If you closed your eyes and pictured Jamaica, you’ll imagine idyllic beaches, cascading waterfalls and lush rainforests. Sure, you can find all of these amazing things, but Jamaica is also so much more. At its core, Jamaica is rich in culture and is soul-healing for any traveller. Central to that rejuvenating experience is an exciting culinary scene.
That’s right. Jamaica can – and should – be considered a must-visit culinary destination. Across its nearly 11,000 square kilometres, you can find a diverse array of world-class food and drink offerings. In our minds, that makes Jamaica a must when it comes to planning your next vacation. Read on to discover some of the best authentic foodie experiences on the island – and start planning your trip to Jamaica.
Best places in Jamaica for authentic jerk cuisine
You can’t visit Jamaica without sampling traditional jerk. But the style of cooking, which originated on the island, goes beyond chicken. Meat, seafood and vegetables get coated in a classic jerk seasoning blend the flavour-packing star ingredient is Scotch Bonnet pepper – then are slow-cooked over a fire or grill with pimento wood, resulting in a strong, smokey and delicious dish.
1. Boston Jerk Center
Located on Boston Beach – the very region where jerk cuisine was born – the jerk pits at this charming and rustic food stand date back to the 1940s. The world-famous spot serves up just about every type of spicy jerk (think pork, chicken, steak and lobster) cooked over hot coals in open-air fire pits, with the feel of a comforting, home-style meal.
2. Ocho Rios Jerk Centre
Hop in a car and stop at this roadside eatery. The vibes are laid-back and casual as visitors can dine on everything from jerk chicken to barbeque ribs to fried rice. Order the jerk, of course, but also be sure to check out the daily special – rotating favourites include curried goat and brown stew chicken.
There are a few Scotchies locations around the island known for excellent takes on jerk, rum ribs and conch soup, but we recommend the beachside Montego Bay location, in particular. Here, visitors can eat outside, lounging on a cushion under a tiki hut, watching as your meal is cooked over the fire.
5 best spots to try authentic Jamaican Rum in Jamaica
Jamaica’s presence in the rum industry is so strong and respected that Jamaican rum is affectionately known as “the jewel of the Caribbean.” Find the best of Jamaican rum everywhere from award-winning distilleries with international acclaim, to historical spots and cozy cocktail bars.
1. Blackwell Rum Bar
Hang with the locals at Blackwell Rum Bar, a watering hole nestled into the caves of a volcanic cliff that sits on the water’s edge that’s part of the luxe Caves Hotel. The impressive cocktail menu puts the spotlight on Blackwell Rum, a Jamaican dark rum with a smooth finish, which is by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records and former record producer who has worked with the likes of Bob Marley, Grace Jones, U2 and more.
2. Appleton Estate Rum Distillery
Appleton Estate is one of the oldest – and most recognized – sugarcane estates in Jamaica. It’s located in the picturesque Nassau Valley, which is known for having rich and fertile land that allows sugarcane to thrive, resulting in high-quality rum. Check out the multi-sensory tasting – visitors tour estate grounds while learning about the entire cane to cocktail process while sampling a selection of Appleton’s premium rums.
3. Worthy Park Estate
Old-school style and modern thinking come together at Worthy Park Estate in the hills of Lluidas Vale, St. Catherine. Dating back to 1670, Worthy Park is known for its distinctive rum. Made with molasses from the estate’s on-site sugar factory, then distilled with traditional methods and the help of centuries of passed-on expertise.
4. Hampden Sugar Estate
Hampden Sugar Estate is another one of Jamaica’s acclaimed heritage sites. Hampden are masters of pot still rums, which are made with a single distillation in a simple kettle, resulting in an intense, complex flavour. Here, dive into the 260-year-old rum-making process as you tour the estate’s colonial-style house and verdant grounds.
5. Lester’s Bar
Located in the Half Moon hotel, Lester’s Bar is a legendary spot named for the late, just-as-iconic Montego Bay artist Michael Lester (known for his bold, colourful paintings and drawings). What sets Lester’s Bar is its expansive rum collection – said to be one of the largest on the entire island. Guests can order from over 50 premium labels, each of which is sourced locally and from around the Caribbean.
Best farm-to-table restaurants in Jamaica
The farm-to-table trend isn’t just for North American or European restaurants. In Jamaica, this style of eating has become increasingly popular in recent years – with no signs of slowing down – because it’s the best way to showcase the island’s rich culture and diversity of cuisine.
1. EITS Café
Located at the family-run Mount Edge Guest House is the aptly named EITS Café (“Europe in the Summer”), where Jamaican and European cuisine come together to delight the senses. The chefs stick strictly to using local and seasonal ingredients, many of which come directly from their on-site garden, Food Basket Farm. The menu is always changing, and may include clever fusion meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, like curry goat, French toast with pineapple chutney and eggs florentine.
2. Stush in the Bush
At Stush in the Bush, every meal is a hands-on experience. Focused on sustainable Ital cuisine (a popular Rastafari diet on vegetarian dishes and natural, clean ingredients), guests start with a tour of the restaurant’s 15-acre organic farm led by owners Lisa and Christopher Binns. The Binns then whip up a vibrant vegetarian meal (think a Jamaican Mezze Board with crispy plantain chips, coconut-crusted yam and smoky corn beignets or fire-grilled pizzas with freestyled fresh Jamaican toppings), all made with love. Book ahead of time as spots go fast.
3. Zimbali Culinary Retreats
At Zimbali Culinary Retreats, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another magical place because the family-owned spot is tucked into a mountainside jungle. Here, you’ll also get to tour the seven-acre organic farm, then watch a live cooking demonstration that highlights the seasonal ingredients that have been harvested on the property. No multi-course meal menu is the same, but you can be assured it’s an experience you’ll never forget. There’s also on-site lodging available if you’d like to spend the night in the area.