It may be most iconic for its music and white-sand beaches, but the Caribbean’s third-largest island should be seriously celebrated for its food, mon. Jamaica was the birthplace of reggae back in the 1960s, and just as that musical genre pulled from influences as varied as ska, calypso, and R&B, Jamaican cuisine wouldn’t be what it is today without the African, British, Spanish, Indian, and Chinese who have landed here over the centuries. Sure, you’ll glimpse some similarities to other Caribbean cuisines–they’re all fishing out of the same sea, after all—but there’s something unmistakably Jamaican about what comes out of kitchens here, where native ingredients like allspice berries and star apple might encounter those introduced and absorbed ages ago, from peanuts and coconut to ackee, the national fruit (via Ghana).
It’s not only the components that are unique, though—cooking techniques like jerk are 100% Jamaican, and, with dish names like “rundown,” “bammy,” and “stamp and go,” you can bet you won’t confuse an eatery in Jamaica with one in, say, St. John. Jamaican patois, a Creole dialect derived from West Africa, is the real deal…and so is the island nation’s highly seasoned, highly soulful cuisine.
Note: This section features specific picks from Jamaica’s north coast, from Montego Bay to Port Antonio, but you’ll be able to find the dishes themselves across the island.