Soups play an important role in the Jamaican diet, not only as appetizers, but also as main lunch and dinner dishes because they are filling on their own with tubers/staples (such as yam, sweet potato, white potato, breadfruit, Jamaican boiled dumplings, dasheen and coco), vegetables (such as carrot, okra and cho-cho/chayote) and meat. Many Jamaican families enjoy soup on Saturday evenings for dinner. Soup is often had alone, with hard dough bread or tough Jamaican water crackers as accompaniment. Soups are almost always served piping hot.
Some Jamaican cuisine dishes are variations on the cuisines and cooking styles brought to the island from elsewhere. These are often modified to incorporate local produce. Others are novel and have developed locally. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod) – the national dish of Jamaica – fried plantain, “jerk”, steamed cabbage and “rice and peas” (pigeon peas or kidney beans). Jamaican cuisine has been adapted by African, Indian, British, French, Spanish, Chinese influences. Jamaican patties and various pastries and breads are also popular as well as fruit beverages and Jamaican rum.
Before Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica in 1492, the original inhabitants of the island were a Amerindian tribe called the Arawaks. They grew the spinach-like callaloo, papayas (which they called pawpaws), and guava. They also produced two crops each per year of maize (corn), potatoes, peanuts, peppers, and beans.
Independence Day, celebrated on the first Monday in August, commemorates Jamaica’s independence from Great Britain in 1962. During Independence Day festivities, Jamaicans celebrate their island culture and cuisine, with dancing, feasting, and exhibitions of artists’work. Local street vendors showcase native foods such as sweet sugar cane, boiled corn, jerked chicken and pork, and roast fish. Ice cream vendors with pushcarts offer ice-cold jellies, fruit smoothies, and ice cream to the crowd.
Fruits grow extremely well in Jamaica’s tropical climate. Mangoes, pineapple, papaya, bananas, guava, coconuts, ackee, and plantains are just a few of the fruits eaten fresh or used in desserts. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. It is a bright red tropical fruit that bursts open when ripe, and reveals a soft, mild, creamy yellowish flesh. If the fruit is forced open before ripe, it gives out a toxic gas poisonous enough to kill. Plantains look like bananas, may be up to a foot long, and have the consistency of potatoes when unripe. Unlike bananas, when the skin turns black, some people think they taste the best.
Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill is a chain of about 120 franchised restaurants found throughout the U.S. These restaurants sell Jamaican patties, buns, breads, and dinner and lunch dishes. They also supply food to several institutions in New York.
The Jamaican cuisine is quite diverse and mention must be made of the Rastafarian influence. Rastafarians have a vegetarian approach to preparing food, cooking, and eating, and have introduced a host of unique vegetarian dishes to the Jamaican cuisine. They do not eat pork, and the strict ones do not eat meat, including poultry and fish. There are even some who believe in cooking with little or no salt and cooking in an ‘Ital’ way.
Jamaica is now an English-speaking country, although it has a Creole dialect called patois, which is influenced mostly by West African languages. Ninety-five per cent of the population is of partial or total African descent. Nearly the whole population is native-born Jamaican.
Jamaican cuisine includes a mixture of cooking techniques, flavours, spices and influences from the indigenous people on the island of Jamaica, and the Spanish, British, Africans, Indian and Chinese who have inhabited the island. It is also influenced by the crops introduced into the island from tropical Southeast Asia. Jamaican cuisine includes various dishes from the different cultures brought to the island with the arrival of people from elsewhere. Other dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. In addition to ingredients that are native to Jamaica, many foods have been introduced and are now grown locally. A wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits and meats are available.