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Jamaica - Food and Drink


These three fun facts about Jamaican food and drink will give you a picture of the high quality and interesting produce that is waiting for you in Jamaica.

1. The national dish of Jamaica is Ackee and saltfish.

2. Thanks to Jamaica’s varied climate and soil, just about every tropical fruit and vegetable can be grown here, and high import duties mean there is a constant demand the locally grown food.

3. Jamaica produces the widest range of rum in the world – up to 50 million litres every year!

What Is Typical Jamaican Food?

At the heart of Jamaican cuisine is the land on which this food culture has developed. The low-level plains and hilly interior of the country provide an array of temperatures and soil conditions. Sun and heat can be found all the year round and there’s plenty of rain to keep plants and grazing land in good condition. This means that tropical fruits and vegetables, sugar crops and small agricultural animals all flourish here.

The location of Jamaica has also had an impact on the country’s cuisine. Cuba is the nearest neighbour, despite being 140km (or 90 miles) across the sea to the north. There are no land borders to cross; each import was brought in by boat in the past, although they now arrive by air too. If the supply chain is long and difficult, foreign goods are difficult to obtain and expensive to buy. In the modern world, those barriers are maintained by import duties.

To some extent, the colonisation of Jamaica, first by the Spanish and then the British, has had some effect on local dishes. The first slaves were brought to Jamaica in 1513, and when the British seized the island in 1655, they immediately brought in West African slaves to tend sugar plantations across the island. Jamaica isn’t suited to many of the animals or vegetables which thrive in the cool British climate, and boats took many months to arrive from England. This meant that plantation owners would have looked for plentiful, easy to grow local produce to feed their slaves, sometimes importing new species and varieties to cultivate on Jamaica. West African slaves brought with them knowledge of their own food culture which they would try to copy and adapt with whatever local produce was available.

This means that typical Jamaican food, which is a combination of spicy and sweet dishes made from local fruits, vegetables and farmed animals, is very much a product of the country’s topography, location and human history.

What To Eat In Jamaica?

There are plenty of eateries in Jamaica serving Western food, so finding something to eat that reminds you of home should be easy. Similarly, the supermarkets import plenty of foods from around the world. However, imported foods cost a lot of money; they have to be transported across oceans and continents, and the government applies import tariffs on many items.

In contrast, locally produced items are much cheaper to buy. Moreover, locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables are typically high quality and bursting with flavour. The warm Caribbean ocean lapping at Jamaica’s shore is busy with fishermen catching an array of fish and shellfish ready for the local markets and restaurants. Goats and chickens, which form the basis of many Jamaican meals, have often been reared on small farms nearby.

If all that wasn’t convincing enough, Jamaican foods are exotic and unfamiliar to many new expats. That means a trip to the market and eateries can be exciting and delicious.

Popular Jamaican Food

You are likely to keep coming across new ingredients and dishes for the whole time you live in Jamaica. However, this list will get you started on the most popular Jamaica foods:

● Ackee and saltfish or codfish

● Brown stew with fish or chicken

● Jerk chicken with vegetables

● Curry with chicken, goat or mutton

● Oxtail

● Bammy (cassava cakes)

● Solomon Gundy (pickled fish pate) served with crackers

● Beef patty

● Rice and peas

● Fried plantain

● Breadfruit

● The West African leaf dish callaloo

● Pepper pot soup

Ready for Jamaican dessert? Some of the dishes to try include:

● Banana bread

● Jamaican pudding (sweet potato mixed with rum and spices)

● Coconut drops (coconut, ginger and sugar)

● Gizzada (pastry tart with sweetly spiced coconut filling)

● Grater cake (grated coconut in sugar fondant)

● Toto (coconut cake)

Drinking In Jamaica

Jamaica is famous all over the world for the rum it produces. Rum’s essential ingredients are the by-product of sugar, such as molasses or sugarcane juice. Today, Jamaica produces up to 50 million litres of rum each year and exports it to more than 70 countries.

Each producer has their own traditions and methods to create rum, meaning you can enjoy many different versions of the same drink. Jamaica is known for using dunder, an active yeast foam, taken from previous fermentations. This is a slower acting yeast which leads to a deeper taste than many large-scale rum producers achieve.

However, if rum isn’t your drink of choice, you can also purchase locally made beer.

Other alcoholic drinks are expensive to buy thanks to import tariffs, but you won’t have problems tracking them down. Jamaica welcomes more than one million foreign visitors to its shores each year, and since many of the tourists have a generous budget, most bars, restaurants and hotels bring in the luxury goods that their customers want.

Laws About Alcohol Consumption

It’s illegal to sell alcohol in Jamaica to anyone under the age of 18.

If you are going to drive a car, avoid drinking before getting behind the steering wheel. The legal alcohol limit for driver in Jamaica is 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, or a blood alcohol level of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

The ExpatFocus article ‘Staying Safe In Jamaica As An Expat’ sets out the difficulties of the Jamaican road systems as well as the way people drive there. Road accidents in Jamaica cause up to 400 deaths a year, a high number in a country whose population is small. Drink driving is part of the problem, so police officers take the matter seriously. Crackdowns at key times of the year, such as the Christmas season, are put in place to identify those drink drivers willing to endanger the lives of others.

Recreational Drugs In Jamaica

There’s a common misconception that recreational drugs are legal in Jamaica. Ganja, the Sanskrit name for marijuana, is widely consumed in the country, especially by men. About 27 percent of Jamaican men and five percent of Jamaican women admit to regularly smoking ganja in surveys. Its use is slightly more common than commercial cigarettes.

However, smoking marijuana was outlawed in 1913 in Jamaica and remains a criminal offence. The laws were changed in 2015 to allow some leeway for the reality of ganja use on the island. As such, the following exceptions are permitted:

● If you are found in possession of two ounces or less of ganja, you will be issued with a ‘fixed penalty notice’, due for payment within 30 days, instead of a court appearance.

● Each household may grow up to five ganja plants, but no more.

● Just as with cigarettes, you cannot smoke ganga within five metres of a public place.

● In places registered for Rastafarian worship, followers of that faith may smoke ganja for sacramental purposes.

● Rastafarian people may apply for permission to cultivate ganja plants to be used for sacramental purposes.

● If you are suffering from cancer or a terminal or serious chronic illness, you may import a therapeutic or medical product which is derived from or contains ganja.

If you are caught breaking the terms of any of these exceptions, perhaps by possessing more than two ounces of ganja or growing more than five plants, you will be prosecuted. This could lead to a criminal conviction (affecting future visa and citizenship applications) as well as a fine or prison sentence.

All other recreational drugs are illegal and possession of any amount will result in serious consequences.

Tipping In Jamaica

Jamaican people don’t tend to tip other Jamaican people. However, tips are expected from tourists and visitors along the same lines as the US model. As an expat living in Jamaica, you will probably be wealthier than most local people. As such, tipping would normally be expected.

Finding Good Places To Eat In Jamaica

The expats living in Jamaica will already know where to head when setting off for a good meal out. If you are new to the country, their recommendations are invaluable, so why not reach out to them for advice?

We have a Jamaica Forum on the ExpatFocus site. If you’re a Facebook fan, check out the ExpatFocusJamaica Page and the closed discussion group Expats In Jamaica. You may just find yourself meeting a new friend online as well as hearing about your best dining options.


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