EATING AND DRINKING
Reggaetourist is all about experiencing reggae in Jamaica but we do want to talk about food because of its strategic importance for the energy you need to party. And because Jamaican food is just wonderful. Just as they do partying, Jamaicans take food very serious. There is simply no social gathering imaginable, whether its a meeting, a party or a funeral, without food. Jamaica has an excellent street food culture and a love for spicy food. Jamaicans can eat at any time of day, eat a lot of snacks in between meals and do love to alternate Jamaican fare with American fast food.
Reggaetourist.com is not a culinary website so we’ll mostly leave you to discover the typical Jamaican fare for yourself, except to say that unless you’re a vegetarian, you should at least have a go at jerk chicken, jerk pork, ackee and salt fish, lobster, beef stew, chicken stew, chicken curry, conch, conch soup, fish tea and crayfish soup. And these are just some of our favorites.
Food is to be found in a restaurant, an ital restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall (takeout) restaurant, a patty place, a fast food restaurant, on the street (road side stalls, vendors, soupies, jerkies, etc.) and at parties and stage shows. Do enjoy street food. Tourist guidebooks for some countries might advise you to ‘avoid little stalls and roadside places’ but this is definitely not good advice for Jamaica.
There is food around everywhere but you won’t necessarily find a lot of restaurant signs. You will see Jamaicans on the street with white Styrofoam boxes of takeout food though. Ask where they got it. There are more ‘hole-in-the-wall’ places which you would easily pass by without noticing them than there are actual restaurants. These takeout places have good food, often stews, chicken or fish served with rice and peas. A meal could cost you anywhere between JMD 250 to JMD 600.
Finding food on Sundays can be an issue as most places are closed. Ask around which place would be open on Sunday or prepare your own food. You can also look out for roadside food, check the patty place, settle for fast food at Burger King or KFC, or have dinner with you newly found Jamaican friends.
If you’re a vegetarian it can be easy or it can be hard to find food. Roadside stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants hardly ever cater for vegetarians. Unless you settle with rice and peas and coleslaw, which gets boring soon. The exception to this rule is soup. Next to fish soup and chicken soup, there’s ital -vegetarian- soup. So whenever you see soup ask if it’s ital. A next option is the patty place. Juicy’s and Tastees serve veggie and soy patties and the ‘power patties' at Mothers are also vegetarian soy patties. Unfortunately, although they are on the menu, you will find out that vegetarian patties are not always available. Meat comes first. A next option is the Chinese restaurant or takeout place. More than other eateries, the Chinese places will cater for vegetarians (think tofu). The final option for any vegetarian, and by far the best, is an ital restaurant. Ital means vegetarian. Ask around if ‘anybody’s cooking ital’. If you find a Rastaman cooking in his ital restaurant you're safe because the only thing he’ll be serving is vegetarian fare. Ask for a plate of everything. You’ll love it.
It might be surprising in such a hot climate, but the real power food in Jamaica is definitely soup. Ital soup, fish soup, crayfish soup, chicken soup, chicken foot soup, conch soup, red peas soup, pepper pot soup... all kinds of soup. Hot soup cools you down and gives you energy. It also sobers you up when you have been drinking alcohol. You’ll see soup vendors everywhere at parties and stage shows. There’s no alternative to drinking soup if you are on a mission to see all artists at a stage show from 10 p.m. till 7 a.m.
Do check out the patty places such as Juicy Patties, Mothers and Tastees. Patties are pastries containing various fillings such as beef, shrimp or fish inside a flaky shell. Instead of eating three full meals a day, a patty will serve you just fine for lunch or dinner. And what's more: the patty places also serve traditional Jamaican fare like stews with rice plus they serve breakfast meals (and often have a decent ackee and saltfish).
Jamaica is the home of everything jerked so get acquainted with this exquisite form of slow cooking and have a go at jerk chicken, jerk pork and jerk sausage to start with.
If you're near the sea, just go for seafood whenever you can. It's heaven.
Finally a quick word on breakfast. Expect a full warm meal for breakfast. You'll be amazed how much you can eat early in the morning in that wonderful island climate. Breakfast is your most important meal and gives you energy for the rest of the day. Don't expect bread though.
Jamaica's hot. Drink enough water. Really. It sounds simple but it's not. Especially if you're drinking alcohol.
Need your coffee in the morning? Although the world famous Blue Mountain coffee hails from Jamaica, it can be hard to find a decent cup of coffee around. Most Jamaicans don’t drink coffee and in guest houses, bars or restaurants, coffee often means instant coffee with way too much sugar. So if you need your cup in the morning, the Burger King is often your best bet. And they do free refills. Just saying.
The surprising alternative to coffee is cold Jelly water. That’s coconut water. Buy it anywhere along the roadside for JMD 100 or 200 and drink it straight from the coconut. It replenishes you and will give you energy to start the day. Jamaicans claim it washes out your heart. How’s that for a start of the day?
Mind your beer and liquor. Days are long in Jamaica and you'll be up early. Don't expect to make it to that party after midnight if you start drinking in the afternoon. Sleeping in the early evening helps of course. Red Sripe is an ideal beer for a warm climate. It's a light beer that quenches your thirst and doesn't get you drunk too fast. Jamaicans are more into hard liquor, especially rum. Venues will run out of beer when the party gets going. If not, they will run out of cold beer. You might get a hot beer with a cup of ice. Still better than a hot beer. Aside from Red Stripe and Heineken there are two stout beers available on the island: Guinness and Dragon Stout.
Strong liquor is actually cheaper than beer because it's taxed less. Popular liquors in Jamaica are rum, vodka and cognac. Jamaicans do like to mix their drinks with a 'chaser' which can be anything from coke to red bull to fresh coconut juice. There's a lemonade called 'ting' so you can order a rum and ting. Way more people drink liquor than beer. A standard order at a bar is a flask of liquor, a chaser and some plastic cups with ice.
Did I mention to drink lots of water?