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An Ode to Spain - Spanish Influence on Jamaica's Cuisine

by Kesha Stewart | Associate Writer


We could literally go on and on about Jamaican food. It will make you want to ‘lick your ten fingers’ in appreciation of the taste. Jamaicans love food. We have the most churches and the most rum bars per square mile but I do wonder sometimes if we aren't close to another Guinness Book of Records for the number of eateries on the island. I notice too that Jamaicans who have migrated to other countries are sharing Jamaican flavours where they are. For example, I just saw an article about a Jamaican doing jerk in the Middle East and another doing fried fish in France. You may be familiar with Jamaican eateries in other parts of Europe, especially England. Canada and North America have to be included too. Jamaican food with its exotic flavour and spices is highly appreciated.

But hey! Did you know that authentic Jamaican cuisine is really a melting pot of flavours from our diverse ancestry? Yes, man. “Out of Many One People” could also be "Out of Many One Pot". This is evident in our kitchens at home and local eateries. The Tainos, Africans, Europeans, Asians and even the Middle East can claim a contribution to menus across Jamaica. Today we will look specifically at the Spanish influence on authentic Jamaican food.

Popular Jamaican Fruits Brought by the Spanish


Being the first colonizers, arriving in 1494, the Spanish took with them some healthy fruits. For one they brought tamarind which I enjoy. We use them today to make tamarind balls, drinks or just pick them fresh and eat. There was one tamarind tree in the schoolyard at my old primary school and I was convinced that it only served as a source for the principal to have a selection of fine ‘switches’ for whipping. But back to the subject though. The Spanish brought in sweet and sour oranges, we now use sour oranges to make marmalade which looks a lot like jam. Then there are lime and lemon which we use in various ways, not least of which is to make cool lemonade to help make a summer day more manageable. There were also figs, date palms, grapes and pomegranate.

The Versatile Coconut


Who do you think brought us the faithful coconut? Yes, it was the Spanish. The coconut is now king of Jamaica’s kitchens. It is included in everything from desserts such as puddings, sweet treats such as drops and gizzadas, punches, porridges, teas, rice and peas or just as a refresher (jelly coconut water.

Then there is the banana, which we begin to consume from before it matures to have as a staple boiled and served with salted mackerel. Mature green fruits are blended and grated to make porridge or duckono (a boiled dessert with pudding-like texture), we make banana chips too and ripe bananas are a must on fruit stalls, often sold with a peeled sweet orange.

Ginger, a dependable local home remedy as well as a sought after flavouring particularly at Christmas time when we need to make a sorrel drink, came from the hands of the Spanish. Then there are plantains which we use as a cereal to make porridge or as a staple to make fried plantains -a breakfast favourite.

Sugarcane speaks for itself, the end result is sugar which is the most popular local sweetener, fresh from the fields (or the backyard) sugarcane is a healthy snack when peeled and many extract the juice which is then served cold. However, if you don't know sugarcane in any of these ways, I'm sure you are familiar with it as rum, a commodity for which Jamaica is well respected.

Animals Brought by the Spanish


About 150 years after their arrival, they brought cattle, goats, pigs, and lard from pork fat. Note also that some popular peas and bean dishes such as stew peas with cured meat like oxtail or cow foot are a carry over from our Spanish past. Indeed, we do have a rich Spanish culinary heritage.

A Perfect Marriage of Cuisines


Guess what I discovered? Escoveitched fish and bammies is a marriage, escovitch fish from the Spaniards and bammy from the Tainos. This you can wash down with hot chocolate made from roasted ground, cocoa beans. We adopted the Spanish tradition of soaking fruits in wine for our Christmas cake and they introduced frying as a method of cooking.

The Spanish, like each group of our ancestors, came to Jamaica, bringing their own food, method of cooking and even placed their own spin on what they saw when they came. In the end, they left their own delectable contribution to our culinary heritage. We have employed modern, perhaps even fancy, ways of preparing meals or continued on more traditional lines but somehow these foods have been in Jamaicanized and tend to come out with the taste ‘tun up’ (turned up - a colloquial way of saying delicious).

Which Spanish influenced Jamaican food can’t you get enough of? Let us know in the comments below.

I also recommend you read Jamaican Food.

Regards,
KS

References:
  • History Notes: Information on Jamaica’s Culture & Heritage, National Library of Jamaica, https://nlj.gov.jm/history-notes-jamaica/
  • Jamaican Cuisine – CARIBFUZION, Wordpress, https://caribfuzion.wordpress.com/hungry/jamaican-food/

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