Christmas In Jamaica | 12 Must-Haves At A Jamaican Christmas Dinner
by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Photo: Family Dinner in Jamaica
All the activities on Christmas Day lead up to Christmas dinner. Those who aren’t labouring away in the kitchen are somewhere around the house, playing dominoes or just catching up with family and friends they have not seen in a while, just passing the time until the much-awaited dinner is done prepared. Everyone has their favourite dish, the one dish that makes Christmas complete for them. However, there are 10 Christmas dishes that you can’t ever go wrong with including on your menu. Here they are:
- Ackee and Saltfish - There is just something about waking up to a plate of Ackee and Saltfish with fried breadfruit and plantains or boiled yams, dumplings, bananas and sweet potatoes that just warms the heart (and the belly). Top that off with some good Chocolate Tea and it really is Christmas Morning in a Jamaican household.
- Manish Water - While we wait on dinner, there will be an uncle or two outside making some soup, to “keep you until dinner time”. Mannish water is a soup made with various ground provisions, spinnas (little dumplings) and goat head and belly (intestines). Knowing that a goat’s head was used to make the soup is sometimes a little daunting to first-timers but I promise you it is the best soup ever.
- Curried Goat - Most grandparents usually pick a goat from the herd from well into the year specifically for Christmas. Curried Goat is a year-round menu item but on Christmas Day it just tastes really special. It is one of the dishes many look forward to every year, especially at my house.
- Oxtail - If you know anything about Jamaicans you know of their deep-rooted love for this dish. Oxtail is a stew made with the tail of a cow, broad beans and various spices. This is usually quite expensive, especially around Christmas Time.
- Fish - It is a common thing for Jamaicans who follow a healthier or more plant-based diet to have fish as their only exception. They won’t be left out though, fish is prepared many ways, it is steamed, curried, escovitch, fried, baked just to name a few. Even those who have no problem eating meat or poultry would love a piece of it too. You can’t go wrong with one or two fish dishes.
- Roast Beef or Ham - In many cases it is an either-or with these two. There is already so much going on that unless there are many hands in the kitchen it makes more sense to just choose one of the two. I personally always go for roast beef, but the Christmas Ham is just as popular.
- Chicken - Many Jamaicans will say they won’t serve chicken for Christmas because we have all already had so much chicken throughout the year (many times during the week and definitely on a Sunday). But let’s be honest, can you really ever go wrong with chicken? It can be fried, baked, barbecued, jerked, stuffed, roasted, barbie-fried, put into salad and casseroles, the list goes on. So it doesn’t hurt to have something familiar, just in case our dishes are a little too far left for some guests.
- Macaroni and Cheese - Macaroni and Cheese can be done one of two ways, as a Caribbean Macaroni Pie or in the style we have borrowed from our American friends. It all depends on what your preference is. They are similar except for a few ingredients. Try them both and see which one your family prefers.
- Gungo Peas and Rice - Red peas and rice are important to Jamaicans, we have it every Sunday religiously and during the week quite frequently, you may even see it at Christmas dinner. But on Christmas Day our beloved red peas and rice take a little bit of a back seat and give way to the real star of the show, Gungo Peas and Rice. Because of the time, it is planted, gungo is usually ready by the end of November to mid-January. We make the most of it during this time because we know how scarce it will soon become. Because it isn’t seen more than once per year in most cases it costs significantly more than regular red peas. It is prepared similarly to Red Peas and rice, the only difference is Gungo Peas are only pressured if they are dried.
- Sorrel - If you haven’t felt the Christmas spirit after your first cup of sorrel then I really don’t know what to tell you. The drink, made from the sorrel plant and ginger, sweetened with sugar and for some a little Red Label Wine, is a popular drink around Christmas time. While you can get store-bought versions of the drink year-round, The crop usually comes in in December for a real homemade cup. Sorrel is sometimes spiked with white rum but, for those who are alcohol-free, sorrel with ginger (juice) is sure to hit the spot.
- Carrot Juice - While this is a popular drink on Sundays in Jamaica, it is carried over to Christmas Day in some households. However you decide to sweeten your carrot juice, some people prefer just sugar others like me, forgo the sugar and add milk instead or add no sweeteners at all, it is just as good on its own.
- Christmas Cake - In many other places, people have a strong aversion towards fruit cake, here, in Jamaica, it is the dessert of choice. The process of making the fruit cake starts at least six months before. Mixed fruits are placed in a glass jar with red wine to soak until Christmas Eve when the cake is baked. When it’s time to start the baking, the mixed fruits are blended to a puree and added to the mixture along with more wine. I’m pretty sure you’d love fruit cake after having this one!
Jesus’ birth which reflects God's love for mankind is the reason for the season so dinner doesn’t begin until we have thanked Him for the blessings throughout the year and celebrate His birth. After this, we can all dig into the dinner that was so lovingly prepared.
There you have it! Christmas dinner is not complete without at least some of these foods present at the table. It makes it even more special when you can share this meal with your family and friends and catch up on all the happenings of the year.
I also recommend you read, 11 Signs It's Almost Christmas in Jamaica
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