Best Caribbean Dishes to Order When Visiting the Islands

Best Caribbean Dishes to Order When Visiting the Islands

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Check out the best dishes to try while you're visiting the Caribbean Islands!

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. 

This proverb was attributed to Saint Ambrose, who advised Saint Monica and her son, Saint Augustine, to fast on a Saturday visit to Rome because that was the tradition of the local people.

The proverb is a good philosophy to follow anytime you travel. To get the feel of an area, you should immerse yourself in music, customs, and the clothing of the locals.

While Saint Ambrose advised his friends to fast during their visit, you would be mistaken to do that while visiting any of the Caribbean Islands, especially Jamaica. Instead follow this advice: when in Jamaica, eat as the Jamaicans do. You will fall in love with the cuisine at Jamaican resort, that you will find yourself craving the flavorful dishes when you return home.

Here are some of the best Caribbean dishes you need to try on your next trip to Jamaica. 

Jerk Chicken

Of course, if you are traveling to Jamaica, you have to try as many varieties as you can of jerk chicken. You won’t have to look too hard to find it. You’ll find it listed as an option on your upscale resort’s menu, but you will also see locals selling it from roadside shacks. It’s everywhere and for a good reason.

Jerk chicken (or pork) is marinated in a blend of spices, usually including allspice. Also added to the mixture is the Scotch Bonnet pepper. One word about the Scotch Bonnet pepper. It’s spicy. Jalapenos typically have a rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville heat scale. The Scotch bonnet ranges from 100,000 to 350,000.

Don’t be nervous about purchasing food from street vendors. Any time you eat from vendors in any part of the world, make sure the food is not left out or uncovered. Visit stands that offer made-to-order meals. Look for places that look popular, especially with the locals. When you receive your food, cut through the largest piece to make sure it is cooked all the way through.

Ackee and Saltfish

While you have probably heard of jerk seasoning before, you may not have heard of the traditional Jamaican ackee and saltfish. Saltfish is just another word for cod, so there should be no surprise with that ingredient. Ackee, on the other hand, is a Jamaican fruit that has a unique texture.

Jamaicans cook ackee and saltfish with tomatoes, onions, and spices as a one-dish meal. Remember the Scotch Bonnet peppers used to season jerk chicken? You may find some of those popping up in this dish as well.

Run Down

Another one-pot dish that is popular in Jamaica has the unique name of “run down.” Do you know how it looks when the meat has been cooked into such tenderness that it falls off the bone? Now you know what “run down” means.

Rundown includes fish, yams, tomatoes, and onions. The mixture is cooked in coconut milk until the fish becomes flaky and tender.

Callaloo

Don’t worry, vegetarians. You won’t go hungry in Jamaica. In fact, one of their most popular dishes, callaloo, is made from cooking leafy greens. Although you may have heard of taro, you may not have heard of amaranth or Xanthosoma. Although these names sound more like something created by the pharmaceutical industry, they are, in fact, leafy greens native to the Caribbean. 

Rice and Peas

Another meat-free dish you will enjoy in the Caribbean is Rice and Peas. Don’t be confused when you receive your order, and there’s not a pea in sight. For the Jamaicans, a pea is what we would call a bean, similar to a kidney bean.

The rice and (beans) are cooked in coconut milk, and it is sometimes served as a side to jerk chicken.

Bammy

Since you are on vacation, you can indulge in a few carbs, right? Bammy is the name of the Jamaican flatbread. It’s made from the yucca, is soaked in coconut milk, and then fried. It’s as good as it sounds. Yum.

Plantains

Plantains are abundant in the Caribbean, and you’ll find them in both sweet and savory dishes. Although most would say they look like a banana, they are used more like a sweet potato. 

Enjoy your time in Jamaica. Enjoy the ubiquitous steel drums, drink Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in the morning and rum the rest of the day. Wear colorful clothes. Get your hair braided. Finally, make sure you try the local cuisine.

Amy Scalia
Publisher & CEO - Amy Scalia, a Cincinnati native, is the editor in chief and publisher of Cincy Chic. Send her an e-mail at ascalia@cincychic.com. From growing up in the cornfields of Harrison and getting a Mass Communications B.A. degree in the bubble of Oxford, to living on the NKY side of the river in Newport and then Ft. Thomas, Amy Scalia has embraced Cincinnati with her presence. Her major life accomplishments include: being a mom of two girls and a boy, a 2010 "40 Under 40" recipient from the Cincinnati Business Courier, winning the "Best New Product/Service of the Year" Award from the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and a national Web-writing award from ASHPE in 2007, a national feature writing award from ASBPE in 2006, and running three Flying Pig Marathons.