Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Tue December 08 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | December 8, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    5 Essential Tastes of Jamaica

    5 Essential Tastes of Jamaica

    PHOTO: Curry Chicken. (photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates)

    Everybody loves visiting Jamaica to lie in the sun, sip a Red Stripe and listen to reggae. I think these are all worthwhile experiences but often, travelers are distracted by the scenery and the sounds and miss an important hallmark of Jamaican culture: the food. Yes, the world knows about jerk chicken, but it goes way beyond that. The next time you touch down in Jamdown, sample these classic dishes for a real taste of Jamaica:

    Ackee and Saltfish

    PHOTO: Ackee and Saltfish.

    I'm always dismayed at the number of Jamaica lovers who've never heard of the Jamaican national dish. It's a breakfast staple but can be enjoyed anytime of the day, which I do, everyday that I'm in Jamaica. What is it? A savory mix of salted codfish, green onions, peppers, spices and ackee. The last item is a fruit that was transported to Jamaica from Ghana during the 1700s. It looks like scrambled eggs and has a mild taste that perfectly blends with the salty codfish. It's a filling and nutritious dish that's one of the best ways to start a sunny Jamaican day.

    Escoveitch Fish

    A Jamaican take on ceviche, this dish involves a sweet vinegar marinade spiced with fiery Scotch Bonnet peppers. Typically, red snapper or kingfish is used but any firm bodied fish can be escoveitched. The fish is usually served piled with sliced peppers and the sweet and spicy vinegar marinade.

    Curry or Brown Stew Chicken

    PHOTO: Brown Stew Chicken.

    Both of these stews are lunch and dinner staples and are often offered interchangeably. Curry is a very important Jamaican spice and it appears in a lot of the dishes. The spice was introduced to Jamaica by indentured Indian servants who were brought to the island after the abolition of slavery in the 17th century. The curry chicken stew is hearty and spicy, served with potatoes and rice.

    If you're sensitive to spice, then brown stew is for you. Sometimes called fricasseed chicken on other islands, this dish is made with chicken and a few vegetables, stewed in a tangy brown gravy. It's usually served with rice and peas, instead of just plain white rice. I recommend avoiding white clothing while sampling either of these recipes.

    Jerk Chicken or Pork

    It might be a cliche, but you can't go to Jamaica and not try authentic jerk. That's because most of the stateside interpretations can rarely be classified as true jerk. The process of jerk involves grilling over open fire pits with sweetwood or pimento wood.  The smoke locks the flavor into the meat without the sauce. Trust me, when you taste the smoky, spicy flavor of real jerk in Jamaica, you'll never go back to the knockoffs.

    Callaloo, Bammy, Festival, Green Banana

    These are classic side dishes that accompany most meals, along with the ubiquitous rice and peas. Most are starchy and bland but they really round out a dish and help soak up the spice. Callalloo is a green vegetable similar to spinach that's usually sauteed into a soft pulp. Bammy is fried cassava slices and it tastes like slightly sweet potatoes. Festival is fried sweet bread that offsets fiery peppers and green banana is a non-sweet banana. 

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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