It's a cuisine shaped by a melting pot of history, and spiked with plenty of hot chilli and spice!
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7 Aug 2019 - 12:45 PM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2019 - 8:08 PM

From jerk chicken to coco bread, from reggae to rum, Jamaica is a little island with a big, thumping, dancing, multicultural vibe.

It’s given the world Bob Marley and Usain Bolt. It’s blessed with sparkling white beaches, verdant jungles and a melting pot cuisine that makes the most of the super-fresh seafood plucked from the sea.

The third-largest island in the Caribbean, it's also where one of the happiest chefs on the planet, Ainsley Harriott, starts his eating, cooking, laughing and travel adventure in his new show, Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen (Sundays 7.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33 from August 11).  

Clearly, the Caribbean is the sort of place where you can’t help but break out into laughter (a lot), dance, (a lot) and eat really good, flavour-packed food (yes, you guessed it, a lot)!

Kingston, Jamaica’s sprawling capital city, is where Harriott’s parents were born, “so it feels a little bit like a homecoming”, he says. And while jerk might be the most well-known Jamaican eat around the world, it’s far from the only must-try dish.

To get you in the mood for Caribbean Kitchen’s kick-off (Harriott devotes the first two episodes to Jamaica’s markets, beaches and bush), here are five ways to get a taste of Jamaica without leaving home.

Jerk

Hugely popular, jerk refers both to the herb and spice mixture used to flavour chicken, pork, other meats or fish, and the style of cooking, with jerk traditionally cooked over a charcoal fire.  “When you come to Jamaica, there’s a handful of things you simply have to try that’s right on the top of the list, and I think jerk chicken definitely has to be number one,” Harriott says in the show, as he heads to one of the island’s most popular jerk sellers. Scotchies serves up traditional jerk, with big slabs of meat cooked and smoked over wood fires. “They jerk it with sausage, they jerk it with chicken, they jerk it with pork. All sorts of wonderful things, and boy, that flavour is so, so good. I just wish they’d given me that recipe.” Given the success of Scotchies, it’s understandable they weren’t going to give up all the secrets (he does try!), but luckily for us, Harriott has shared his own take on jerk. Give it a go with his jerk pork belly with pea and potato mash-up.

If you fancy jerk chicken, fire up the barbecue and try this juicy, smoky recipe (that's the sticky, dark, delicious number pictured up top, also inspired by a visit to Scotchies), if you like things hot (three scotch bonnet chillies!); or try this jerk chicken from the Feast archives, which can be cooked on a barbecue or in a grill pan.

Festival (the food)

The Caribbean puts on a festival and we're not only talking party-time here: this particular festival is known as the Caribbean dumpling, a fried cornmeal bread, often served with jerk. “Jamaican festival is sweet, fried comfort food. The dough is formed into an oval shape and deep-fried until beautifully golden brown. Perfect to take the edge off that spicy chicken,” Harriott says. “When I was growing up as a young child, my Mum used to serve this festival on a Sunday morning with ackee and saltfish.”

Festival is simple to make – a quick dough that’s deep-fried until golden and best served warm. Give it a go with this recipe.

Ackee and saltfish

If you’re wondering about Harriott’s family Sunday fare, ackee and saltfish is often described as Jamaica’s national dish. Ackee, a fruit often treated as a vegetable, is cooked with salt cod, onions, tomato, Scotch bonnet chilli and other seasonings. 

Jamaican patty

Another delicious member of the folded pastry pie family that includes the Cornish pasty and the South American empanada, patty is a Jamaican staple, sold right across the island.  Flaky pastry – often coloured a golden yellow with egg yolk or turmeric –  is wrapped around a savoury filling, most often spiced meat. 

Patty is sometimes served stuffed in soft, slightly sweet coco bread.

Rum

Rich, smooth rum is as much a hallmark of the island as the sandy beaches, smoky jerk stands and musical beats. Jamaica produces enough rum each year to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming polls; the island is also home to one of the oldest rum producers in the world, Appleton Estate.  Put some rum to great use and whip up a batch of pepper rum, a Jamaican classic used to finish stews and other dishes, and as an ingredient in this spiced rum and grapefruit drink. Bananas and rum are also a winning flavour combo – bananas are everywhere on the island, so for a sweet treat, try our recipe for Jamaican banana ice-cream with muscovado meringues (brown sugar is one of the island’s most famous exports) and rum sauce.

Escape to the island life with Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen, as Ainsley Harriott visits Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia, Dominica and Antigua. Sundays 7.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33 from August 11; episodes will be available on SBS On Demand after they air.

Jamaican flavours
Matty's jerk chicken

You want this juicy, smoky chicken. You really do.  

Tropical slaw

This is a beautifully colourful slaw full of fresh tropical flavour from mango  and lime, and a fresh addition to the spicy slow-cooked jerk.” Maeve OMeara, Food Safari Fire

Jamaican goat buns

This Caribbean version of the pork slider cooks low and slow. They may be almost a day in the making, but they're down the hatch in seconds!

Jamaican ginger cake

Ginger is one of the world’s most ubiquitous spices, used fresh in Chinese, Korean and Indian cuisines, pickled and served with sushi, and added to cakes, biscuits and marinades in its dried powder form. For this rich Jamaican cake, both fresh and dried ginger are used.

Jamaican avocado ice-cream

In Jamaica, avocados (which are sometimes referred to as alligator pears) are commonly eaten with a hard, sweet bread known as bulla, as well as made into a chilled soup. Perhaps a little more unusually, they are also used to make ice-cream. The creamy, delicate flavour works surprisingly well, especially with the addition of lime juice to cut through the richness.