Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Where to eat in Jamaica?

Okay, got to admit...I'm cheating a bit here - I should call this post "Where to eat in Negril" and not Jamaica; Negril is a beach town that's on the western end of this tiny island nation. Before I start detailing the lip-smacking delicacies that this part of Jamaica has to offer, I have to describe the laid back - relaxed attitude of the people here. It's almost as if they got no concept of time...remember the final snowy mountain fortress scene from the movie Inception? Imagine that pace to reflect our current life....now think of the ultra-slo-mo scene where Yusuf is driving the van down the bridge - that's Jamaica for you! And in a way, it does affect your restaurant experience. Never go to a resto in Jamaica when you are really hungry and expect the food to be on your table in a jiffy; you just won't get it for a while....period! So leave behind the fast-food-drive-thru-"I'm not getting any quick service here" attitude behind before you step into this beautiful island. I should mention here that my good friend Karthik accompanied me on my culinary adventure - whether it was savouring spicy jerk chicken or taking a shot of the local drink - FBM.

Now to the good part!

Bourbon Beach - Jerk is actually a good word here!
When you think Jamaica, you think 'Jamaican Jerk' - the quintessential Jamaican flavor that you thought you tasted in your local Wings-Stop or Buffalo Wild Wings. Exactly....you just thought you did! When we wanted to taste some local jerk in Negril, we let our tour guide help find us an authentic place and he took us to Bourbon Beach, a beach front casual diner where all they make for you is Jerk Chicken. It was a one man - two women operation (and a bar tender tending to an empty bar). The guy was an exec-chef - sous-chef combo and the two ladies were managers cum expediters, though we did most of the expediting! But you know what, I coudn't care less - all I wanted to know was how the jerk chicken tasted....and boy it tasted goood! The meat is seasoned by applying the jerk spice either as a dry-rub or as a marinade. Then it is slow cooked over pimento wood until it's charred....but only in looks. Only when you taste it do you realize that all that black charred pieces of meat have the best jerk flavor - spicy, smoky with nothing burnt! You order them just like their tandoori cousins - 'half' or 'full' and he cuts the meat and pours a blackened sauce on top before packing it in a styrofoam to-go box (yup you guessed it - no crystal and china here!). The sauce is of course the jerk sauce and its bloody hot - if you have a sensitive palette and desire to taste the meat then don't even go near the sauce! The meat was perfect - moist inside, perfectly grilled outside with amazing flavor. And here's the best part...it does not even remotely taste like what you had in BWW! Without a doubt, Bourbon beach is the place to go as far as jerk is concerned!
Bourbon Beach - best bet to fix your jerk cravings in Negril

Showing what he does best

Spicy, smoky and tender...delectable!

Country Country
This was the resort where we stayed - so I would not have sampled these yum breakfast fares otherwise. Two dishes come to my mind are the banana pancakes and the national dish of Jamaica - 'ackee & saltfish'. Let's start with the pancakes. The banana pancake served here is the best example of cooking a simple dish to perfection (which in my opinion is the most difficult thing to do - remember Chef Mehta losing the next Iron Chef battle 'cos he was not able to make decent french fries?!). The pancakes were relatively smaller compared with those in the U.S; something you will get used to in Jamaica. Nevertheless, I ended up ordering 6 of them beauties to keep me happy till lunch! In short, they were hot, buttery, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside with just the right amount of bananas- you get the general idea :-)
The 'Ackee and Saltfish' - Ackee...what again?? I figured there was fish in it....but saltfish....as in salted fish for breakfast? I googled it up later and found out that it is a combination dish made up of Ackee - a West African fruit that has to be cooked in order for it to be edible and Saltfish - simple cod that is dried and salted. It is a Jamaican tradition and the food of the locals. It did not appeal to me as a breakfast item, but Karthik ended up ordering it. The dish looked like scrambled eggs and tasted much like scrambled eggs just that they were extremely salty! They serve it with some calaloo (Jamaican for spinach), banana, fried plantains, dumplings and some fresh fruit. It does have an acquired taste and if you are into fish, just try the ackee by itself.
Banana Pancakes @ Country Country
Ackee and Saltfish

This was my favourite joint. The food, the novelty of the place, the cooking style and the fact that they are open 24 hours makes this place a must try if you are in Jamaica! Howie's is on the route from Negril to YS falls and the perfect pit-stop for you to fill your tummy either before or after the visit to the falls. Truck drivers, tourists, local men and women all flock to this 24 hour highway eatery. The food is cooked on about a dozen huge cauldrons on open wood flame and you are already thinking what a nice place! The menu boast some exotic soups - conch, goats head and beans, curries - chicken and goat, fried chicken and fish, and some mouth watering stews. We had the chicken stew with rice and vegetables along with some of their beans soup. The chicken was spicy and the bean soup with veggies made the whole meal very filling. Chase them down with some Red Stripe, the local beer and you need a nice nap to do some justice to that meal! Howie's is definitely a welcome change from the beach-front, all-inclusive 5-star restaurants that you find peppered all over the island. It offers soulful, cheap, spicy, local fare...we have a winner here!

Howie's HQ Dining
Pots and pots of lip-smacking local fare cooked over pimento wood
Chicken stew with rice, calaloo and festival (the long deep fried bread)

Sweet Spice
How does a restaurant qualify as a mom-and-pop joint? Would it be enough if the place is family owned, operated for more than 20 years, does not have any local branches and serves amazing local food with a distinct flavour? If that is the case, then this place is indeed one. All of us like these mom-and-pop joints for exactly the same reason - the food is unique to that place, there is a certain level of authenticity that makes us believe we are having a good time and the food is prepared in "limited editions" that makes us feel special. People come to such a place for more than just a meal, it's the overall experience. Sweet-Spice is one such local hot-spot. Karthik takes the credit for finding this joint and our driver hinted at ordering conch bits - or conch curry. The curry dishes are their crowd pullers - chicken, lobster, goat, conch to name a few. I tried the conch for the first time and it was very tasty - slightly chewy and tough from what I'd expected. The key, I believe is to marinate the conch for long hours in lime water or pound them hard before cooking. Served again with rice, it was a complete meal. Sweet Spice also serves an amazing list of fresh fruit juices -we got a tropical mix and pina colada...virgin for a change! So next time you are in Negril, ask your driver to take you up to Sweet Spice and get some conch bits...respect mon!

For a real fare of Jamaican home styled cooking - Sweet Spice
some spicy stuff this!
Conch bits with rice

Rick's Cafe
If you want a real taste of the party scene and want to inject some adrenelin to your vacation go to Rick's Cafe. They call themselves the 'World famous Rick's Cafe'. Ricks cafe is beautifully perched on top of the cliffs - the south end of Negril. They are famous for their sunset view, infinity pool, cliff diving and more importantly, their drink list. Two drinks that stood out which also characterize Rick's Cafe are the 'For Her' and 'For Him' drink. To quote directly from their menu, the description goes like this -
For Her: Sex with Rick $6
Vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, OJ, pineapple juice & a splash of cream . . . we’ll respect you in the morning
For Him: Front End Lifter A.K.A. Jamaican Viagra $6
Blended stout beer, white rum, rum cream, clear syrup, oatmeal & one egg topped with chocolate syrup. . . true story
But I was interested in another drink that I'd researched about before I went there - The FBM a.k.a The Flaming Bob Marley, in honor of the true legend of Jamaica. The drink consists of three equal parts - Grenedine spirit at the bottom layer, Creme de Menthe in the middle and topping it with 151 proof Rum served in a tall shot glass. The top layer is then lit and you are given a wet straw to drink it. The idea here is to drink the FBM quickly and in the process, you will notice the flame coming up the straw! And yes, you might wanna stop sucking at that time!! The drink was just alright (the mint liqueur didnt do it for me!) but the idea behind it was kinda cool I thought!
Evening scene at the World Famous Rick's Cafe
The two Flaming Bob Marleys...sitting pretty!

This picture, clicked by Karthik, paints Jamaica best - laid-back, care-free and intoxicating in many different ways....everyting irie, no problem mon!


  1. Great post B....makes me wanna go there even tho am "no meat" and I can't even stand the smell of jerk chicken ... but I got pancakes and the beaches aaand Rick's cafe .... I think that's MORE than enough!! FBM sounds whacky interesting!!!! how many of those did you down my friend?

  2. definitely reading this up again if a and i hit jamaica!

  3. @ Anu - I suggest you pack your bags asap and go to Jamaica!! Do me a fav - smell the jerk chicken there and let me know if you like it or not...'cos it might be different from the ones in Miami :-) I just did one of the FBMs...i'll send you the video..tried uploading it here, but the quality was not great :-)
    @Preeti - When you say "when a and I hit Jam", who are you referring to?? Sr or Jr. A?? Maybe you shud go for A's 1 year bday - the seafood alone is a reason to go there:-) FTW!