Stay up-to-date with all that's new at My-Island-Jamaica, Click Here to subscribe for my updates and don't miss a thing!

Jamaica – The Foods We Like And Where They Came From

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer



Jamaican Jerk Vendor
Photo: Jamaican Jerk Vendor


As we celebrate our Jamaican heritage in the month of October, with Heritage Week being October 10 and ending on Heroes Day, Monday, October 18, 2021, there is so much to talk about. Today we will take a look at our food heritage. Yes, Jamaicans are foodies. We love food – some spicy, some sweet, some sour, and all full of flavour. And don’t blame us, you’ll soon see why. But where did all this food come from to form our food culture? Let’s take a look at some of our favourite foods and their history.

How Did The Food And Recipes Get Here?


It is no surprise to find that the Jamaican cuisine that we have come to know and love was brought here by the earlier settlers on the island.

You will find that there are numerous items as well as recipes that were created by the early inhabitants such as the Tainos, the English, the Spanish, the Africans (who came to Jamaica as slaves), the Indians, the Jews, the Chinese, and even persons from other Caribbean islands.

How Was The Food Prepared?


The foods they consumed were prepared using various cooking styles that were known only to them and were later adopted or passed down to the generations that followed. Some of these foods and recipes are today called traditional foods.

As you can imagine, most, if not all of the meals were cooked on a wood fire in the open air, or in an “old-time” coal stove. Baked products were made in “dutch pots” or in a brick oven.

Though we are now living in modern times with upgrades to our cooking appliances, the same cooking methods have been applied and as a result, does not change the way we actually prepare our meals nor does it change the taste in any evident way. Though lots of persons would say that food cooked the traditional way (over a wood fire and smoke) always taste better somehow.

Let me give you some insight as to where our Jamaican cuisine is coming from.

What Is The “Barbacoa”?


Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Fesival
Photo: Jerk Chicken and Fesival

So, how do you think people cooked their food before the brick oven and the coal stove became a thing? Thanks to the Tainos and their ingenuity in creating the “barbacoa” (a piece of cooking tool resembling a wooden grate that stood on four forked sticks placed over a slow fire) we were able to make a modern adaptation to this device which we call the barbeque grill. The barbacoa was the barbeque grill of their time and they used it to roast fish and meats. Modern-day grills are inspired by the barbacoa. It is used for barbequing and most importantly for Jamaicans, jerking. In Jamaica, while grills are used, it is most common to use a homemade version made out of a metal drum or 100lb cooking gas cylinder cut in half. Jerking incorporates the African method of curing meats by placing it in the jerk pan atop live coals and closing it to trap most of the smoke inside. Today we apply this process to pork, chicken, seafood, sausages and even vegetables.

What Foods Did The Tainos Bring To Jamaica?


The Tainos are believed to have come from South America and settled in the Caribbean some 5000 years ago. They brought with them sweet potatoes, corn, beans, callaloo, pineapples, guavas, papayas (or most commonly known as paw-paw)conies, iguanas, and cassava (which they used to make bread). I’m sure you will agree that their contribution to the foods we now enjoy in our Jamaican cuisine is truly invaluable.

What Foods Did The Spanish Bring To Jamaica?


The Spaniards first arrived in Jamaica in 1494 and some 150 years later, they brought horses, cattle, goats, pigs, and lard from the fat of animals. They also brought several trees such as lemon, lime, Seville orange, Valencia orange, pomegranate, ginger, plantain, date palm, figs, grapes, coconut, bananas, and sugarcane. Additionally, popular dishes such as escovitch fish, and peas and bean dishes originated in Spain. Try picturing a Jamaica without these items. These contributions are also invaluable to our culture.

What Foods Did The English Bring To Jamaica?


As you know, the British took over from the Spaniards in 1655 and continued their colonization right up to 1962 when Jamaica got independence. What foods did they bring? They introduced foods such as otaheite apples, breadfruit, ackee, oranges, mangoes, rose apples, mandarin, black pepper, turmeric, and coffee. As plantation owners and involved in the cultivation of sugar cane (done by the African slaves) they exported rum and molasses in exchange for pork, flour and pickled fish.

A number of the English sweets and dishes are still entwined in Jamaican cuisine today such as corned beef, roast beef, salted beef, Christmas puddings, Easter bun, pies, tarts, jams and marmalades. Even porridge that is so well-loved is said to be a legacy of the Scottish.

What Foods Did The Africans Bring To Jamaica?


Now we get to the Africans and their contribution. The Africans contributed dishes such as duckunoo (dukunu and various other spellings) and fufu. They were also noted for the famous mackerel (rundown) and bananas and even our national dish, the ackee and saltfish, are both said to be the invention of the African peasants after slavery.

What Foods Did The Indians And The Chinese Bring To Jamaica?


The Indians who were brought to Jamaica as indentured servants did not leave their culinary skills behind, they were the ones that actually created and left with curried goat. They also brought spices like curry powder, turmeric. They also introduced curried potato, bitter gourd, eggplant, okra, roti, and callaloo.

The vegetable pak choy is also a legacy of the Chinese. The Chinese also introduced soy sauce, a now popular addition to most Jamaican meat dishes for both colour and flavour. They also introduced the oyster and hoisin sauces as well as the infamous sweet-and-sour sauce.

These are all without a doubt, significant contributions to our local cuisine. I’m sure you can see how each group and the items they brought have added to the variety and flavour of Jamaica's cuisine.


With all of these foods that have been introduced by our earlier settlers, it is no wonder that our Jamaican cuisine is highly accepted and favoured by worldwide travellers. The richness in delicacies and variety in spices is what makes our food so special both locally and internationally and I dare say, the best.

We are truly blessed as a nation, to have so many cultures which makes, the Jamaican cuisine so unique.


I also recommend you read Chinese in Jamaica | How They Got Here and Chinese Contribution to Jamaica's Cuisine.

Regards,
DC

References:
  • Jamaican Cuisine - Past to Present, Jamaica Land We Love, https://www.jamaica-land-we-love.com/jamaican-cuisine.html
  • Before the Europeans came | West Indies | The Places Involved | Slavery Routes | Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery | PortCities Bristol, Discovering Bristol, https://www.discoveringbristol.org.uk/slavery/routes/places-involved/west-indies/before-europeans/
  • 175 years of Indians in Jamaica, Jamaica Observer https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/opinion/175-years-of-indians-in-jamaica-towards-closer-cultural-and-economic-cooperation_194277
  • Sweet and savoury - the beloved Chinese-Jamaican food, Gleaner Jamaica, https://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110703/arts/arts2.html#
  • Use Heritage Week to thank frontline workers — Grange, Jamaica Observer, https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Use_Heritage_Week_to_thank_frontline_workers_Grange

Editor's Note
What's on your mind? Submit your questions here! With well over 2000 questions already answered, chances are we can assist :-)

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to article_submission.

Sharing IS Caring... Its now YOUR turn to...


If you found this page useful, please consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter, My Island Jamaica Digest here. 

It tells you each week about the new information that I have added, including new developments and great stories from lovers of Jamaica!

Back To The Top Of This Page

New! Talk To Me
Was the information helpful? Something needs changing? I welcome
your feedback here.

Read More ...

-

Recommended For You ...


Other Great Articles You Might Have Missed

Please help me get the message out by sharing this article with your friends on social media (links below). Thnx ;-)

And, one more way to share My-Island-Jamaica.com...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Also connect with My-Island-Jamaica.com on Social Media: 
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
Thank You!

P.S. Didn't find what you were looking for? Still need help?

Click Here to try our dependable and effective Site Search tool. It works!

Or, simply click here and here, to browse my library of over 500 questions and answers! Chances are someone already asked (and got an answer to) your question.


About The Author

wellesley gayle - booking link

A patriotic Jamaican who adore its culture, Wellesley has been using this medium to share what he calls 'the uniqueness of Jamaica with the world' since April 2007.  

To date, he serves over 9,300 unique readers / viewers per day.

His efforts have earned this site featured positions in local publications, including the Jamaica Gleaner's Hospitality Jamaica, Carlong Publishers, as well as recognition from numerous prestigious international agencies and universities. Read more about him here.

He invites you to subscribe to this site to stay updated on all the latest and check out his unique Jamaican products on his Etsy store.  

If you are on social media, here are the links to follow his latest posts

You are also invited to join his exclusive JAMHearts community where like-minded Jamaican enthusiasts discuss all things Jamaican. 

copyscape
Back To The Top Of This Page