If you've been to the Caribbean, you know that the food can be spicy at times and depending on where you are, there's no shortage of rice and beans, but there's also another side to this part of the world which is surrounded by clear turquoise waters in that seafood is prevalent everywhere. Fresh vegetables and fruit can be found everywhere, especially pineapples and bananas. And MAN, do I love how they deep fry those plantains so that they're so sweet they just melt in your mouth.
It's no secret that we're big foodies over here, so I was excited to take in the best of what the western coast of Jamaica had to offer. Bear in mind that I visited only a small corner of the country (the coast west and then south from Montego Bay which is where I flew into) and we didn't dine in 5 star restaurants or hotels every night, so the taste I'm giving you is a combination of local eateries, markets, fresh fish and lobster on an isolated beach that was caught the same day and finer hotel fare.
Markets are everywhere like most of the Caribbean and it's no surprise given the climate -- there's plenty of fruit. While I've been exposed to Soursop before, it seemed to be everywhere in Jamaica and is apparently a great choice for those wanting to calm their nerves I learned from a couple of holistic health sources on my trip.
Soursop is the fruit of Annona muricata, a broadleaf, flowering, evergreen tree native to Mexico, Cuba, Central America, the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, and South America, primarily Colombia, Brazil,Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela. Soursop is also produced in all tropical parts of Africa, especially in Eastern Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
I remember seeing it widely available when I lived in Africa, but given that I was already in love with papaya, guava and mangoes, I didn't branch out all that much given that they were already new to my fruit regime given that I grew up in the American Northeast where we lived on blueberries, apples and peaches. It has an unusual texture (below) and size, but if you want a calming effect, you can use the leaves and the seeds, either turning it into a mixed shake or a soothing tea.
Then there's lobster, which I didn't expect to find on the island for some reason -- it's fresh and affordable, so you'll find it on many menus, including local eateries. We had lobster on an isolated beach, a tour we took from Jake's Resort one afternoon, as well as at local place called Murphy's West End Restaurant, or just Murphy's, as locals know it, named after the owner who has an interesting history and built the place from scratch.
For those worried about carbs and gluten, there's no shortage of salads to be found on menus and I was able to stick to my high protein, low carb diet fairly easily throughout the week.
But, when you want to splurge, skip the desserts and head straight to the fried plantains which Jamaicans do so well.
A fresh organic couscous side dish with fresh carrots from the garden, which we sampled during a farm-to-table dining experience we did while staying at Jake's Hotel. (worth doing).
Chicken and fish on a stick? It's the freshest and funnest way to eat, so why not? Here, they were served with onions and sweet red and yellow peppers. Yum!
Meat lovers, fear not as there are plenty of options for you. Note the inclusion of lime on the top of a meat dish -- we noticed that lime was used on nearly every dish as a garnish and unlike the largest limes we get at supermarkets in the west, the limes are half the size here.
Chicken, also a common choice on menus (note the side of rice and beans, which is oh so Caribbean). The Jerked Chicken at Murphy's was also a treat and he claims he has some of the coldest Red Stripe beer in the area, which is the most popular beer of the area. Murphy's is about as organic as it gets and while the waitress may not remember a thing you told her (even the third time), it seems to all come out happily in the end, especially when your dishes arrive.
It is an authentic and colorful joint located just past the Negril lighthouse and in addition to lobster and his famous jerked chicken, you can get grey snapper and shrimp in a spicy curry and coconut cream sauce, or roasted chicken with pumpkin mashed potatoes. Outside there are picnic tables (where we dined) and hammocks where you can hang out while waiting for your food.
Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish (cod) - the national dish of Jamaica - fried plantains as shown above, steamed cabbage, rice, peas, kidney beans and something they refer to as Callaloo,which originated in West Africa. Simply put, they are Jamaican patties which I'd recommend with a cold Red Stripe beer.
Shrimp with peppers and cucumbers, which I also noted seemed to be everywhere, whether it be a side at local eateries, or on buffets at the larger hotels and resorts.
The soursop drinks are so delicious that I am bound for the Asian market in San Francisco to see what we can muster up at home. Note that they also serve Aloe Vera juice throughout the island which didn't taste like pure Aloe Vera I've had anywhere else. Why? They add Nutmeg to it, which is apparently very Jamaican.
Deep fried fish with grilled vegetables, plantains and greens. Note that the prevalence of fried and sauteed greens on many menus shows the African influence on the island.
Grilled fish with vegetables - note that they catch the fish right off the bay.
Grilled chicken skewers with tomatoes, onions and zucchini squash. All fresh, all organic, all delicious!
We also dined at Krystal one night, which is a fusion restaurant serving a combo of seafood and meat dishes as well as fresh salads and soups.
All food photo credits: Renee Blodgett