Jamaican cuisine is a melting pot of different culinary styles from all over the world. In order to understand why Jamaican cooking is so unique, one must first learn about its history.
Jamaica was inhabited by Arawak natives when it was invaded by the crew of Christopher Columbus’s second intercontinental maritime voyage. The Arawak lived on native plants, such as corn, guava, callaloo, potatoes, peppers, and beans. They also roasted meat on sticks called barbacoa, which is where barbecuing came from.
The Spanish brought with them a variety of beans and escabeche, a process of preparing meat that uses vinegar and spices. This dish seems to catch on wherever it goes. In Jamaica, it lives on as escoveitch fish. The Spanish imported goats, pigs, and cattle, all of which became staples in the local diet.
The Spanish also brought African slaves, who made their own mark on the island’s hodge-podge culinary landscape. Jerk seasoning is probably their most famous contribution, but they’re also responsible the introduction of okra, peanuts, and many varieties of peas and beans.
Once occupied by the English, Jamaica became a base for privateers, who were basically pirates operating under the auspices of colonial governments, and financed by investors eager for shares of the loot these ships would plunder from captured vessels.
It was basically like buying stock in a pirate ship, which sounds pretty awesome, but was probably not as romantic as you’d think. These privateers earned their keep by keeping the naval fleets of England’s wartime rivals from capturing the island.
They also imported foods from the places they “visited” on their far-flung adventures. For example, ackadee, breadfruit and Otaheiti apples were imported by Captain Bligh, who was apparently terrifying, but had a soft spot for exotic fruits. Limes were imported by sailors of all stripes, as they were taken on long voyages to fend off the ravages of scurvy (caused by vitamin C deficiency).
When the British Crown outlawed slavery, Chinese and East Indian indentured servants replaced the African slaves on the plantations, and added their own contributions to the local cuisine. Jamaican-style Chinese food has long been part of the local food scene, and the East Indian influence can definitely be tasted in local curry goat recipes.
The Rastafarian religion has shaped Jamaican food in a number of ways, as well. Many Rastafarians abstain from eating meat, as they do not believe consuming meat contributes to their “itality.” “Ital” cooking has popularized a great number of vegetarian dishes.
As you can see, Jamaican cooking has roots just about everywhere. If you’d like to try Laughing Planet’s take on this amazing culinary tradition, stop by for a Jamaican Burrito. It’s full of ital goodness, with jicama, sweet potato, black beans, and jerk sauce for that extra kick.
[Photo Credit: caribpress]