Jamaican Mi 'Ungry, Mon!
Discover three exciting types of Jamaican eats—one culturally blended, one homegrown, and the last completely unusual.
One of the most important parts of experiencing other cultures, in my mind, is eating their food. Here are three delicious Jamaican eats to flavor your next visit.
JaMexican cuisine: It’ll make your mouth water like nothing else on this planet. Count it—Jamaican and Mexican culture blended into some of the most delicious meals that money can buy. In my two years of living on the island, I found nothing even approaching it.
Unfortunately, there’s only one place where you can experience this delicious treat: Chilitos. Located on 88 Hope Road, Kingston, Jamaica, Chilitos isn’t out of the way for tourists already in the city—and it’s more than worth the trip.
The menu has everything you could expect and want from a Mexican restaurant: burritos, tacos (with soft and hard shells), enchiladas, and nachos. Combine this with unique Jamaican ingredients, such as jerk pork, jerk chicken, plantains, and ackee, and you’re in for an incredible treat.
When I first walked into Chilitos, the restaurant felt exciting and inviting. The restaurant itself is largely open-air, with a good view of Kingston.
It has a roof and some half-walls to protect you in the event of rain, and some fans in case it gets too hot. On the walls are colorful murals that depict Jamaican settings with the vibrancy of Mexican art.
The staff was incredibly friendly, and I was seated and got my food fairly quickly. I ordered a burrito with rice, beans, and plantains—and let me tell you, I would have never imagined this combination myself, but the flavors felt as meant-to-be as peanut butter and jelly.
The Cook Shop
But JaMexican isn’t the only food that Jamaica has to offer. If you’re feeling friendly, talk to some locals and ask them to point you in the direction of the nearest cook shop. A “cook shop” in Jamaica is like an immobile version of a food cart you might find in the US. A chef sets up a small kitchen on a street corner, starts cooking, and is open for business almost 24/7.
You can’t get more local than a cook shop. Although most cook shops sell only fried chicken with rice and peas—beans are referred to as “peas” in Jamaica—every shop I visited was delicious and tasted unique. You also get an incredible amount of food for how much you spend—for around US $5, you can get two fried chicken breasts and a huge plate of rice and peas!
Most cook shops come and go fairly quickly, but every once in a while, one will prove to have staying power. These cook shops usually grow until they almost look like regular restaurants—but no restaurants can beat the low price and personal, local touch of a cook shop.
You can easily find permanent cook shops in Montego Bay, Kingston, and Port Antonio, just to name a few towns. If you see a new dish on the menu, don’t be afraid to try something unique and scary—turkey neck may sound strange, but it’s some of the most flavorful and tender meat I have had in my life.
As a final note, if you’re ever in Port Antonio, ask around for Boston Jerk—this cook shop is mobile, and it prepares the richest, most savory, most melt-in-your-mouth jerked pork to be found in the Caribbean.
The unfortunate similarity between the above shops is their lack of air conditioning—so if you’re feeling the heat but still want unique food, head toward your nearest Tastee or Juici. They are Jamaican fast food joints, and they sell cocobread and patties.
What Jamaicans call a “patty” is comparable to a US calzone, but it’s not exactly the same. Patty shells are pinched together and thin and flaky—crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The most common ingredient within is corned beef, but patties can also contain chicken, pork, curried shrimp—tasty, but risky if you get sick easily—and other ingredients.
Throw a patty between two pieces of cocobread—coconut bread—and you have an inexpensive, tasty, and filling meal that you can eat in one hand. Don’t eat too fast, though—they’re served burning hot.
As for which restaurant to choose, it’s hard to say—I like Tastee cocobread much more, because it’s softer and larger, but Juici has much more variety in the types of patties they sell. You’ll probably need to try both—several times—to find what suits you most.
For the adventurous of location and of palate, I can’t more heartily recommend anywhere above the land of Jamaica. Let’s eat, mon!