Gimme some a dat!
Landscape aside, the food was the best part of being in Jamaica. It has way more flavor than anything I tasted in South America, especially if you like it hot and sauced with jerk seasoning or curry spices. Some of my favorite culinary discoveries were Akee & Saltfish (actually a fruit, once sautéed has the texture of scrambled eggs), Bammy (pan-fried bread made from cassava flour), and Curried Conch. The countless Jerk stands scattered about every town and on the side of the road are also a treat. You can stop and grab some baked breadfruit that has been slow cooking in the fire pit right on the ground, and taste the juiciest most tender chicken smothered in homemade jerk sauce. How they can make a sauce that spicy where you can still taste the food is beyond me, it will rip your mouth apart but you’ll keep going back for more. The blandness and starch of the breadfruit helps put out the fire in your mouth.
Jamaica also has a ton of healthy food options thanks to the Rastafarian “Ital” vegan diet. The term comes from the word “vital,” and its general principle is centered around the belief that what is put into one’s body should enhance vitality rather than hinder it. Food should be natural, pure, and of the earth, grown without pesticides or genetic modification.
The most amazing food I enjoyed on the island was right across the street from Tensing Pen in Negril. The stand, a former “Push Cart” is family owned and has been serving up fresh, organic deliciousness for 17 years. They own a farm up in the hills where they collect home-grown produce 3 times per week, and cook it up fresh every morning to sell until they run out. The menu changes daily and is based on the yield of products from the farm. The operation is now run by the children, 5 brothers and 4 sisters who are friendly, inviting and educated about their Island.
I sat and talked to them for hours one day when my flaky tour guide was nowhere to be found. They shared their views on Jamaican politics, the island’s debt, relations between men and women, and explained that Rastafarianism is a way of life and not a religion. The children of Jamaica have to fend for themselves at a very young age; one of the brothers has been cooking meals there since he was 11.
It was lovely spending time with the brothers, chatting over mouth-watering food. Once my ride finally appeared on the back of someone else’s motorcycle I told him the deal was off. Everyone and their brother is a “taxi driver” in Jamaica, so you never know what you’re going to get unless you hire a legal taxi; and even then it can be sketchy. I had run into this fellow a few times at live music venues, he had a business card and seemed friendly enough, but sitting there safely amongst good people my intuition got the better of me. I decided It was a blessing in disguise he had made me wait for 2 hours. It was a bit late in the day to be heading out to the falls; besides, he still didn’t even have a car in his possession. Welcome to Jamaica.