The Tainos, the ancient people of Jamaica, preserved meat by mixing peppers, allspice and sea salt, a condiment now known as Jamaican jerk spice. Along with influences from British colonists, African immigrants and others, jerk is one of the focal points of modern Jamaican cuisine.
Jamaicans, with the exception of urbane Kingstonians, are not really an "eating out" society, and the consequence is a lot of small restaurants competing for the local dollar—great places for anyone to eat. The hygiene is generally acceptable, and the no-frills, swinging-door ambiance of these places makes for distinctly Jamaican and very reasonable meals.
Breakfasts might be a surprise. The fare in small restaurants is generally solid. Favorite dishes are liver and boiled green bananas, or beef stew, or possibly tripe and beans. The famous national dish of ackee and saltfish is also popular any time of day. Ackee is the small fruit that, when ripe, bursts through its skin to expose the yellow flesh inside. Take care not to eat ackee before its ripened-burst phase—if cooked before it opens naturally, it can be toxic. The fruit blends well with salted cod to create the national dish, and resembles spicy scrambled eggs.
In and around tourist areas, restaurants become more expensive and more exotic. The food is likely to be French, Italian, Chinese, and I-tal (vegetarian prepared by Rastafarian code). It also becomes fast food, and you can find American fast food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Shakey's Pizza, Pizza Hut, and TCBY, as well as the Jamaican chains King Burger and Mother's, and others serving burgers and yam chips (fries), goat curry, and the Jamaican favorite, "patties"—spicy ground meat in a pastry shell.
Some of the best restaurants in the country are found in Kingston, Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios. Black River, Treasure Beach, Mandeville, and Port Antonio also have some very fine restaurants, often in local hotels.
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This page modified January 2007
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