The history of Jamaican food starts with the Spanish arriving in 1509 and driving out the original inhabitants (the Arawak Indians.) With the Spanish, came many slaves, which brought their cooking techniques, spices and recipes from Africa to the island.
Jamaica is also famous for what is known as “jerk” – a sort of dried meat (known as beef jerky in other parts of the world) that finds its roots in the Cormantee tribes in Africa, and was imported when slaves came to Jamaica.
Notting Hill Carnival food by numbers (and how much gets eaten)
- 30,000 corn on the cobs
- 15,000 fried plantains
- 1 tonne of rice and peas
- 1 tonne of Jamaican patties
- 12,000 mangoes
- 16,000 coconuts
- 10,000 litres of Jamaican stout
- 25,000 bottles of rum
- 70,000 litres of carrot juice
What to eat at Carnival?
- Jerk Chicken & Pork – Jerk is cooked in a ‘jerk drum’, which is basically an oil drum turned sideways, mounted on stilts and used as a barbecue creating that very distinctive smell. The main ingredients used to marinate the meat are: ground allspice berries, scotch bonnet chillies, spring onions, thyme and… many others. Recipes are fiercely guarded and rarely revealed. Good jerk chicken should taste smoky (which is why the cooking method is crucial), hot and slightly sweet. The skin should be very crisp, and the meat succulent.
- Rice and Peas – This is likely to come as a side to your jerked meat, and there are no green peas involved. The dish will contain kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas or sometimes lentils. It will also be flavoured with coconut milk, although occasionally this is omitted.
- Dumplings – These heavy, deep-fried dumplings can be used to dip or scoop up mouthfuls of food. They can be very dense, so it’s best to eat them with very saucy dishes that need lots of carbs.
- Curry Goat – This classic goat preparation is a result of Indians introducing curry powder to the Caribbean islands during the sugar industry boom. The meat is simmered slowly, and served in a sauce that ranges from mild to hot, depending on the vendor. It should be very tender, and you’ll find pieces of bone to nibble around too. This is a good thing, as it all adds up to extra flavour in the pot.
- Jamaican Patties – A small, spiced-meat filled pasty, these are to be found everywhere. To be honest, there’s not much difference between them, and it’s very likely they’ve all come from the same place and been re-heated.
- Coconut Water
- Guinness Punch – It won’t be a surprise to learn that the Irish introduced Guinness to the Caribbean. To make the punch, it is combined with sweet condensed milk, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and occasionally, rum.
Why is Caribbean food so reminiscent of Indian food?
Most of the Caribbean region (or West Indies, to anyone from the Commonwealth countries) is populated with immigrants from the Indian subcontinent (the region of Bihar, to be specific) and Africa. The immigrants went to Caribbean in the 19th Century. Much of the foods they eat was adapted to local ingredients, or ingredients which are now native but earlier brought over with them when they migrated.
They carried with them, and later grew, all the spices they used in home cooking: Cumin, Coriander, etc. Coconut is another common factor. What is now seen as Caribbean food is originally whatever these immigrants cooked at home, or sold in food stalls and small restaurants.