National Dish of the Week – Jamaica

June 23, 2011 at 9:12 AM | Posted in Food | 12 Comments
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Jamaican cuisine includes a mixture of cooking techniques, flavors, spices and influences from the indigenous people on the island, and the Spanish, British, Africans, Indians, and Chinese who have inhabited the island. It is also influenced by the crops introduced into the island from tropical Southeast Asia. Jamaican cuisine includes various dishes from the different cultures brought to the island with the arrival of people from elsewhere. Other dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. In addition to ingredients that are native to Jamaica, many foods have been introduced and are now grown locally. A wide variety of seafood, tropical fruits and meats are available.

Some Jamaican cuisine dishes are variations on the cuisines and cooking styles brought to the island from elsewhere. These are often modified to incorporate local produce. Others are novel and have developed locally. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and salt fish (cod) (which is the national dish of Jamaica), fried plantain, “jerk”, steamed cabbage and “rice and peas” (pigeon peas or kidney beans). Jamaican Cuisine has been adapted by African, British, French, Spanish, Chinese and Indian influences. Jamaican patties and various pastries and breads are also popular as well as fruit beverages and Jamaican rum.

Jamaican cuisine has spread with emigrations, especially during the 20th century, from the island to other nations as Jamaicans have sought economic opportunities in other areas.

Christopher Columbus visited Jamaica multiple times towards the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, once even shipwrecked off the north coast for two years (1503–1504). During these visits he described a way the Arawaks (the indigenous inhabitants of Jamaica) preserved meat by adding peppers, allspice and sea salt to make what is now known as Jamaican jerk spice.

The Spanish, the first European arrivals to the island contributed dishes such as the vinegary concoction escovitched fish (Spanish escabeche) contributed by the Spanish Jews. Later, Cantonese/Hakka influences developed the Jamaican patty, an empanada styled turnover filled with spiced meat. African cuisine developed on the island as a result of waves of slavery introduced by the European powers. More Chinese and East Indian influences can also be found in Jamaican cuisine, as a result of indentured labourers who replaced slaves after emancipation brought their own culinary talents (especially curry, which Jamaican chefs sometimes use to season goat meat for special occasions).

African cuisine, Indian cuisine and American cuisine, Chinese cuisine and British cuisine are not new to the island. Through many years of British colonialism the cuisine developed many habits of cooking particular to a trading colony. The natives of Jamaica drink the most tea per capita in the Caribbean to this day as a result.

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