By Chef Noel Cunningham/Images © Cunningham
Jamaica’s motto, “Out of Many, One People” can be equally applied to the island’s cuisine – Out of Many, One Cuisine – for it is out of the unity of the many cultures which inhabited Jamaica that our cuisine was born.
When the Spanish, British, Africans, Indian, Chinese and indigenous people migrated to Jamaica they each brought with them a diverse set of flavours, spices, ingredients and cooking techniques, which all combined to give rise to one of the Caribbean’s most unique and distinctive cuisines – Jamaican cuisine. Another major influence on Jamaican cuisine was the crops introduced to the island from tropical Southeast Asia.
When cooking Jamaican food do like the Jamaicans do…
One of the most important ingredients in Jamaican cooking is passion. Another key ingredient is ‘freshness’. Fresh ingredients are the best when cooking, period. However, in Caribbean food it is the standard. As a chef, I am very grateful that I am from the Caribbean. Using fresh ingredients gives your dish a distinguishable tropical flavour and aroma.
Recently, I asked my Facebook friends to share with me the ingredients that are a must-have in a Jamaican kitchen. Almost everyone had the same answers, just as I had expected. Ginger, scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, pimento, lime, curry powder, scallion, nutmeg, cinnamon leaf/stick, garlic and of course… jerk seasoning – these are just some of the defining ingredients used in Jamaican cooking.
A ‘likkle’ taste
Xavier Murphy put together a sample of what a typical Jamaican’s daily menu looks like. You can view it here.
Our food is well-known for its bold taste and spicy flavours. ‘Suh if yuh cah hangle di flava dis a weh wi pawt ways’ (reads: So if you can’t handle the flavour this is where we part ways). For the rest of you who want to bring a taste of Jamaica to your table, here are recipes for some of my favourite tastes from home.
Jamaican Braised Oxtail & Beans
Almost every Jamaican loves oxtail with their broad beans. Oxtail with rice and peas is a Sunday favourite for many and also a dish I would eat everyday. When making oxtail just remember slow and low. Oxtail requires long and slow braising to release its rich flavour. Get the recipe here.
Hominy Corn Porridge
This dish may seem like a pain to make but it’s well worth it in the end. If you’re a corn lover like myself, you will enjoy every sip that you take. In this recipe I mixed together the flour and cream of wheat to thicken the porridge. However, you can use flour or corn starch alone but I particularly love the flavour of the cream of wheat with it. Get the recipe here.
Braised Cow Foot with Beans
This dish is hated by many because of its name, but if properly prepared, it is one that you will love. My grand mother is a lover of ‘everything cow’ except for the hair and the rope. She was the one who introduced me to cow foot and I must add that she was a good cook and a believer in low and slow cooking. Get the recipe here.
Jamaican Curried Goat
Just like our Jamaican Mannish Water, no event in Jamaica is complete without a good curried goat. Curried goat is a curry dish that originated in South Asia and has become very popular in Jamaican cuisine. This dish is usually served spicy with fluffy white rice. Get the recipe here.
Gungo Rice and Peas
Rice and peas is a classic Sunday dish for us in Jamaica. If we don’t have rice and peas on a Sunday the day just doesn’t feel the same. Gungo rice and peas is a favourite compared to the others, it is also a popular Christmas dish. And let me not forget to mention that it tastes even better the next day when it’s reheated. Get the recipe here.
Johhnycakes (Fried Dumpling)
Like sunshine in the morning, these fluffy, fried dumplings are the perfect start to your day. They’re usually served with ackee and salfish or even braised liver and are similar to Jamaican festivals, with the exception of the cornmeal. Get the recipe here.
Escovitch Pickle (Sauce)
Escovitch pickle is traditionally served over fried fish, which is usually served with fried bammy or Jamaican festival. It is spicy and tangy at the same time with the added sugar balancing the flavours for a taste profile that tantalizes the palate. This pickle can last for months on your refrigerator and the bonus is that the longer you keep it, the better it tastes. Get the recipe here.
Ackee and Red Herring
Kick up your ackee game a notch by adding some smoked red herring. Ackee is Jamaica’s national fruit and ackee and saltfish is our national dish. Red herring and ackee served on a rainy day with boiled dumpling and banana is another tasty dish that you won’t be able to get enough of. Get the recipe here.