Open a food app in New York City, skim the food section of a Lonely Planet guide, and chances are you’ll be inducted into a world of multi-hyphenates. In Montreal, butter chicken poutine combines Indian flavours with the classic Quebecois dish of fries, gravy and cheese curds. San Francisco is home to the original Sushiritto, fusing the Tex-Mex burrito with Asian-inspired flavours. Even Oreo has been rolling out some spectacularly engineered new fillings. Think fruit punch, strawberry shortcake, and cinnamon bun flavoured cookies. Okay, Oreo. Am I still looking at a cookie, or a chocolate wafer sandwiched between a 50s world fair?
Yet, while fusion cooking may seem like a cultural novelty of the 21st century, fusion cuisine has a long and fascinating history. Pick a given country, trace back the history of its cuisine, and before you a country’s entire cultural history will reveal itself. A tour of Jamaica’s culinary scene is one of such truly diverse and globetrotting experiences. Jamaican cuisine has been adapted by Irish, African, Indian, British, French, Spanish and Chinese influence, alongside the original flavours and spices of the indigenous people of Jamaica. And naturally, a true tour of Jamaican cuisine would be incomplete without its Rastafarian influences. Rastafarianism, an Abrahamic religion that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, brought a vegetarian, or Ital, approach to the island’s cuisine.
The following is a tour of our favourite Jamaican dishes, made with love and served with pride at our communal Carleva Bay breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Carleva is more than a rental villa, or a place for voluntourists to kick back their heels and relax, it’s our home, and now it can be yours too! Find out how we can make your stay memorable, whether for a weekend away or longer. We’ll do the cooking!
Rice and Peas
In Jamaica and many English-speaking countries of the Carribean, “peas” is used in reference to legumes and not to the garden-variety green pea. Rice and Peas are often seasoned with pimento seeds, ginger and coconut milk. Many Jamaicans will fondly recall their mothers whipping up this staple Jamaican dish every Sunday afternoon like clockwork.
For tunes to groove to see Count Basie’s “Mama Don’t Want No Peas ‘N Rice ‘N Coconut Oil”!
Arguably the most classic and most beloved of all Jamaican dishes—jerk chicken (or fish, or tofu, whatever suits your fancy!) is a Carleva Bay favourite! Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica where meat is dry-rubbed with a hot spice mixture. Some historians say the technique was developed by escaped African slaves when Britain captured the island from Spain in 1655.
Assembling cooking supplies, walking up to the Yallahs market, talking to the local fruit vendor, picking out the fruits for the jerk sauce—all of these steps are as big a component as preparing the sauce itself. Our Carleva Bays team has cooked for groups of all sizes and dietary preferences, and know how to tweak classic Jamaican dishes to accommodate vegan and vegetarian diets. Ask about our jerk tofu!
Other Vegetarian Fare
Jamaican food is one of the best things about coming to Carleva. Ital food, or Rastafarian vegetarian fare, is well known throughout Jamaica, and most dishes can easily be made meat free. We love our vegetable coconut curries at Carleva, and can make them fire engine hot, or with just a touch of fire for those who can’t take the heat! In much the same way as Jamaican musicians make mash-ups or reggae versions of popular songs, our kitchen loves to experiment with Jamaican versions of recipes found in cookbooks kept in the house. Ask us what we can dream up for your group. Dinner’s ready!
Ackee and Saltfish (what’s that you say?)
Ackee and Saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica, and the ackee fruit, which resembles scrambled eggs in appearance only, was imported to Jamaica from Ghana prior to 1725. Jamaicans are among the only people on the planet crazy enough to eat ackee, because if eaten before being fully ripe, it can kill you. Yes, you read that right! It is thought that one of the reasons Jamaica has so many fast runners (Usain Bolt, are you listening?) is that we are an outlier in the ackee consumption category. So don’t pick it yourself, ask Ms. J to whip some up for you for a lovely Jamaican breakfast with johnnycakes, or lunch, or dinner, or a snack, or actually anytime of the day!
Fish Tea (what on earth is that?)
In Jamaica, all things warm are called tea! Thanks to British colonists, old-time Jamaicans started referring to hot liquids as tea. And so we have coffee tea, cocoa tea, and, of course, fish tea—a savory fish soup that is often served as an appetizer before a meal. Talk about fusion cooking: fish tea includes “Irish” (potatoes to the rest of us), “Scotch” bonnet peppers (don’t even think of eating it raw!), a vegetable called cho cho (“chayote” to the Mexican-inclined), carrots, and spices (garlic, thyme, and pimento). It’s served in a cup, not a bowl, and is often eaten while waiting for “the (real) food.” Here is our favorite Carleva take on fish tea, being prepared outside on our barbecue overlooking the sea!
A Carleva Bay specialty, each year we cultivate so many mangos from our garden that we’re able to produce small batches of our own wine. Here we are toasting to another successful year of wine and company!