8 Weird & Wonderful Jamaican Foods

Jamaican food is more than just jerk.
Jamaican food is more than just jerk.

When I first visited Jamaica in 2014, the only Jamaican foods I knew were rice and peas and jerk chicken. That fragrant spiced meat, slow cooked over pimento wood, but there are so many more interesting Jamaican foods to discover. Cow skin soup? Chicken foot? Mannish water – famous locally for its aphrodisiac properties, perhaps less tempting once you know it’s made from goat offal and testicles. Jamaican street food is another treat for the tastebuds and you’re never too far away from something delicious.  Jamaican food offers a real eclectic mix of cultures and people and its combined history has created some of the most exciting and best tasting food in the Caribbean. Their food truly represents their motto – “Out of Many, One People.”  Here are my top 8 Weird & Wonderful Jamaican Foods to try on your next visit to Jamaica.

  1. Chicken Foot Soup.

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Chicken foot soup is a Jamaican Saturday staple made with pumpkins, carrots, yellow yam, cho-cho, some ladies fingers and of course the fiery Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder with this soup, but there is no mistaking this is a tasty and popular offering.

2. Dutty Gyal (Dirty Girl).

Dutty Gyal
Dutty Gyal

Everyone has heard of ackee and saltfish – Jamaica’s national dish. However, it’s said that Dutty Gyal should be given national dish status, such is its popularity. Originally a poor man’s food, but now loved by all, tinned mackerel has long been a Jamaican favourite. As with a lot of of Jamaican food it is nutritious, cheap and quick to prepare, it’s normally served with a side of dumpling and green banana.

 

3.Stamp ‘n’ Go.

Aka Saltfish Fritters
Aka saltfish fritters

Probably, my all time favourite Jamaican food. Often eaten for breakfast, Stamp ‘n’ Go (also known as saltfish fritters) are a combination of delicate flakes of salt-fish, mixed with scotch bonnet pepper, tomato and scallion into a fluffy batter. They are then shallow fried in oil until golden brown. The only way to enjoy these is straight off the heat, as the fritter toughens up and becomes chewy the longer they’re sat around. Often referred to as Jamaica’s first fast food, the name is said to derive from people stamping their feet to indicate they were in a hurry and then taking it to eat on the go.

4. Mannish Wata.

Mannish wata on menu
Mannish wata on menu

The soup of Jamaican legend, known to fire up a man like nothing else can. Traditionally this spicy goat soup was served to a groom on his wedding day because of its aphrodisiac properties. It can now be found on menus everywhere. Made with goat offal – head, legs, intestines and testicles and lots of Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper, it’s guaranteed to get you a bit hot under the collar.

 

5. Blue Drawers or Dukunnu.

Blue Draws
Blue Draws

The name “Blue Drawers” comes from the blue hue that the banana leaves take on when cooked.  Though local rumor has it that the parcel reflects the shape of a lady’s underwear. If your underwear is shaped like a square box that is. Traditionally made by wrapping cornmeal, sugar and spices in a piece of banana leaf, and tying with a piece of banana bark before simmering in a dutch pot (the heavy pots are are widely available for sale in Jamaica). The word dukunnu is of Twi origin (a dialect of Akan) meaning boiled maize bread.

 

6. Conch.

The ultimate Jamaica soup- conch soup
The ultimate Jamaica soup- conch soup

Sea snail, otherwise called conch in Jamaica (pronounced konc) is famous worldwide for its unique taste. The meat is extracted from the shell, pounded to tenderise, then served as a deep-fried fritter, stewed, curried or jerked. Conch season is strictly limited and only those with a special permit can fish for it, so it’s not always available. One of the most popular ways to enjoy conch in Jamaica is boiled up in a soup. It’s probably my favourite Jamaican soup and once you try it, I swear you’ll be hooked.

For a truly authentic taste, the street sellers undoubtedly make the best tasting soup around. Eating conch pistol is another matter. Said to be this sea mollusc’s male genitalia, offering Viagra like effects when eaten. Before trying it out, it’s worth noting that the thin, slimy translucent worm-like appendage is found on both male and female conch and is actually to aid their digestion.

 

7. Hell a top, hell a bottom and hallelujah in the middle.

Sweet potato pudding
Sweet potato pudding

The queen of Jamaican treats and the nation’s favourite potato – sweet potato. Recognised by the riddle “Hell a top, Hell a bottom, Hallelujah in the middle.” which refers to the traditional method of baking it using a dutch pot oven with hot coals in the bottom of the stove and also on top of the dutch pot. The middle offers a dense, mouthwatering centre of caramelized sweet potatoes, brown sugar, coconut milk and spices. These days sweet potato pudding is made in regular ovens but the taste remains heavenly.

 

8. Stew peas and pigtail.

Jamaican food Stew peas and pigtail
Stew peas and pigtail

If Hella-top is the queen of Jamaican puddings, then stew peas and pigtail is the king of Jamaican soups. This well loved Jamaican dish doesn’t actually contain peas but rather stewed red kidney beans which give it a rich flavour. The added dumplings or spinners as they’re known make sure it’s extra filling. It can be found everywhere from street cook-shops to upmarket restaurants and is one of the most common Jamaican foods. The salted pig tail is the key ingredient here and while tasty does mean inevitable bits of tail gristle can pepper mouthfuls.