Jamaican Beef Patty
A dish truly representative of the various ethnic groups that have shaped the island’s cuisine, Jamaican beef patties are an amalgamation of gastronomic influences. They take their shape and form from the British colonizers, who brought with them traditional Cornish pasties. Indentured labourers from India brought turmeric, cumin and other spices used to flavor the filing and dough. And the native Taino people first cultivated the fiery scotch bonnet peppers that give the patties their heat. As a result of Jamaican emigration in the 1960s and 70s, Jamaican beef patties have become popular around the world, especially in cities with larger Jamaican populations like London & New York. Contains gluten.
Sorrel Iced Tea
Historically the drink of Christmas celebrations throughout the Caribbean, this holiday favorite is now commonly served year round. Made from the calyx pods of the Roselle Hibiscus plant, a small shrub that blooms late in the year (hence its popularity at Christmastime), Sorrel Tea is a popular drink throughout Central and West Africa. While it’s not certain exactly where Roselle Hibiscus is indigenous to, it was already prevalent throughout West Africa by the start of the Transatlantic slave trade. As with many now common dishes throughout the Caribbean and the American South, it was brought over by enslaved Africans. While the spices used to brew the drink can vary slightly from island to island, this recipe uses cloves, allspice, cinnamon and ginger for a tangy and refreshing spiced iced tea. Feel free to add a splash of rum or even red wine for a boozier version, as many Jamaicans do. Vegan, gluten free.
Curry Goat and Potatoes
While it was the Taino people who brought chilies from South America to the Caribbean, the Portuguese were the first to bring the now staple ingredients of tomatoes and chilies to Africa. West Africans from Senegal to Angola adapted these new ingredients into local recipes (check out our menu write up on Lagos to learn more about a classic tomato & goat stew). These techniques made their way to the Caribbean, where they were mixed with West Indian spices (brought over from India by the British) to form the basis of many curries, such as this curry goat, an iconic Jamaican dish. Goat leg is seasoned with a classic blend of Caribbean spices and then braised for hours until tender in a sauce of ginger, garlic, onion and scotch bonnet chilies. Contains soy; gluten free.
Rice & Peas
Officially, the coat of arms of Jamaica is a shield bearing a red cross emblazoned with five pineapples, flanked on each side by an indigenous man and woman, topped by a crocodile perched on a helmet. Unofficially, spiced rice cooked in coconut milk and laced with red beans, known as rice and peas, is the true coat of arms of Jamaica. While the official coat of arms has a rather fraught history (it was designed by the archbishop of Canterbury and the original motto was “Both Indies will serve Together," in reference to the collective servitude of the Taino and Arawak peoples to the British colonizers), there is nothing but love for this dish in Jamaica. Tracing its roots back to West Africa, enslaved Africans brought with them their knowledge of how to cultivate rice along with centuries of culinary traditions, which live on today throughout the Caribbean. Contains soy; gluten free.
Callaloo & Saltfish
Another hallmark of West African influence is the popularity of callaloo throughout the Caribbean. While the dish varies from island to island, it’s always a base of leafy greens steamed or sauteed, be it okra, amaranth or taro. Sometimes tomatoes are added, while elsewhere the greens are stewed in coconut milk. In Jamaica, it’s often made from amaranth greens and saltfish, another culinary legacy of the slave trade and the need for foods that would survive the long trip across the Atlantic. Our recipe utilizes fresh amaranth, sauteed with garlic, onion, scotch bonnet peppers and Portuguese bacalhau. Contains fish; gluten free.
During the Spanish inquisition in the 1500s, Sephardic Jews were forced to flee the Iberian peninsula in order to escape religious persecution. A small population of Spanish and Portuguese Jews fled to Jamaica, and they brought with them the Portuguese tart Guisada. This tart came to be known as gizzada and is a popular dessert throughout the island. A crunchy puff pastry shell is stuffed with a gooey mixture of coconut, butter and brown sugar. Contains: Gluten, eggs, dairy; vegetarian.
Red Stripe was actually originally brewed in Illinois by the Galena Brewing Company during the 1930s before being sold due to the company’s financial troubles caused by the Great Depression. The British duo Thomas Hargreaves Geddes and Eugene Desnoes bought the rights to the beer and relocated brewing to Kingston Jamaica. The first Red Stripes were traditional British-style ales that were full bodied and rich. Eventually, Red Stripe began brewing the golden lagers that are lighter, more refreshing, and perfectly suited to the warm Caribbean climate. Since then it’s been the staple beer on the island and an international symbol for Jamaica.
“Out of many, One People”
As with any country built on the backs of enslaved people, the history of Jamaica is a troubled one. While we won’t be able to do the story of the island and its people full justice here, we’ll try to provide the necessary context for understanding how it’s cuisine came to be.
The island was first inhabited by the native Taíno before the Spanish arrived in 1494, bringing with them foreign diseases and the practice of slavery. While some managed to escape captivity, by the early 1600s almost the entirety of the Taíno people had been killed by disease and forced labor. The Spanish were also the first to bring enslaved West Africans to the island, a practice the British continued and expanded after they expelled the Spanish in the mid 17th century. By the late 17th century, enslaved Africans outnumbered European colonists 5 to 1. Those who did manage to escape established small settlements in the dense interior of the island, occasionally intermarrying with the few remaining Taíno, and became known as Maroons. When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1838, plantation owners sought to fill the void of cheap labor by bringing thousands of indentured workers from India. In the early 1900s, Jamaicans were beginning to call for an end to British colonial rule, influenced by the thinking and leadership of people like Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Independence finally came in 1962 and with it the new nation adopted the motto “Out of many, One people.”
Since then, Jamaica has had an outsized impact on global culture for an island slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut. It is the birthplace of Reggae and home to arguably one of the most influential musicians of all time, Bob Marley (check out our Spotify Playlist for more amazing Jamaican music!). The fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, is one of many Olympians that call Jamaica home (did you know they have a bobsled team?!?). And Goldeneye, Jamaica, is where Ian Fleming penned every single James Bond novel. It has also given rise to many political and spiritual movements, such as the Pan-African and Black Nationalist ideology championed by Marcus Garvey and the religion of Rastafari.
And then of course, there’s the food. A cuisine born from centuries of global culinary influences and peoples, all mixing together on a small island in the tropical climate of the Caribbean. Jamaican jerk is by far the best known culinary export, a legacy of fusion between the Taíno and African people who escaped into the mountainous interior of the island. The Taíno taught the Maroons how to cook using native spices and seasonings in underground coal fired pits (so the smoke from a fire wouldn’t reveal their locations), transforming tough wild game into succulent Carribean barbecue. While jerk is the most famous abroad, it is by no means the only defining feature of Jamaican cuisine.
In terms of global cuisines, it seamlessly integrates ingredients and techniques from all corners of the world into something beautifully cohesive. Beyond the Taíno and African influences discussed above, European influences from the Spanish and British (specifically the Cornish) contributed fish escabeche, pasties, and alcohol distillation techniques that produce the famous Caribbean rum. This is all rounded out by Indian influences such as coconut milk, tamarind, and the all important curry powder blends. Given its complexity, it seems almost impossible that the current incarnation of Jamaican cuisine is perhaps only a few centuries old.
Despite its spectacular beaches, enchanting beauty and delicious food, Jamaica’s harsh past has led to an uncomfortable present. Overdevelopment, corruption, and the rise of a romanticized tourism-based economy have all led to persistent inequality. We encourage you to check out our Additional Resources for more information.
Featured Recipe: Sorrel Tea
Makes about 8 cups
4 oz dried hibiscus (available in most Latin markets as flor de jamaica)
Roughly 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds
2-3 inch cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
10 whole allspice berries, cracked
Zest from 2 large oranges
Zest and juice of one lemon
½ cup Simple syrup (¼ cup of sugar dissolved in ¼ cup boiling water, then cooled)
In a large saucepan add cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, ginger, hibiscus and citrus zests along with 2 quarts water
Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 5 mins
Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, cover tightly and let stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours, the longer it steeps the more flavorful it will become
Strain and discard the solids and sweeten to taste with the simple syrup
Recipes Inspired By:
Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin
Chef Shani Jones of Peaches Patties in San Francisco
Immaculate Bites, a great repository of Caribbean and African recipes
Another great online resource, Jehan can definitely cook
The history of sorrel and red drink from NPR
For all things Jamaica, visit Jamaicans.com
A history of the Scotch Bonnet pepper
Jamaican beef patties are only getting more popular
Historical information from the National Library of Jamaica
A history of the island from Encyclopedia Britannica
While it focuses more on the development of the island and what may lie ahead for its people, there is a Bourdain episode, worth watching as always, Parts Unknown Season 4 Episode 8
A history of Jamaican Jerk from the Smithsonian