What to Eat in Jamaica: Traditional Jamaican Food

Real Jamaica

Eating the traditional food of a country is one of the best parts of travel for me. In fact, if I don’t enjoy the local food, I’ve been know to get food depression. Fortunately, Jamaica has some fantastic flavours to try and some equally amazing places to try them. Whether you’re about to visit Jamaica or are looking to pull together a tropical feast for the family at home, here’s what to eat in Jamaica – traditional Jamaican food.

What to eat in Jamaica

Jerk chicken

What to eat in Jamaica traditional jamaican food jerk chicken

Ask someone to name a traditional Jamaican food and they’ll most likely mention jerk chicken. Ubiquitous throughout Jamaica from roadside shacks to fancy restaurant twists, jerk chicken is, without doubt, a Jamaican institution. If you don’t know what it is, think pieces of chicken rubbed and marinated in a blend of hot spices before being smoked, traditionally over pimento wood.

A word on Jamaican spice: I have an especially high tolerance for spicy food and I’m not going to lie – some of the foods I tried in Jamaica will flat-out blow your lid if you don’t regularly eat hot food. Scotch bonnet, one of the hottest chilli peppers on the planet, is liberally added to many dishes in Jamaica. To give you some context of its power, Scotch Bonnet peppers have a 100,000 to 350,000 rating on the Scoville (heat) scale while jalapeños have 2,500 to 8,000 on the same scale.

If you want to prepare yourself for a trip to Jamaican, it’s possible to slowly up your chilli tolerance by eating increasingly spicy food before you arrive. Trust me, you’ll be grateful for it.

Want to try it at home? The ‘hot’ version of this seasoning is going to be closer to what you’ll find in Jamaica but there is no prize for burning your mouth down so don’t be ashamed about trying the mild version.

Buy it here.

Curry goat

What to eat in Jamaica traditional jamaican food curried goat

Probably the next most popular dish in Jamaica (or at least next most commonly served) is curry goat. Exactly as it sounds, it’s goat – curried. As mentioned above, the curry has a fair kick to it, but should be tolerable by most, and the goat is usually so tender it falls off the bone.

Oh, and if you’re wandering whether I meant to title this ‘curried goat’, curry goat is how the locals refer to this dish and you’ll get an off look if you try to call it anything else.

A word on bones: many of the meat dishes in Jamaica come on the bone and in the case of goat or chicken curry, the meat has been chopped into small pieces, bones and all. It’s a good way of keeping the meat succulent while cooking it to the point of supreme tenderness. However, it can take a little more effort to eat, separating the meat from the bone, as well as a bit of attitude adaptation given most of Europe and North America rarely serves boned meat within a sauce these days. Don’t let it put you off – just be careful when you bite!

Want to try it at home? Check out this popular cookbook, which includes a recipe.

Ackee and saltfish

What to eat in Jamaica Ackee and saltfish

I both loved and hated this traditional Jamaican dish in equal measures – I loved the saltfish (cod) but I couldn’t quite get my head around the squidgy consistency of the ackee.

Ackee is a Jamaican fruit (fruit in the same way that tomato and avocado are fruits) that arrived in Jamaica from Ghana in the early 1700s. The fruit grows in abundance and the locals love it. In fact, I think most tourists like it, too. I seemed to be a bit of an exception and the chances are you’ll love it. Ackee and saltfish is cooked up in one pot with tomatoes, onions and, of course, chilli and spices; and there’s as much chance that you’ll find this dish served at breakfast as you’ll find it at dinner.

Want to try it at home? Neither of the base items for this dish are cheap…but it’s cheaper than flying to Jamaica for the night, right?

Buy Ackee on Amazon.

Buy saltfish on Amazon.

Going to Jamaica? How about a food tour?

Food tours are one of my favourite activities in a new country. Under the expertise guidance of a local, you’re usually taken to the best food spots and given the low down on what the native people really eat. If you’re off to Jamaica, here are a few food (and drink) tours to check out:

Private Jamaican Food Tour. Click here to check reviews and prices on TripAdvisor

Appleton Rum Tasting and Jerk Chicken Experience. Click here to check reviews and prices on TripAdvisor

Click here for a wider list of food tours.

Run down

What to eat in Jamaica Run Down

Yep, I thought someone was telling me they were getting sick when I heard the words ‘run down’ but in Jamaica it’s a popular one-pot dish that usually includes fish and vegetables (yam, tomatoes, onions) cooked in coconut milk until the fish is ‘run down’ i.e. breaks into pieces.

Want to try it at home?

You can find a recipe for Jamaican run down here.

Buy Jamaican coconut milk powder on Amazon here.

Solomon Grundy

What to eat in Jamaica Solomon Grundy

You may know Solomon Grundy best from the nursery rhyme (Solomon Grundy, born on Monday, Christened on Tuesday…) but in Jamaica, Solomon Grundy is an appetiser of pickled fish pâté. Served with crackers, this bite size dish with its compliments of salt and vinegar is very moreish – back away after a few crackers if you plan on making it all the way to dessert.

Can’t find scotch bonnet peppers at home?

If you can’t find them in your local supermarket, try the powdered or dried variety or, even better, grow your own.

By scotch bonnet pepper powder on Amazon here.

Buy whole scotch bonnet peppers on Amazon here.


What to eat in Jamaica Callaloo

Very traditional in the Caribbean, callaloo is a dish made from cooking leaf vegetables (commonly amaranth, taro or xanthosomo). Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of those veggies before, I can assure you they taste just fine. In fact, callaloo turned out to be one of my favourite dishes in Jamaica – probably because of its similarity to cooked spinach.

Want to try it at home? Buy Callaloo on Amazon here.

Rice and peas

What to eat in Jamaica Rice and peas
Rice and peas – the perfect accompaniment for jerk chicken.

Jamaica still retains a traditional protein and rice approach to its meals with rice and peas being one of the most common side dishes you’ll be served. Don’t be confused by the word ‘peas’ – that’s a Jamaican name for beans similar to kidney beans. All in, this dish is very similar to the red beans and rice you’ll find in Louisiana with the key difference that the Jamaican version is cooked with coconut milk for a very tropical taste. 

A word on restaurant prices in Jamaica: thanks in no small amount to the number of tourists that flood Jamaica each year, restaurant prices are way north of what you might expect them to be. My best tip for managing your food expectations is not to make comparisons with what you pay (and what you might get) for the same price back home. You’re in the Caribbean and food prices reflect that. For example, I paid $20 for an average (at best) plate of curry chicken and rice and a small bottle of water in a restaurant. Keep your comparisons between the relative quality of the restaurants in Jamaica and you’ll have a much more pleasant time.

For some of my favourite places to eat in Jamaica, see below.


What to eat in Jamaica Bammy

Bammy is nothing short of divine. A very simple but delicious flat bread that’s made from cassava (yuca), you’ll probably end up craving it when it doesn’t appear on your plate. But don’t indulge too much if you want to take care of your waistline – the reason bammy tastes so delicious is because the cassava is soaked in coconut milk and fried.

Want to try it at home? Buy Bammy on Amazon here.

Fancy making it from scratch? You can find a recipe here.

Where to stay in Jamaica

I explored Jamaica on an independent trip, stopping off at various routes that took me from Montego Bay through to Kingston. Here’s where I stayed along the way:

Montego Bay:  It’s pretty challenging to find a non-resort hotel in Montego Bay that doesn’t come with the backing of a big brand…but I did find one: The Gloucestershire Hotel (now the Deja Resort). Clean with very helpful staff, it’s just across from famous Doctor’s Cove beach and on the Hip Strip (though don’t get too excited by that – it’s not as ‘hip’ as the guidebooks make out). Just 5 minutes from the airport, for one night on arrival or before departure, this hotel is perfect.

Ocho Rios: I stayed at Sussex Great House, a splendid, still functioning spice plantation. You can book it through Airbnb. If you’ve not used Airbnb before, you can get up to $20 off your first stay via this link. 

Port Antonio: If you’re after some eco-boutique-chic, check out Hotel Mockingbird Hill. With one of the most popular restaurants in the vicinity and awards for their eco work, this hotel makes a great base for exploring the local beaches and natural sights.

Blue Mountains: I’d like to go back and make one amendment to my Jamaican itinerary and add a night in the Blue Mountains. Waking up to a fresh coffee amidst the coffee plantations would be sublime. Accommodation is a bit sparse in the mountains but Tripadvisor has some recommendations here.

Kingston: I stayed at the Altamont Court Hotel in Kingston. Located in New Kingston (the business area), it was pretty quiet (in a safe way). The hotel was very smart with an excellent value restaurant on-site. They have a sister hotel (Altamont West Hotel) in Montego Bay if you’re looking for an alternative to Deja Resort. And if you’re after something hyper-luxurious in Kingston, check out The Jamaican Pegasus Hotel. I had lunch there one day and could happily have slipped into one of their rooms for a nap.

Hostels in Jamaica: The Caribbean isn’t particularly friendly when it comes to backpackers – prices are generally hight and hostels are few and far between. That said, Jamaica comes out near the top in terms of affordability and availability of dorm rooms. You can see what hostels are available in Jamaica here.

For more information on travelling through Jamaica, check out my related article: An itinerary Through Real Jamaica.


What to eat in Jamaica Dumplings

While we’re on the topic of deep-fried sides, if I didn’t find bammy on my plate, I could most certainly locate a dumpling or two. Made from flour, dumplings are usually boiled or fried (or boiled and then fried) and are often served with fish dishes. And those dumplings that are made from white flour and are fried without being boiled are known as Johnny cakes. There are two types of dumplings (top left and centre) in the picture above.

Want to try it at home? Buy Jamaican Dumplings on Amazon here.

Jamaican Patties

What to eat in Jamaica patties

Look, I never said you were going to get thin eating traditional Jamaican food and with patties on the table, there’s every chance you’re going to eat more than one during your stay. Akin to a meat pie, Jamaican patties are made up of a pastry outer that can be stuffed with all manner of meat, vegetables or fish. However, unlike British pies, you’re going to have a lot more flavour and spice in Jamaican patties. Try a few flavours to find your favourite.

Want to try it at home?

You can find a recipe here.

Planning your trip? Lonely Planet guides can be low on pretty pictures but they more than make up for it with a wealth of information.

Here’s the Jamaica Lonely Planet Guide

You can find alternative guidebooks here.

Plantain: chipped, fried, fresh

What to eat in Jamaica plantain traditional jamaican fod

Of course, plantain, like several of the dishes in Jamaica, is not exclusive to this Caribbean island, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. Whether you’re having it as chips served as a snack (great with a beer), deep-fried or boiled, plantain is a welcome addition to pretty much every Jamaican plate.

Want to try it at home? You can buy plantains on Amazon here.

Soups (especially pepperpot soup)

What to eat in Jamaica pepperpot soup

This may sound like a generic suggestion – go to Jamaica and eat soup – but the fact is that Jamaica has an extensive soup repertoire. My favourites include Jamaican pepperpot (callaloo, yam and Scotch Bonnet) and good old pumpkin soup. Whichever version you try, expect some heat.

Want to try it at home?

You can find a recipe for pepperpot soup here. This is a vegetarian version – some recipes include pig’s tail, which may not be to your liking (it doesn’t appeal to me too much – I had the veggie version when I was in Jamaica).


What to eat in Jamaica Soursop

A thin amount of fruit flesh around a hard, inedible pip makes for some mouth work, but the soft, gently sweep flavour of soursop makes it worth the effort. Think lychee without the strong perfumed taste and you wont be far off the mark.

A word on desserts: I can’t help feel like I’ve let you down on the dessert front but since the beginning of the year, I seem to have lost my sweet tooth – I could barely manage one let alone two gelato a day when I was in Italy. Once upon a time, I would choose my main course according to what I was going to eat for dessert but recently the urge has left. For that reason, I didn’t order a single sweet dish while I was in Jamaica. Apologies – here’s a list of traditional Jamaican desserts (as eaten and written by someone else).

What to drink in Jamaica

What to drink in Jamaica

As well as what to eat in Jamaica, you probably want to know what to drink, too? Fortunately, I haven’t, lost my urge to drink, so here are a few Jamaican brews for you to try.

Blue Mountain Coffee

After oxygen and water, coffee is perhaps my third most necessary life item and, if it were considered acceptable, I’d consume it by the bucket load. Thanks to my caffeine urge, I’ve built up a bit of coffee knowledge over the years and I declare the coffee from the Blue Mountains in Jamaica to be some of the best I’ve tasted. In fact, if you have the chance, get up into the blue mountains so that you can taste the coffee at source (more details below).

Want to try it at home? You can buy the amazing Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee on Amazon here.

Red Stripe

I almost didn’t add this drink to the list because Red Stripe is commonly available in many countries around the world and it’s not one of my favourite beers. However, I have to give Jamaica credit because its home-grown brew does taste much better when consumed in the country of origin. Maybe it’s the sunshine?


And this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning rum.

Here are a couple of local rums to try that were recommended to me by people in Jamaica.

J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum – owned by the bunch behind Appleton, legend has it, this was the original Jamaican rum, so it’s worth a taste for that reason alone. However, drinkers are urged to take caution. This spirit comes in at a hefty 63% alcohol so it’s going to hit you in the head as well as in the back of the throat. You’ll probably just want to try this just once. Or with lots of coke.

Appleton VX – if you aren’t in the mood for throat burn, try to get your hands on some Appleton VX. Sugar, spice and all things nice. That is what this rum is made of.

Favourite food spots in Jamaica

The best thing you can to do for your palette in Jamaica is avoid the resorts and their all-inclusive buffets. There’s very little that tastes good when it’s served from a bain-marie (those metal buffet bins).

Here are some of my favourite food places in Jamaica.

Mille Fleur (Port Antonio)

Where to eat in Jamaica Mille Fleur

Long regarded as the number one restaurant in pretty Port Antonio, I can’t decide if it’s the dedication to locally sourced, organic produce or the creativity of the daily changing menu that blends local and European flavours that makes this place a winner. Or maybe it’s the views over the port, the Blue Mountains and the Caribbean Sea. Most likely, it’s a combination of all these things. Go for sunset cocktails and stay for a long, indulgent dinner. And if you’re too full to walk more than a few steps afterwards, you’re in luck – the restaurant is part of the award-winning eco-boutique Mockingbird Hill Hotel.

Pelican Grill (Montego Bay)

It can be hard to find a place for dinner in Montego Bay that isn’t part of an America chain and doesn’t come with not paper (fast-food) napkins. Luckily, after a few conversations with locals I was pointed towards Pelican Grill. Sat on the (poorly named) Hip Strip, Pelican Grill has a beautiful traditional Jamaican menu as well as a few more Americanised options if you’re after a change.

Belinda’s (Rio Grande)

What to eat in Jamaica Belindas rio grande

Everything about Belinda’s is going to blow your mind. First up, you can only reach it by taking a raft down the Rio Grande. And then you have to make sure Belinda’s going to be there on the day you visit – she most likely is, but with a 7 kilometre walk ‘to work’, heavy rain can keep her away. Assuming fortune is in your favour, get ready for a feast that’s cooked up in huge, heavy pots over firewood flames. With the Rio Grande floating by and a plate piled with some of the best local food you’ll find in Jamaica, eating at Belinda’s is most likely going to be a highlight of your trip.

I arranged my rafting trip with Mockingbird Hill Hotel and they have a direct line to Belinda, so they know whether she’ll be cooking on a certain day or not.

A word on dressing for dinner: Jamaicans dress well. Incredibly well. So, if you’re heading out for dinner or intending to visit a decent restaurant for lunch, do as the locals and present yourself well. I ended up in a few places where I was glad I’d put a simple dress on instead of just a t-shirt and shorts.

Of course, if you’re at the beach or on the Rio Grande (see below), beach wear is just fine.

Cynthia’s Winnifred beach (Port Antonio)

Where to eat in Jamaica Winnifred Beach

Think Belinda’s but with a beach-side setting and that pretty much sums up the restaurant run by Cynthia on Winnifred Beach. There are very few public beaches in Jamaica, most of the patches of sand having been claimed by the big resorts, so it’s refreshing to step onto beautiful Winnifred Beach, which is mostly occupied by locals. Cynthia serves up a healthy portion of local food that’s going to send you straight for a lie down on the sand.

Devon House i-scream (Kingston)

Where to eat in Jamaica Devon House

Tell a lie, I did have one dessert when I was in Jamaica (even if I did technically eat it just before lunch). The i-scream ice cream shop at Devon House in Kingston is an institution in the city with families making it a regular part of their weekend routine. You’ll absolutely have to queue for a cone but it’s absolutely worth it. What did I try? Rum and raisin, of course – when in Jamaica…

Old Tavern Coffee Estate (Blue Mountains)

What to eat in Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee
Who fancies a coffee with this view?

I’ve already mentioned the exceptional quality of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee but you can’t beat sampling a cup and buying beans direct from one of the growers. After a couple of hours winding up towards the peak of the mountains, I hit upon the Old Tavern Coffee Estate and once there I came very close to refusing to leave. Three cups of freshly brewed coffee later, I probably could have run down the mountain. And I’d happily run back up it just for another cup.

Life Yard 360 (Kingston)

Where to eat in Jamaica Life Yard

One of the most impressive projects I saw in Jamaica was Life Yard 360, an urban garden that’s been planted and cultivated in the middle of Kingston. Using Rastafari tradition, Life Yard serves vegetarian food. Sadly, the kitchen wasn’t open when I stopped by so can someone pop in and let me know how good it is? Stop by the Facebook page to make sure food is being served on the say you plan to visit.

Have you been to Jamaica? Any favourite foods I’ve missed or any other restaurants you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments below. 

Photos: Jerk Chicken (Sean Hickin); Run Down (Dane Brian); Solomon Grundy (e_hmm); Rice & Peas (simthom); Bammy (Purple Globetrotter); Patties (mesohungry); Soursop (taramarie). My stay in Jamaica was courtesy of Hotel Mockingbird Hill.


57 thoughts on “What to Eat in Jamaica: Traditional Jamaican Food”

  1. If you travel to Kingston or Montego Bay, you CANNOT miss a meal at UNCORKED. Originally a gourmet wine and cheese bar but now has expanded to an amazing epicurean restaurant that features the best, THE BEST, traditional Jamaican and West Indian fusion dishes. The wine selection is unmatched and is visited by some of the most well known winemakers. The chef is an outstanding culinary genius and will create a one of a kind dish for you. It is a MUST!

  2. Try visiting Miss T’s Kitchen off of Main Street in Ocho Rios for the best of oxtail. She also does a delicious brown stew chicken.

  3. John, you forgot to mention such treats as Gizzadas, sweet potato pudding, and yes, Devon House does dish up the best ice cream. Only in Havana have I had better.

  4. I didn’t realize that curry goat was a Jamaican dish. My sister is a big fan of curry, and is always interested in trying new things.

    • Then you will also enjoy our curried shrimp simmered in coconut juice and curry chicken. Finger licking good. I now reside in the USA, but my tastebuds remained home, so I still do my thing here with whatever Jamaican spices I can get my hands on. Try it.

  5. thank you for your great recipes. i will save them for when i feel like coo king, maybe go a to jamaica this summer. keep in touch.

  6. If you haven’t walked on 7 Mile Beach in Negril, you’ve missed it. Rick’s Cafe is another place to be at Sunset, while watching locals and tourist dive from the cliffs. I’ve been to Negril more times than I can remember. Here’s another can’t miss; there are Clothing Optional Hotels in Negril. The choice is yours!

    • I need to go back to visit Negril! I’ll be giving the clothings optional hotel a miss, personally. Just the idea of all those bare bottoms on seats. :/

  7. Not a single mention of Negril? That’s where Jamaicans go to vacation. Gotta try the mannish water. Just don’t ask what’s in it.

    • I definitely need to visit Negril! Next time. Now I’m curious about mannish water though possible too scared to google it!

  8. Absolutely awesome post Jo, great content.
    Superb recommendations, fun to read, ok honestly I just cant wait to get to Jamaica now!!

  9. Jo Fitzsimons, If you can, next time please list the spots where these food are purchased so your readers can visit. Thank you . The food looks so enticing.!!

    • Hi Tasia, I have some restaurant recommendations in my other Jamaica post which you’ll find on the site. Hope you enjoy.

  10. Jo Fitzsimons, Thank you for the beautiful pictures of Jamaican Food. You make me so hungry now, but I will be taking a trip soon.

    Dori is so silly to speak about Typing error as if we are in a typing class. I am happy that you suggest meditation for her since small stuff like this drives her crazy.

  11. Next time you come to Jamaica stay at a villa and try the home cooked food you will find the food also has a different twist and cooks are happy to share their recipe.

  12. Can you recommend any villas in Jamaica that offer the most authentic Jamaican food, if not an all-inclusive resort?

    My family is looking to travel there but we don’t want to have to purchase food a-la-carte for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    If anyone has any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it!

    • Try any of the little guest houses on the Westend strip in Negril. They sell marvelous food. Try Chicken Lavish, Peewees, Ocean Edge plus a host of other hot spots for a real Jamaican feel. Coming from a real Jamaican who does not reside there but spent a lot of time there.

    • Casa de Shalom in Ocho RiOS. Small hotel but Manager Oliver Ramdeen, an experienced and very affable Jamaican hotelier and food and beverage specialist will make sure you have an experience to die for.

  13. Next time you go to Jamaica you have to try the fish soup, and try the fish cook down with coconut juice it is delicious you are going to love it, you have to try the roast fish taste delicious too and spicy and then you drink a cold Red Stripe Beer lol

    • I love fish soup! And the fish cook down sounds amazing – anything with coconut juice in it does, especially when you recommend a beer with it. Thanks for the tips.

      • Always try for the little local spots in every town. Always a much better tasting and ambience than the resorts and may be as little as a quarter of the price. Getting down with the locals is truly where it’s at but just make sure you are traveling with a local you can trust through references. An experience you will always treasure. Despite news to the contrary, Jamaicans are a very friendly and helpful people, who like to entertain.

  14. Oxtail with rice and peas should have been your number one, but an otherwise good list.
    – Signed a Jamaican (lol)

  15. Scotchies in between At. Ann’s and Ochi is a very good spot for jerk on the island. Roasted friend breadfruit is very good with soups or ackee. Jamaican pineapple is sweeter, more tender and less acidic then pineapple in the states.

  16. Great info. I’ve had most of these foods and have been to most of these places. The only suggestion I have is, proof read before you hit publish. Drives me crazy.

    • Hi Dori, I’m glad you found the article informative. Apologies for the typos but running a blog is a lot of hard work and I am but human. I also have very limited time to go back over my hundreds of posts and view them with fresh eyes – when typos are easiest to spot. Feel free to send over a list of specific typos you spot. Otherwise, I highly recommend meditation – helps you handle life’s small irritations like typos ?

    • Dora, it is very silly of you to speak about proof-read on this page. We are all not professional typist. Find something else to speak aobut.

  17. Wow you captured the perfect list of Jamaican food haha! As a jamaican myself, my favorite is curry goat, the delicious jamaican patties and of course our national dish Ackee and Saltfish! Did you ever try manish water? If not, you need to! Super delicious 🙂

    • manish water – no! Looks like I missed a trick. I’ll try and track it down in the UK, maybe (we have some great Jamaican communities in London and Liverpool, where I live). I could certainly eat a Jamaican pattie right now…you’re making me hungry.

  18. Beautifully captured! You’ve made me feel so so hungry on this cold winter’s day. Hotel Mockingbird Hill’s cheese and pimento festival have become a staple with soup, you have to give them a go

  19. Great article, would love to try bammy and soursop! I have only tried African dumplings, ones I ate in Sierra Leone but they are different to Jamaican ones as I ate them as a sweet snack and not with curries, fish etc.

    • Now there’s a trip idea – dumpling eating around the world. I’ve never had sweet dumplings. Maybe I’ll search for them next 🙂

      • If you’ve had festival with your jerk chicken etc. chances are you’ve tried a sweet dumpling (usually prepared with cold water and or milk and sugar in addition to what goes in the regular fried dumpling). Loved this article; glad you’ve had the chance to experience our paradise. Bless


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