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.
Jamaican vegetables include cho-cho (also christophine), a squashlike, pulpy vegetable with a white center. Callaloo, also spelled calalou, is a Jamaican spinach and the principal ingredient of the island's famous pepperpot soup. Jamaicans use the terms peas and beans interchangeably, and the popular dish of rice and peas, usually gungo beans, is served in most restaurants. Okra, potatoes, yams, and the root crop cassava are also grown. Cassava, which was grown by the Arawaks, is pounded and prepared to make another national favorite, bammy, a heavy but tasty starch cake. Plantain, a member of the banana family, is a favorite with carbo-loaders and is often eaten as a side dish. It needs to be cooked. Breadfruit, which is actually a fruit transplanted from Polynesia by Captain Bligh in 1793, is served either boiled, baked, or, a personal favorite, deep-fried. Bulla, a ginger sweetcake, is a favorite with schoolchildren in Jamaica.
For a quick and exotic snack, turn to the markets for fruit. Bananas, mangoes, pawpaws (papayas), oranges, Ugli fruit, naseberries (resemble kiwi fruits), otaheite apples, June plums, soursops and sweetsops (both sweet, it's just that the sweetsop is sweeter—if you have a fridge, try it frozen for a custardlike treat), sweet guineps, and star apples can all be had for pennies and small talk.
Coconuts and raw sugarcane are favorites of street vendors. Drink the green nut and have the vendor cut it open for the jelly inside. Sugarcane is well worth trying, again for pennies, but is sort of like eating a fistful of sugar cubes. Tamarind candies, a mixture of the tart fruit's syrup and sugar, will be a big surprise if you don't take a small nibble at a time.
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This page modified January 2007
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