The Jamaican Food Guide to Palette Heaven

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If you’ve been to the Caribbean, you know that the food can be spicy at times and depending on where you are, there’s no shortage of rice and beans, but there’s also another side to this part of the world which is surrounded by clear turquoise waters in that seafood is prevalent everywhere. Fresh vegetables and fruit can be found everywhere, especially pineapples and bananas. And MAN, do I love how they deep fry those plantains so that they’re so sweet they just melt in your mouth.

It’s no secret that we’re big foodies over here, so we were excited to take in the best of what the western coast of Jamaica had to offer on a recent trip this past fall. Bear in mind that I visited only a small corner of the country (the coast west and then south from Montego Bay which is where I flew into) and we didn’t dine in 5 star restaurants or hotels every night, so the taste I’m giving you is a combination of local eateries, markets, fresh fish and lobster on an isolated beach that was caught the same day and finer hotel fare.

Markets are everywhere like most of the Caribbean and it’s no surprise given the climate — there’s plenty of fruit. While I’ve been exposed to Soursop before, it seemed to be everywhere in Jamaica and is apparently a great choice for those wanting to calm their nerves I learned from a couple of holistic health sources on my trip.

Soursop is the fruit of Annona muricata, a broadleaf, flowering, evergreen tree native to Mexico, Cuba, Central America, the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, and South America, primarily Colombia, Brazil,Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela. Soursop is also produced in all tropical parts of Africa, especially in Eastern Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

I remember seeing it widely available when I lived in Africa, but given that I was already in love with papaya, guava and mangoes, I didn’t branch out all that much given that they were already new to my fruit regime given that I grew up in the American Northeast where we lived on blueberries, apples and peaches. It has an unusual texture (below) and size, but if you want a calming effect, you can use the leaves and the seeds, either turning it into a mixed shake or a soothing tea.

Ahhh, yes, and then there’s lobster, which I didn’t expect to find on the island for some reason — it’s fresh and affordable, so you’ll find it on many menus, including local eateries. We had lobster on an isolated beach through the One Love Boat Tour we took from Jake’s one afternoon — be sure to check out the hashtag #VisitJamaica on my Instagram feed for some great shots of the day, as well as at local place called Murphy’s West End Restaurant, or just plain Murphy’s, as locals know it, named after the owner who has an interesting history and built the place from scratch.

For those worried about carbs and gluten, there’s no shortage of salads to be found on menus and I was able to stick to my high protein, low carb diet fairly easily throughout the week.

But, when you want to splurge, skip the desserts and head straight to the fried plantains which Jamaicans do so well.

A fresh organic couscous side dish with fresh carrots from the garden, which we sampled during a farm-to-table dining experience we did while staying at Jake’s Hotel. (worth doing) — see my yoga and hotel write-up which has plenty of photos.

Chicken and fish on a stick? It’s the freshest and funnest way to eat, so why not? Here, they were served with onions and sweet red and yellow peppers. Yum!

Meat lovers, fear not as there are plenty of options for you. Note the inclusion of lime on the top of a meat dish — we noticed that lime was used on nearly every dish as a garnish and unlike the largest limes we get at supermarkets in the west, the limes are half the size here.

Chicken, also a common choice on menus (note the side of rice and beans, which is oh so Caribbean). The Jerked Chicken at Murphy’s was also a treat and he claims he has some of the coldest Red Stripe beer in the area, which is the most popular beer of the area. Murphy’s is about as organic as it gets and while the waitress may not remember a thing you told her (even the third time), it seems to all come out happily in the end, especially when your dishes arrive.

It is an authentic and colorful joint located just past the Negril lighthouse and in addition to lobster and his famous jerked chicken, you can get grey snapper and shrimp in a spicy curry and coconut cream sauce, or roasted chicken with pumpkin mashed potatoes. Outside there are picnic tables (where we dined) and hammocks where you can hang out while waiting for your food.

Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod) – the national dish of Jamaica – fried plantains as shown above, steamed cabbage, rice, peas, kidney beans and something they refer to as Callaloo, which originated in West Africa. Simply put, they are Jamaican patties which I’d recommend with a cold Red Stripe beer. Below are delicious deep fried Callaloo Fritters.

Shrimp with peppers and cucumbers, which I also noted seemed to be everywhere, whether it be a side at local eateries, or on buffets at the larger hotels and resorts.

Below is nothing other than a Soursop shake, which was freshly made at Jackie’s on-the-Reef on West-Cliff West-End Road in Negril, which I wrote about in my Yoga in Jamaica write-up. It is a great place to get away from it all, have incredible massages facing the crashing waves of the ocean nearby, relax on an outside day bed or hammock, do a yoga class or order a freshly squeezed juice at the outdoor bar.

The soursop drink was so delicious that I am bound for the Asian market in San Francisco to see what we can muster up at home. Note that they also served an Aloe Vera juice here, which didn’t taste like any pure Aloe Vera I’ve had anywhere. Why? They add Nutmeg to it, which is apparently very Jamaican. I was dumbfounded by how many dishes (and foods) they add Nutmeg to — it seems to simply be part of the culture.

Organic salad with a peanut sauce at Jackie’s; note the Asian infused flavors here which they served with an edible flower. Love it!

Deep fried fish with grilled vegetables, plantains and greens. Note that the prevalence of fried and sauteed greens on many menus shows the African influence on the island.

Grilled fish with vegetables – note that they catch the fish right off the bay, so let’s just say it tastes a whole lot fresher than at home, even if you’re ordering a dish from an on-the-coast fish restaurant in California or Florida.

Grilled chicken skewers with tomatoes, onions and zucchini squash. All fresh, all organic, all delicious!

Stew that was made on our on-the-beach experience with Joseph Brown, owner of One Love Boat Toursm which you can take from Treasure Beach — we took ours from Jake’s Hotel, where they take off right from the dock — it’s a lovely day out and while you’re waiting for your lunch to be prepared, you can swim along the shores and the water is very warm.

Before we headed down the coast, we stayed at Riu Hotel — there are several throughout the island; we hung out hats at the one at Tropical Bay near Negril, which is an all inclusive resort, best suited in my opinion for family stays given their buffet focus, outdoor and pool-side daily programs and more. The beach area here is known locally as Bloody Bay and there’s even a restaurant on-site named for it — Bloody Bay Grill and Steakhouse. Since you’re right on the ocean, I’d recommend eating seafood as often as possible. Also on-site if you didn’t want to opt for the buffet style restaurant, which not unlike a cruise ship, was nearly always available, they have the Hakuchi Japanese Restaurant for fish and sushi options as well.

We dined at the finest restaurant choice one evening, called Krystal, which is a fusion restaurant serving a combo of seafood and meat dishes as well as fresh salads and soups. Since there were six of us, we really had a chance to sample – have a look!

As for other options, the below list is a combination of what a few locals, including our fabulous driver, recommended during my stay, and recommendations from Trip Advisor. We had lunch one day at Rockhouse Restaurant btw, which is listed below – since it was right after a yoga class, most of us went for high protein dishes like eggs, salads and beans. We also ordered freshly squeezed juice and organic teas which they have available on their open-aired veranda which faces the sea 24/7.

  • Fireman’s Lobster Pit (Negril)
  • Zimbali’s Mountain Cooking Studio (Little London)
  • Just Natural (Negril)
  • Ivan’s Bar & Restaurant At Catcha Falling Star Hotel (Negril)
  • Blue Mahoe Restaurant (Negril)
  • Collette’s Bar (Negril)
  • Bamboo Blu (Ocho Rios)
  • Wilkes Cuisine Seafood Restaurant & Bar (Port Antonio)
  • Toscanini Restaurant (Ocho Rios)
  • Ras Rody’s Roadside Organic (Negril)
  • Scotchie’s (Ocho Rios and also in Montego Bay)
  • Smurfs Cafe (Treasure Beach)  
  • Hold a Vibz Cafe (Treasure Beach)  
  • Sir D’s Firewater Love Nest (Negril)  
  • Tokyo Jo’s (Montego Bay)    
  • Devon House I-Scream (Kingston)     
  • Rockhouse Restaurant (Negril)      
  • Quality’s Sea Breeze Restaurant and Bar (Negril)   
  • Mystic India (Ironshore)  
  • Gee Wiz Vegetarian Restaurant (Treasure Beach) 

 Food photo credits: Renee Blodgett (combo of iPhone 5 and Canon 7D) and Mary Apesos.


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