Jamaicans love a good Christmas dinner. And, even though they are heavily influenced by the US, a dinner without certain foods is sacrilege.
If you are fortunate enough to experience a traditional Christmas dinner in Jamaica, here is your cheat sheet.
Try as many of the six (6) items mentioned and you will be able to honestly say that you had an authentic Jamaican Christmas dinner.
1. Chicken of some sort.
Did you guess turkey? You would be wrong.
Culturally, turkey never took off in Jamaica. People who are more Americanized, or expats, may serve turkey; but, it is not typical for a Jamaican Christmas table.
Expect instead a variety of meats or entrees – chicken, goat, pork/ham, oxtail and fish. Do we make turkey for our guests? Sure we do, if that is their preference. Before you ask, yes, you can jerk a turkey.
You won’t believe it; but, most Jamaicans don’t like turkey! Credit: Wikimedia
As popular as jerk chicken is, it is not necessarily expected at Christmas dinner, as it is a bit, well, common. You can get that every day of the year so why have it for such a special day? If it is served, you can be sure that your host has prepared it with some sort of special flair that is intended to impress you.
2. Ham, prepared Jamaican-style studded with pineapple slices, cherries and cloves, is one of those dishes that define Christmas. The demand for ham is such that if you expect to have ham for Christmas dinner, you had better order it at least 4-6 weeks ahead of time. If you don’t, I promise that you will be disappointed.
3. Rice and peas is served year round and is a must-have; but, at Christmas the red kidney beans are replaced with gungo peas. Now, that is a special treat, especially since it is also made with coconut milk. Have no worries, this is non-dairy. Coconut milk is the juice that is expressed from shredded dried coconuts. The flavor is divine!
4. Mannish water, or goat soup, is also typical. This is made with the head and or parts of the goat that you wouldn’t really want to discuss. That said, Anthony Bourdain would barely bat an eye over this one. So forget what I just said and try it. It is delicious. It is usually served at celebrations or special events like weddings, funerals as well as holiday events.
5. The traditional and most popular drink at Christmas time is sorrel. It is a brew made from steeping the sorrel petals along with ginger, as well as cloves or pimento, like a tea. This is then sweetened with sugar to get the perfect taste. Some people add rum or wine to it; but, this is personal preference.
Scientific studies have suggested that sorrel is high in Vitamin C and may also have a role in cancer prevention. As a result, it is now bottled and found in supermarkets year-round. My preference is for the home-made version and I only drink sorrel during the Christmas season. For me, that helps to keep Christmas that much more special.
6. Jamaican Christmas Cake, or Black Cake, is a fruit cake; but, not like the kind no-one wants to receive and is the butt of jokes in the US. Our version is made with ground up raisins, currants and dried fruits that have been soaked in rum or wine for about 6 months. Yep, you read that right. It is sort of like a bread pudding soaked in a wine or rum with the look of a rich chocolate cake but doesn’t taste anything like chocolate.
This is a difficult cake to make. It is also a very expensive cake to make given the cost of the alcohol, dried fruits, real butter and other fine ingredients that are used. I am not even going to attempt to give you a recipe. I will instead let you in on my personal secret. Have someone buy you one from PriceMart Supermarket in Kingston. I don’t know how their bakery does it; but, they make the best Christmas cake for the price that I have come across.
Notice that the sell by date is a month from when the cake was made. That is your clue that, yes, there is enough alcohol in it to keep it unrefrigerated and yet still fresh for a long time!
When it is good, it is very good. When it is bad, it is gross. Do try it though. It is widely available at any bakery during the holiday season and is also the cake of choice for Jamaican brides. I love it. Darrell hates it and will not even taste it. Our son is being taught that it is only eaten in moderation. He knows it as the “cake that makes you sleepy”. This cake is legal in Jamaica and is not considered child endangerment 🙂
So, now you know six (6) foods to try at Christmas time in Jamaica. We would be happy to have you try these items during your stay with us during the holidays. Contact us early to book the villa for the holidays. The villa sometimes books up a year in advance!
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Til next time.
Think and dream Jamaica!
Sherry, Darrell, and Darrian
Considering a visit to Jamaica with a group? Contact us today for more information about, Mais Oui Tennis & Spa Villa, our boutique 8-BR ocean view Jamaica villa rental experience in beautiful Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Perfect for multi-generational families and groups, retreats, and intimate destination weddings and vow renewals.
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Sherry & Darrell, owners of Mais Oui Tenis & Spa Villa in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, consider themselves unofficial ambassadors for Jamaica. They look forward to using their insider knowledge to help guests create priceless vacation memories. Feel free to say hi!