Jamaican food is shaped by the country’s multi-ethnic history. Early inhabitants of the Caribbean island cultivated spinach-like callaloo, papayas (pawpaws) and guava fruit, as well as maize, potatoes, peanuts, peppers and beans. After Columbus reached Jamaica on his second voyage (1494), Spanish colonists added sugar cane, lemons, limes, and coconuts, along with their pigs, cattle, and goats. West African slaves brought by the Spanish added ackee (the tropical fruit in a traditional ackee and saltfish breakfast) and okra, now considered Jamaican staples.
Modern Jamaican cuisine blends cooking techniques of the indigenous Arawaks, and the many others – Spanish, British, Africans, Indian, Chinese – who have inhabited the island since. “Jerking,” for example, involves intensely spicing and slowly cooking meat to preserve its juices. Traditional jerked meat is cooked over an outdoor pit lined with wood chips from the pimento, or allspice, tree. The distinctive jerk spice rub typically contains hot peppers, onions, garlic, thyme, allspice, ginger, and cinnamon. Common Jamaican dishes are stew chicken, curried goat, oxtails, and roti (unleavened stonemeal flour bread) filled with curried meats and/or potatoes. Seafood dishes like sweet & sour whiting and escoveitch red snapper are also popular. Sides might be sweet plantains or rice and peas (“peas” meaning beans). One of the most popular snacks is the Jamaican patty, a flaky pastry tinted with tumeric or egg yolk filled with ground meat and spices. For dessert, try the sweet flour pastry gizzada, or “pinch-me-rounds.”
Essex County is home to the largest Jamaican community in New Jersey. East Orange, Newark, Irvington, and Orange have the most Jamaican-born residents. Other Jersey towns with significant Jamaican communities are Paterson in Passaic County; Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood in Bergen County; Plainfield in Union County; Trenton in Mercer County and Willingboro in Camden County.
There are more and more restaurants serving Jamaican food opening across New Jersey. Share your favorites spots below. We’ll add the most popular to the list, and to the map.