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Origins of Jamaican Cuisine: the Melting Pot of Flavor and Culture

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Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and that has made it a famous global tourist destination, but there’s more to it than that. Jamaica also has one of the most diverse food cultures on the planet: making it a culinary wonderland. Let’s take a look at the places that Jamaica draws its culinary traditions from, and what they’ve contributed to Jamaican cuisine.

Local

Many of the ingredients popular in Jamaican food were originally cultivated by the island’s native inhabitants. These include, most notably, scotch bonnet pepper, sweet potatoes and cassava root.

European

Jamaica was initially colonized and brutally subjugated by the Spanish in the 16th century. Spanish settlers brought traditionally Jewish dishes like escoveitched fish. British colonial rule of the island in the 17th century introduced various pastries and baked goods as well as sugar production, which was eventually how Jamaica became so well known for its rum.

African

British Colonization brought the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and with it came West African cuisine. This includes classics like jerk sauce, which traces its roots to West African jerk pork. It’s also the source of the famous ackee fruit, which is a part of Jamaica’s national dish, Ackee and Saltfish. Another important African contribution was callaloo, which is a steamed mixture of shredded greens like spinach or Amaranth that can be personalized with a huge variety of other flavors.

East Asian

At the height of the British empire in the 19th century, a large number of Hakka people from China were brought to Jamaica as laborers. Though the number of Chinese-descended Jamaicans on the island is now significantly lower due to ethnic violence in the 1970's that caused people to flee, we can still see their culinary influence in modern Jamaican favorites like Jerk Chow Mein, Cha Chi Kai, and the huge role that rice plays in Jamaican food.

Indian

Thousands of indentured workers were brought to Jamaica in the 19th century by their British colonial overlords. Indian flavors really work to tie everything together for Jamaican cuisine by introducing a love of strong and well-treated spices to the Jamaican palate. The result is a host of unique and delicious Caribbean curry dishes that use traditional Asian recipes combined with a variety of clever island flavors like, for example, coconut milk.

Indian migrants are also responsible for the popularity of roti, the delicious flatbread that you’ll find wrapped around all kinds of other Jamaican goodies!

Jamaican food, essentially, is a kaleidoscope of delicious flavors that met to become something new and amazing. If you’ve never immersed yourself in the wonders of Jamaican food, take a look at our Jamaican Recipes and get cooking!


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