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What is Jamaican favorite dish?

Jamaican cuisine is known for its diverse flavors and vibrant spices. With influences from indigenous Taino people, British colonizers, African slaves, Indian migrant workers, and Chinese immigrants, Jamaican food has evolved into a unique blend over the centuries. While there are many popular dishes in Jamaican cuisine, a few stand out as true favorites on the island.

Ackee and Saltfish

One of the most iconic Jamaican breakfast dishes is ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a tropical fruit native to West Africa that was brought to Jamaica in the 18th century. When cooked, ackee develops a soft, creamy texture and absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. It is commonly paired with salted codfish, onions, Scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, and spices like black pepper, thyme, and allspice. The salty fish contrasts beautifully with the mild, slightly sweet ackee. This protein-rich meal is often served with fried dumplings, fried plantains, or hard dough bread.

History of Ackee and Saltfish

While ackee is native to West Africa, saltfish originated in Europe as a way to preserve fish before refrigeration. Salted cod was a cheap protein source during the colonial era and made its way to Jamaica on trade ships. Enslaved Africans on the island combined the salted fish with local ackee, and the dish was born. It rose to popularity in the early 20th century as a breakfast meal. Now, ackee and saltfish is considered one of Jamaica’s national dishes.

Nutritional Value

Ackee is rich in nutrients like zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, and Vitamins A and C. Saltfish adds protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Onions, peppers, and tomatoes make the dish full of antioxidants. Overall, ackee and saltfish make for a nutritious, energizing start to the day.

Jerk Chicken

Jerk is Jamaica’s famous method of spice-rubbing and slowly smoking meat over fragrant woodsmoke. While many meats are cooked this way, jerk chicken is by far the most popular. Chicken pieces are coated in a wet marinade called “jerk sauce.” This paste is made from scallions, fiery Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, allspice berries, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other aromatics. The chicken then gets grilled over pimento wood, which imparts a signature smoky flavor.

Origins of Jerk

Jerk seasoning originated with the indigenous Taino people and was adopted by Maroon communities (former slaves who escaped plantations and formed independent settlements). The original marinade used only two ingredients – Scotch bonnet peppers and allspice. Over time, recipes evolved to include more spices and flavors. Jerk chicken was traditionally cooked in a dug-out pit lined with pimento wood, which is very labor-intensive. Modern versions use modified oil drum “jerk pans” or regular charcoal grills.

Health Benefits

Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein. The diverse spices and peppers in jerk sauce provide antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Pimento wood smoke contains beneficial compounds like eugenol and limonene. Overall, when eaten in moderation, jerk chicken can be part of a healthy diet.

Oxtail Stew

Oxtail stew is a hearty, gelatinous meat dish made by braising oxtails (tails of oxen or beef cattle) in broth with root vegetables and spices. The oxtails are browned then simmered for hours until very tender and falling off the bone. Traditional Jamaican oxtail stew includes ingredients like onions, garlic, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, allspice, carrots, yams, potato, tomatoes, and scallions. It has a rich, beefy flavor and thick texture from the collagen that melts out of the oxtails.


Oxtail was first brought to Jamaica during the colonial era. Being more affordable than choice beef cuts, it became a staple for enslaved Africans who flavored it with locally available peppers and spices. Over time, freed citizens of African descent continued the oxtail stew tradition, which is now beloved all over the island. It remains a special-occasion meal for many Jamaican families.


Oxtail is high in protein, calcium, iron, and nutrients from bone marrow. The vegetables add vitamins and minerals. Scotch bonnet peppers boost immunity. Overall, oxtail stew delivers rich flavor along with several health benefits.


Festival is a popular Jamaican street food made of fried, sweetened cornmeal dough. It is prepared by mixing cornmeal with sugar, milk, flour, baking powder, vanilla, and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The stiff dough is then shaped into fingers or patties and deep fried until golden brown and crispy on the outside. Festival has a sweet corn taste and light, cakey texture inside. It is served as a side dish or snack and often accompanies jerk chicken or fish.


Festival has roots in West African cuisine, where fried sweet corn dumplings are common street foods. Enslaved Africans in Jamaica recreated these recipes with locally available ingredients. It became popular as an inexpensive, portable snack and eventually made its way to restaurant menus as a side. Vendors sell festival from food carts and stalls all over Jamaica today.

Nutrition Facts

Festival is high in carbohydrates from cornmeal and relatively low in nutrients. However, the main ingredients are simple and natural. In moderation, it can be enjoyed as part of an overall healthy diet.


Bammy is a traditional Jamaican flatbread made from grated cassava root. The cassava is squeezed to remove juices and then fried on a griddle into round flat cakes. When ready, bammies have a firm yet tender texture with a subtle sweetness. Bammies are most often served as a carb accompaniment to meals, soaking up juices and sauces on the plate. A popular breakfast dish is bammy with fried fish or ackee and saltfish.


Cassava is indigenous to South America and was a staple crop of the Taino people in Jamaica. The Tainos grated cassava root to make flatbreads which they called “bammy.” When the Spanish colonized Jamaica, they adopted cassava into their cuisine. Africans brought to the island as slaves also incorporated bammy into traditional dishes. It continues to be a quintessential Jamaican carbohydrate today.


Fresh cassava root is rich in carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C and essential minerals. Bammy offers a nutritious, gluten-free alternative to regular wheat flour breads. However, the grated cassava goes through a long fermentation process, which can reduce some nutrients.

Run Down

Run down is a coconut milk based stew made with fish and/or other meat and root vegetables. It gets its name from the method of “running down” (breaking down) the ingredients as everything simmers together into a rich, flavorful sauce. The protein (often saltfish, chicken, shrimp or conch) is sautéed with onions, scotch bonnets, garlic, thyme, tomatoes, then coconut milk and tubers like yam and green banana are added and cooked down. Run down has a silky texture and robust taste.


Run down originated in the 17th century as a one-pot stew that used the protein and starches available in Jamaica at the time. Enslaved Africans and indentured servants invented economical dishes like run down with leftover saltfish or chicken and local tubers enriched with coconut milk. It evolved into a beloved national dish over generations.

Health Benefits

Run down provides a nutritional balance of protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and vegetables. Coconut milk has anti-inflammatory properties. Saltfish contributes omega-3s. Overall, run down makes for a wholesome, satisfying meal.

Escoveitch Fish

Escoveitch fish is a popular Jamaican recipe consisting of pan-fried fish marinated in a pickled vinegar sauce with lots of onions, peppers and spices. After frying fish fillets like snapper or grouper, the crispy fish is soaked in a brine of vinegar, Jamaican allspice berries, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, garlic, and plenty of sliced onions. It is allowed to marinate for several hours to let the vinegar and spice flavors infuse the fish. The tangy pickled flavor contrasts with the fried texture.


Escoveitch originates from a cooking style brought to Jamaica by the Spanish. The name comes from the Spanish “escabeche” technique of marinating fried fish in an acidic mixture as a preservative. Enslaved Africans and indentured servants put a local spin on escabeche by incorporating tropical ingredients like scotch bonnets. It became a popular at-home recipe.

Nutrition Facts

Frying fish adds some unhealthy fats, but escoveitch also contains nutritious ingredients. Fish provides lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Onions and peppers add vitamins and antioxidants. Vinegar offers anti-bacterial effects. Overall, enjoyed in moderation, escoveitch fish can be part of a balanced diet.

Mannish Water

Mannish water is a Jamaican goat soup made with the head, belly, and feet of the goat boiled with root vegetables and spices. The name comes from the high testosterone in these parts making them “mannish.” The organs and tough cuts are cooked down until very tender and infuse the soup with a rich, gamey flavor. Typical mannish water contains ingredients like cho-cho (chayote), yam, green banana, scallions, onions, garlic, scotch bonnets, and thyme.


Mannish water originated in the Jamaican countryside, where goat meat was more available than expensive beef. Maroons and other rural Jamaicans created this dish to use every part of the goat. The organs and bones add nutritional value to the soup. It remains a specialty dish for special occasions like birthdays or weddings in Jamaica.


Goat meat provides lean protein, iron, and B vitamins. Bones and connective tissue give collagen, calcium, and other minerals. Mannish water has a nutrient density unmatched by regular goat curry. When combined with veggies, this soup offers a mega boost of health benefits.

Curried Goat

Curried goat is Jamaica’s most popular goat dish. Goat meat is sautéed and braised in a thick curry sauce along with onions, garlic, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, allspice, turmeric, and curry powder. Tomato, scallions, and sometimes potato are also added. It is stewed until the goat is very tender and the sauce thick and aromatic. Curried goat is served with rice and peas or white rice. It delivers a spicy, complex flavor profile.


Currying meat was likely introduced to Jamaica by Indian indentured servants in the 19th century. Locals substituted abundant goat meat to create a unique island twist on Indian curries. Curried goat grew popular as a weekend family meal. Now it is considered one of Jamaica’s national dishes.


Goat meat is lean, meaning low fat and calories. It is high in protein and iron. Spices like turmeric and curry powder contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Overall, curried goat makes for a nutritious meal when eating in moderation.

Rundown Crab

Rundown crab is a Jamaican crab dish made by cooking fresh crabs in a spiced coconut milk sauce. Whole crabs or crabmeat are sautéed with scallions, scotch bonnets, garlic, allspice, then simmered in coconut milk until the sauce thickens and seeps into the crab meat. Additional vegetables like cho-cho, carrots, or green beans are sometimes added. Rundown crab delivers sweet, tender crab infused with the richness of coconut milk.


As a coastal island, Jamaica has always had access to fresh seafood like crabs. A rundown style sauce was most likely first made with saltfish or chicken, then adapted to use plentiful shellfish. The sweetness of crab complements the coconut milk perfectly in this dish.


Crab meat is high in lean protein and provides vitamins and minerals like selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Coconut milk contains medium-chain triglycerides, a healthy fat that boosts metabolism. Rundown crab makes for a nourishing seafood meal.

Brown Stew Chicken

Brown stew chicken is another Jamaican comfort food classic. Chicken pieces are sautéed in a seasoned brown sauce featuring ingredients like soy sauce, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, garlic, thyme, allspice, ketchup, vinegar, and sometimes curry powder. Potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables are also added to the savory stew. The chicken is simmered until very tender and absorbing the flavors of the sauce. Brown stew chicken is usually served with white rice or slices of hard dough bread.


Brown stew chicken evolved from Scottish immigrants cooking chicken in brown gravy. Africans enslaved in Jamaica started adapting the recipe to local tastes by adding tropical spices and heat. Over generations it transitioned into a distinctly Jamaican stew incorporating ketchup, vinegar, curry powder, and scotch bonnets.


Chicken provides lean protein, while the potatoes and carrots add fiber, vitamins and minerals. Scotch bonnets contain capsaicin which has anti-inflammatory properties. Overall, brown stew chicken offers a relatively healthy take on comfort food when portion sizes are controlled.


From spicy jerk chicken to seafood run down, Jamaica offers some of the most vibrant, mouthwatering cuisine in the Caribbean. A few island favorites stand out, like ackee and saltfish, curried goat, oxtail stew, and escoveitch fish. But everyday staples like bammy, festival, and brown stew are just as beloved. With diverse culinary influences blended into its cooking, Jamaica has developed a unique food culture that brings locals and tourists joy and nourishment.