Monday, March 7, 2011

J is for Jamaica: Jewel of the Caribbean

When reading about Jamaican cuisine my mind kept bouncing back to the things I learned a few weeks ago when writing about Haiti. Both countries are victims of cheap stereotypes that undermine their fascinating history and heritage. Jamaica is more than just reggae, rasta, and reefer, it is an island of fusion. Peoples from all corners of the world have sailed onto Jamaica's shores, leaving their footprints in the sand. The influence of the Spanish, Chinese, African and Indian have created a unique blend of culture that is, of course, best represented in their food!

Escoveitch Fish
The evolution of Jamaican cuisine began with our good friend Christopher Columbus ( we should all remember him from the Haiti post). So Christopher, as we should already know, liked to hang out in the Caribbean, and often visited, and once even shipwrecked in, Jamaica. When the Spaniards began to inhabit they island they also came with slaves, which brought their spices and cooking techniques from Africa. Famous Jerk Chicken finds in roots in the Cormantee tribes from Africa. Spanish Jews also arrived, bringing with them unique vinegary dishes, the most famous being Escoveitch Fish*. Then in 1655 the Spanish lost Jamaica to the English, who brought with them more European influences, such as tea. Just as the French did with Haiti, the English converted most  fo the island into sugar plantations. A century later, slave trade was forbidden, and many immigrants from China and East India came to join the work force as indentured laborers. The spicy flavors and curries that are notorious in Jamaican cuisine come from the spices brought from the east. All of the island's combined history is represented in their eclectic food, and truly embodies their motto "Out of Many, One People".

Jamaica's earth and water provide a bountiful harvest of tropical fruits, seafood, and coffee. They still important many of the same crops they did in the 1400's, like sugar, lemon, limes, and coconuts. Although ackee, a bright red tropical fruit, is not native to Jamaica, it is still considered their national fruit ( WARNING, this delicious fruit is dangerous! If opened before it is ripe, it gives out a toxic gas poisonous enough to kill).  Their flavorful foods are often spiced with ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.Allspice is native to Jamaica, and if you are like me, and always wondered what the heck allspice is then today is your lucky day. Allspice is the the grounded, dried berries of a pimento plant (NOT a bunch of spices mixed together, like I thought).

Jamaican's like to eat their food much like how I do, in a relaxed, social setting. Enjoying the food and company is most essential. Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day and usually consist of ackee and saltfish. It looks similar to scrambled eggs, but is served with boiled plantains and Johnycake, which is this awesome, delicious, sweet bread that I ate every single morning when I was in Belize.

Before getting to the recipe, there is still one very important thing that I must address...the names of Jamaican dishes. The names of their "likkle bickle" are the best thing ever. Never have I heard such cute, hilarious, and witty names for meals.  Here is a little list I made for you, just in case you ever find yourself staring a Jamaican menu and have no clue what anything is:

Stamp an'Go = codfish fritters
stamp an'Go
Rundown = picked fish in coconut milk, cooked until the fish falls apart, or "runs down"
Better than sex = chocolate cake
Pinch me rounds = coconut tart
Mannish water = a spicy soup made from the head of a goat, it is said to be an aphrodisiac
Blue Drawers = a dessert made with cornmeal and tied up in a banana leaf
Coat of Arms = rice and peas (which I made this week)

* While writing this I got exciting news from Hulu that there was a new episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay on my Hulu queue, and to my disbelief they were making Escoveitch Fish. Here is the link if you want to learn more about this unique, vinegary dish.

yum Ginger Beer!

beef patty
I uncovered my own Caribbean jewel, hidden in the south side of Columbus. Sweet Pot is a Jamaican eatery, whose bright green walls juxtapose the shadowy street its resides on. I went with Angie and Nina, and I think we went while they were opening because they only had Curry chicken and Jerk chicken as a meal entree option. Although the menu was selective, I felt secure knowing that my food was fresh. For $6.99 I had a huge portion (although I only ordered the medium size) of Curry Chicken. The chicken was tender and easily fell off the bone, it was obvious that the meat had been cooked slow and low. Angie and Nina ordered the Jerk chicken, which to my surprise was not very spicy at all. We also all had a beef patty. The cook compared it to a hotpocket, put that is a gross understatement, it's more like a hotpocket's hott older brother, which a nice car. The beef patty is spiced beef covered in a bright orange flaky pastry. I finished it off with a cold ginger beer, which is more like a ginger ale. I am definitely going back, and you should do yourself a favor and go too. Don't be discouraged by the side of town it's on either, because that would be silly. The best food is found in the least unexpected places. Oh, and bring cash, visa is not excepted.

curry chicken

This week I made a large portion of coconut chicken and Coat of Arms to bring to my sorority sisters. The coconut chicken gave me a reason to use all the left over coconut milk I had from last week's banana  fritters. The dish had a good response. I was really proud of how tender my meat came out. I also know want to cook all my meat in coconut milk. For those of you who don't like coconuts, do not fear...the coconut milk only had a hint of sweetness to this semi-spicy dish and creaminess to the rice and chicken gravy. The Coat of Arms portion is is an island staple. It is said that no Sunday meal is complete with this rice and peas dish. The meal doesn't take a lot of work, or money, but does take time, so make sure you give it the love and attention it deserves. So, on the next sunny dayyou have free,  I suggest you open your windows, blast the reggae station from Pandora, call over some friends, and make some Jamaican food!

Coconut Chicken
serves 4
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic, chopped and roasted*
  • 14 oz coconut milk
  • vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes
*to roast garlic you wrap the sucker in aluminum foil and place stick in a 450 degree oven until golden and tender.

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. In a large skillet of medium-high heat fry chicken breast in vegetable oil until golden brown
  3. Sauté onions and peppers with the chicken until onions are translucent.
  4. Add the garlic and coconut milk to the skillet. Let the mixture cook for about 5 minuets.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  6. Transfer the mixture into a baking dish and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. You want the meat to fall apart easily.
Eat with Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms
serves 4
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 2 cups of rice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon of thyme
  • 1 tbsp of vegetable oil 
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper (or habenro pepper) whole (DO NOT CHOP!)
  • water, salt
  1. Drain the liquid from the cans of beans into a measuring cup. Add the coconut milk  and enough water to make 4 cups of liquid.
  2. Place the liquids in a pot with beans, onions, garlic, thyme, and oil. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once the liquid is boiling add the rice and then reduce to medium-low heat.
  4. Place the scotch bonnet pepper on top of the liquid and cover for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked.
  5. Remove the pepper before serving.
Now this all sounds really spicy, but as the biggest baby when it comes to spicy food, it's really not that bad, or maybe my spicy tolerant is getting better!


  1. Ok...there were so many things that I loved about this post. First, I never had a clue as to what Allspice actually was and now I know! Second, I loved that you compared a beef patty to a Hot Pocket's older hot brother with a car! And third, I loved the list of unique dish names...I will never look at a Jamaican Chocolate cake the same! LOL!!!!

  2. I was thinking just like you.So Allspice is not a bunch of spices mixed together ?? is my lucky day!And I agree with the Jamaica people,breakfast is the most important meal of the day.Yum the Johnycakes look good and the Coconut Chicken.I wish I had some.

  3. I can actually relate to some of the food you listed here- must be the African connection lol

  4. This is super funny list of dishes, my favorite is “better than sex”. In my next time in Columbus I will visit Sweet Pot and try some Jamaican food.

  5. Steph I am enjoying reding your blog and following your adventures in discovering differents food and cultures. Great job lady! Keep it up! It's so educational, and entertaining!