Jamaican cooking is similar to that of other Caribbean counties, yet has its own distinctive qualities. For example, the national dish is saltfish with ackee; the fruit of the ackee tree, poisonous until its outer casing has opened, is not consumed widely anywhere but Jamaica.

Jamaicans eat a large breakfast, which usually begins with a hot beverage (coffee, cocoa, tea, or herbal tea), perhaps followed by bammy (cassava bread), green bananas, roasted breadfruit, cornmeal porridge, yam or fried dumplings with salted cod (with or without ackee), herring or mackerel.

At midday Jamaicans eat "dinner." The main course is usually chicken or fish, though beef, pork and goat meat are also popular. Common fish dishes are escovitch fish, served with peppers and onions; rundown, which is fish boiled in coconut milk; and various curries, which were introduced by the island's East Indian population. Rice and peas (either gungo or black-eyed, or beans) often accompany main courses. For office workers, the midday meal may not be dinner, but lunch: sandwiches and a drink.

Supper is usually substantial. Meat dishes are accompanied by filling foods such as dumplings, sweet potatoes, yams, green bananas, breadfruit, rice and festival, which are fried flour sticks.

Jamaicans are famous for jerk meat, which is made by seasoning meat with a mixture of pepper, pimento, nutmeg, cinnamon, garlic and scallions, then grilling the meat over coals covered with a corrugated iron sheet or slats of wood from the mahoe tree. Meat patties are another culinary export from Jamaica. Originally developed from Cornish pastries, the patties are pastry pockets stuffed with vegetables and meat.

Jamaicans enjoy local tropical fruits both as desserts and snacks. The island produces numerous alcoholic drinks, such as rum and beers, and is also known for growing fine coffee; the Blue Mountain variety is rated one of the best in the world. Coffee is also used to make the liqueur Tia Maria.

  Rice and Beans

240 ml dried kidney beans, rinsed
1.2 l water
1 can of coconut milk
4 scallions, finely chopped
3 thin slices hot pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp dried thyme
480 ml white/brown rice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Place the beans in 960 ml water in a large pot. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to stand for one hour. Drain. To the beans add the coconut milk, scallions, jalapeño, garlic, thyme and 240 ml water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain, reserving the liquid. Add the rice, salt and pepper to the pot with the beans. Measure the reserved liquid and top off with enough water to make 960 ml total, then add to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed.

  Did you know?
Allspice, which tastes like a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper, is really ground from the seeds of a single plant, the Jamaican pimento.