eat a healthy portion of run down at any time of the day, and you’ll find it at restaurants ranging from street stalls to upscale diners. We recommend trying it with a side such as boiled bananas, renta yam or dumplings.

    9

    Pepper pot soup

    Jamaica’s take on a Caribbean favorite

    The Jamaican pepper pot soup is similar to Caribbean alternatives, with the main difference being that it’s made with callaloo. You’ll find different takes on this dish throughout Jamaica, but it usually consists of pureed callaloo boiled with cocoyam, chopped yam, okra and salted beef. If you’re a vegetarian, you can skip the salted beef, and the result is still delicious.

    You can find this Creole-style soup just about anywhere in Jamaica. If you fancy a hearty meal, consider pairing your pepper soup with a side such as dumplings. You can also choose a side such as sliced avocados for an added health boost.

    10

    Mannish water

    Goat meat with young bananas and veggies in a hearty soup

    If you’re a foodie traveling in Jamaica and want something a little different, try mannish water, which is a soup made from a ram goat’s feet, head and tripe mixed with young bananas – including the skins. Other ingredients can include dumplings, scallions, garlic and scotch bonnet peppers. When cooked, it’s usually served with roasted yam.

    Some versions of this dish don’t include meat scraps such as tripe, but authentic Jamaican mannish water contains just about all scraps from a goat. You may struggle to find this dish in a restaurant, so keep your eyes peeled for roadside stops.

    Joshua Saunders | Contributing Writer

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