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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Food is a delicious place to begin learning about Jamaica, and there is no sweeter introduction than Jamaican snacks and desserts. We have had many delicious creations over the years, all credited to the unique blend of ethnic backgrounds found on the island.
These are some of our favourite Jamaican snacks and desserts on the island:
The unofficial “National Snack of Jamaica”. The baked pastry filled with meat or vegetables can be found on every corner of the island and it is quite difficult to have just one no matter how hard you try. Though the original is the beef patty, the flavours have expanded to include mega (beef, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes), curry chicken, vegetables, shrimp, curry goat, fish, ackee, lobster, and soy.
To any of these, you can add cheese or callaloo. Juici Patties, Mother’s and Tastees are the top sellers on the island, but there are area-specific sellers too, like Spicy Nice in Falmouth. The patty, though perfect for every occasion, is most often had as lunch at school or work and is the best “on the way home from the doctor’s” lunch.
There is a big debate as to which patty is the best (for me, it is Juici Beef) but, in all honesty, it depends on your personal preferences. See what the rest of the My-Island-Jamaica team thinks! Watch the video below
This buttery bread is conveniently split open to put your favourite filling inside. Made slightly sweet by the coconut milk from which it gets its name, coco bread is perfect with a slice of cheese or for making your patty into a sandwich.
This pinwheel-shaped pastry (similar to a cinnamon roll) has many sugary layers. We often have this with a slice of cheese or a glass of milk (Lasco). To make it an even sweeter treat, some people and icing and raisins as well.
These snacks have homemade options but I think the St. Mary’s brand and the very elusive Chippes brands are the preferred choices. St. Mary’s has banana chips in various flavours in addition to the original. But the Chippies banana chips are almost as rare as a unicorn. When we do see it, we have to stock up and call only those closest to us so they can do the same before they run out again.
This coconut tart is a crisp baked pastry with sweet and spiced shaved coconut filling. It is also known as “pinch-me-round” because of the pinched corners of the pastry.
This red and white coconut goodness is fairly simple to make. All it is is sugar made into syrup, grated coconut and spices. They are either made into neat squares or just dropped to cool and form random shapes and left to dry. A little batter is left over, died with food colouring (usually red), for the signature pink and white snack. It is sometimes called “pink on top”.
The same concept as the coconut drops just with peanuts instead.
This corn-based snack is made from dried corn. After the corn is dried the kernels are then shelled and parched. After parching, a mortar and pestle are used to pound the corn until it reaches a flour-like consistency. After it is pounded you’ll sieve it to ensure all the lumps are gone and then add sugar. Yum!
Just regular roasted peanuts with the optional salt. Nothing else.
This is another snack most often bought not made. There is nothing a shrimp lover wants to see more than a brown paper bag filled with peppered shrimp.
Now this one is not my favourite but many Jamaicans love the taste of the citrusy grapefruit combined with the sweet sticky goo that is condensed milk. Just peel and spilt your grapefruit in half make a hole, pour the condensed milk in it and dig in with a spoon.
You might be familiar with tamarind, but here in Jamaica, the seeds are removed and the sour fruit is rolled into a ball covered in sugar and eaten. For a little extra kick, soak them in white rum first.
The cake got its name from the rough exterior of the delicious pastry. Its taste is much more demure than its looks and we often pair it with milk or cheese (or both).
These thin, crispy biscuits got their name from being incredibly tough making them hard to bite through. This is often compared to the stubbornness of a donkey.
These tough dark brown, sugar and ginger candies are as Jamaican as sweets can get. This sweet is what we would call “serve mi long” because of the length of time it takes to finish one. It makes no sense to try biting through them. You might break something and not the sweet.
Any crackers will do, Water crackers, special cream, Royal biscuits, you name it they work well with cheese.
This Jamaican take on a coconut cake is just as delicious.
It’s often hard to put Jamaican dishes into a single category. Bammy and fish is often a full meal, however, small portion sizes are served as snacks that we have at the beach in most cases.
Fried dumplings are very popular here in Jamaica as a breakfast option but you can also get them on the go often served with saltfish in a white poly bag.
I think you might know this one, it is often served as a side with Jerk Chicken. This dough is made with coconut milk and rolled into fingers to produce a sweet deep-fried treat.
I don’t think fried plantains need much of an introduction. The plantain (green or ripe), is fried, sometimes lightly salted and had on its own or as a side.
Saltfish, escallion, tomatoes and seasoning is added to the dough and fried. Because it has the protein fried inside, it is great when you are on the go.
Ice cream isn’t native to Jamaica, but Devon House is the top 4 place to have ice cream in the world! Here you can have all the regular flavours and then some.
Vanilla is a safe option, but, give the more adventurous island flavours a chance. Sweetsop, Coconut, Blue Mountain Coffee, Mango, Grapenut and Dragon Stout are just a few of the local favourites.
Seasonal options, like the eggnog or sorrel flavours, give Christmas a new meaning. As long as you can make it to the lawns of devon house to try the ice cream do so, but if you can’t there are outlets all over Jamaica that sell “I-Scream”.
Sweet Potato Pudding is a delicious naturally sweet pudding made from potatoes, sugar, molasses and coconut milk along with various flavourings. Most times, it doesn’t even get the chance to cool down before everyone starts digging in.
If you aren’t a fan of Sweet Potato then, chances are you prefer cornmeal pudding instead. The cornmeal is added to the dough along with other sweeteners and spices then baked to perfection. Some people add raisins and “soft tops” to theirs but it is just as good without.
Now this might sound like a stretch for you, but for me, it just sounds like baked goodness that you definitely should try. It is more difficult to find though, Sweet Potato and Cornmeal puddings are more popular.
Cassava Pudding - made from grated cassava which is dried. This is then enhanced by various flavourings as well as sugar. It's a sweet dessert for sure.
Jamaicans love bananas and we try to use them in as many ways as possible. This bread (which actually is a pudding), has a distinct banana flavour but still manages to blend extremely well with the other ingredients.
Try these banana dishes as well.
Blue Draws, Duckunoo, Tie-a-leaf, it’s all the same. A cornmeal or banana batter wrapped in banana leaves, tied and boiled. It almost seems like a recipe gone wrong but for me, it is perfect.
This fruit cake is the highlight of the Christmas season. Fruits will be soaking in white rum, no less than 6 months before Christmas to make this boozy dessert. It is the traditional wedding cake as well and just the same, the fruits will be soaked throughout the entire engagement period.
It’s a cheesecake but makes it a distinct island flavour. Even for me, who is not the biggest fan of cheesecake (or mangoes for that matter), the Mango Cheesecake is one of the most delicious desserts I’ve had hands down. Bright orange in most cases, the cake is often topped with yummy mango chunks, to drive the mango flavour home.
This one is named in honour of our National bird. Originally called the “Doctor Bird Cake”, it was first included in a press kit sent to the USA by the Jamaica Tourist Board which was trying to convince tourists to visit Jamaica.
Americans fell in love with the recipe and began making their versions as well. This delicious cake is packed with pineapple and banana chunks and layers with frosting in between.
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