- JAMAICAN CULTURE
- AIRPORT INFORMATION
Early dancehall sessions started in the inner cities of Kingston in the late 1940’s and really gained momentum with the advent of the sound systems in the 1950’s. Sound systems are a collection of DJ’s, sound engineers and MC’s that played music at street parties. Initially, the music featured was primarily American R&B, but the local music scene explosion in the 60’s and 70’s ensured a migration to a more Jamaican flavour. There was an enormous degree of competition amongst the sound systems which resulted in them moving to producing their own exclusive singles - dubplates. Ultimately, the dancehall spawned its own musical genre which was originally a sparser version of reggae. As it developed, dancehall reggae began to feature increasingly complex rhythms and lyrical themes. While there has been significant criticism of dancehall over the years because of the prevalence of violent and homophobic lyrics, there has certainly been a move towards less offensive and more universal themes in recent years. Reigning over everything is the Dancehall Queen - one of the most visible figures in the dancehall, this is usually the most outrageously dressed and most incredible dancer of them all.
Drive virtually anywhere in Jamaica and you will notice a variety of shops and bars on the side of every road. The entrepreneurial spirit of Jamaicans is alive and well as a closer look into any one of these establishments will attest. The shop will carry an assortment of items that everyone needs - this is a convenience store - you may find soaps, cereals, beverages, eggs, bread, vegetables, canned items, and almost certainly prepaid mobile phone credit. The bars (affectionately known as rum shops) serve as local meeting spots just as they might if they were transplanted into any other country in the world. The typical menu is generally basic so if you order a beer you’ll be given a Red Stripe - your other options will include rum and stouts but a glass of wine or fancy cocktail is out of the question. Jamaica may have the highest per-capita concentration of churches in the world - and there’s a bar across the street from every church!
Rastafari culture is a relatively new religious movement that arose from Jamaican Christian culture in the 1930's. One of the more notorious elements of the culture is the spiritual consumption of marijuana but this is by no means the defining element of the culture. The wearing of dreadlocks is closely related to the culture, although it is not mandatory nor are dreadlocks necessarily an indication that a person is Rastafari. Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, is believed to be the second coming of Jesus, son of Jah (God) and he will lead the righteous into the promised land of Zion. Much of the global awareness of Rastafari can be credited to interest generated by reggae music - primarily through the work of Bob Marley, but there are a number of other artists who have carried the torch of Rastafari with their music.
Jamaican Patois (pronounced pat-wa) is an English-based creole with West African influences spoken primarily in Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora. The language developed in the 17th century when slaves from West and Central Africa learned and adapted the English they were exposed to by their masters. Like any language, patois is in a constant state of evolution and in modern times has become heavily influenced by popular culture - particularly the culture of the dancehall. This is a language of the streets but it is not limited to the streets - Jamaicans of all walks of life are equally likely to speak the language fluently. This is an extremely vibrant language, not a gentle tongue but an explosively descriptive and excitable one. It is as much a part of the fabric of Jamaica as the sun, sea and sand. It makes a Jamaican truly Jamaican.
Driving through the Jamaican countryside is always a scenic adventure, from the livestock wandering along the roadside to the rolling hills and stunning beach fronts. One other such treat for the eye is the famous Fern Gully. No doubt if you drove through Fern Gully passing just outside of Ocho Rios, you’ll see a plethora of tropical fern varieties, natural wildlife, local artisans and craft vendors along the side of the road and some very creative carvings of animals and fruits. One such item is an unforgettable carving that stands at a striking 10 feet tall and is a full resemblance of a naked Rastafarian man who is most famously remembered for being very well endowed. His hardened member extends more than two feet, making it difficult for passers-by to miss it. It has turned into quite the tourist attraction and many tour buses often include it in their tours of the area. Rennie Traille who is responsible for this unforgettable carving is quite proud of his masterpiece and says it is an authentic piece of art. No doubt, should you encounter it – you will not soon forget it.
The Jamaican patty is local pastry that dates back to colonialism and slavery and it has made its way into the tapestry of Jamaican culture. Jamaicans take a lot of pride in making one of their most popular exports, spices baked inside a flaky shell, often tinted golden yellow with an egg yolk mixture or turmeric.
With a broad variety of fillings like seasoned ground beef, chicken, vegetables, shrimp, lobster, fish, soy, ackee, lentils or cheese, the patty makes a perfect snack or meal when you’re on the go. So much so that in Jamaican, the Juici Beef Company – one of the most popular patty companies offer their locations with drive-through pickup windows for patties on the go. In recent years patty companies have expanded their menus to include a bite-sized portion of a patty called a cocktail patty.
Today, patties can be found all over Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. They became such a reminiscent piece of Jamaica that they have made their way into Europe and North America to satisfy the longing palates of the Jamaican Diaspora.
Many believe that the origin of the Johnny Cake evolved from workers on the plantation who used to take journey cakes with them into the fields for a long lasting, hearty snack. And a Journey cake eventually became a Johnny cake.
Jamaican Fried Dumplings or Johnny cakes have been a staple side dish in many local breakfast dishes, from Ackee and Salt fish, to Mackerel Run Down – breakfast would not be breakfast without a Johnny cake. The tasty morsels have a golden crust and chewy interior and not everyone can make a good fried dumpling though in the wrong hands dumplings can become round little missiles, tough enough to “stone dawg”.
No matter which name you choose to call it by, make sure you do not have a real home cooked Jamaican breakfast without these little pieces of Jamaican goodness.
A Bulla is a round, rich, dark, little load of goodness. This Jamaican pastry is made with flour, molasses, ginger, nutmeg and baking soda, and many visitors to Jamaica compare it to their more popular ginger bread. It is very inexpensive to make and therefore has become a favorite snack of the average Jamaican household. Bulla is traditionally a popular treat for schoolchildren, usually eaten with cheese or butter.
This very dense spiced bun that has made its way from a home-made pastry to enjoy with a cup of tea to a Jamaican treat to be found abroad in Jamaican and Caribbean specialty food stores.
Pan Chicken began its rise to popularity along with the street dance culture that evolved in the 1960’s with the evolution of rock steady, dub, ska and later reggae music. These street dances would include a variety of elements that were a necessity - good friends, good music and good food. Pan chicken is cooked in recycled oil drums turned into makeshift Barbecues. Jamaican amateur chefs sell this specially seasoned, tender and natural spiced chicken on the road sides during street dances, in front of night clubs and by 24 hour gas stations just to ensure party goers do not go home on an empty belly.
Pan chicken does not only have a strong local following, it’s has quite a popular following globally. So popular in fact, that this Jamaican phenomenon grabbed the attention world-renowned celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, who traveled to Jamaica to sample the islands famous roadside cuisine. One of Jamaica’s largest chicken producers, Caribbean Broilers developed an event dedicated to the enjoyment of this street cuisine that occurs in Jamaica on an annual basis. The Ultimate Pan Chicken Championship is the Mecca of Pan Chicken for amateurs and professional epicurean Pan Chicken connoisseurs. Pan Chicken is to Jamaica what Pizza is to New York! Enjoy some on your next visit!
This oddly named dessert is said to have traced its origins back to West Africa, where West Africans would boil a starchy, green banana-based pudding. Blue Drawers is also called Duckanoo, which is derived from the Ashanti word, Dokono which means boiled maize-bread. In other parts of Jamaica it also goes by its more basic name Tie-a-leaf. This adopted Jamaican dish is mostly eaten as a snack or dessert. There are many different recipes for this dish, but most would feel safest reverting back to their grandmother’s recipe, which in most households would have the main ingredients of cornmeal, dry coconut, and brown sugar. The dry coconut is grated and added to the cornmeal, brown sugar and a mix of vanilla, cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg, salt, butter, and raisins. Some more dry coconut is grated and blended with water to make a coconut milk, which is added to the above mixture.
Banana leaves would be cut into rectangles and passed over a flame to sear them. Some of the mixture would be spooned out onto the seared leaf and wrapped into small parcels about two to three inches square. A piece of the trunk of the banana tree is stripped to make a "string" which is used to tie the banana leaf parcel. The banana leaf parcels are boiled and cooked for about an hour and unwrapped. Blue drawers may be eaten hot or cold and will keep in the refrigerator for a week to ten days.
Many boutique fusion restaurants throughout Europe and North America have adopted this culinary technique in preparing both sweet and savory dishes.
The king of all Jamaican beverages, Red Stripe lager beer was created in 1938 by Bill Martindale, of England, who was then working as a brewer for the founders of the Desnoes and Geddes company in Kingston.
Red Stripe can be found in almost every country in the world and is considered one of the world’s best beers. It has been awarded numerous prizes over the years and has stood the test of time, keeping most of the market in Jamaica, despite other beers that have started up and “ fizzled”.
Jamaica produces more different rums than most countries in the world and Appleton Estate, started in 1749, is the second oldest rum maker in the world. Appleton has the enviable and celebrated reputation of being the best producer of Jamaican rums and has won many awards for the product.
Jamaican white rum is dry and light bodied, clear coloured and slightly sweet in taste and is perfect for mixed drinks and cocktails. The most popular rum uptown is the golden rum that is drunk straight over ice, with Pepsi, Coke, ginger ale or coconut water. The overproof white rum (“whites”) is extremely popular with the man in the street and in the diaspora. Look at the cases being taken to friends abroad from the airports!
Coconut water is popular throughout the tropics, being freely available from the young coconut. It is particularly healthy, and useful medicinally for those with low nutrition.
Fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie, and naturally rich in electrolytes -- the touted benefits of America's latest health craze have been known to natives of the tropics for centuries.
Ginger beer is probably the most perfect small beer, similar in taste to the best champagne, with sparkling effervescence. The Jamaica ginger gives it both exquisite flavour and pungency.
In many countries, it is home-made, but in Jamaica a fine commercial ginger beer is made by the D&G company.
One of the most popular soft drinks in Jamaica is the grapefruit based Ting. It is a refreshing carbonated beverage, originally created by the Desnoes and Geddes company of Red Stripe fame. Nowadays it is produced under the Pepsi label in Jamaica.
Jamaican ginger is widely regarded as the best in the world. The plant is thought to have been introduced to Jamaica by the Spanish in the 1500’s. Jamaican Ginger is prized because of its strength and potency which can be attributed to the climatic and soil conditions in the areas of Jamaica where it is cultivated, such as St. Ann and the Christiana regions.
Jamaican ginger is used widely in cooking and seasoning of meats, especially pork, and is also the basis for ginger beer and ginger ale.
The pimento tree is indigenous to the Caribbean Islands and was found growing in Jamaica around 1509 by early Spanish explorers who were quite impressed with the taste and aroma of the berries and the leaves. The name Pimento originated from the Spanish word "pimienta" (pepper or peppercorn). To most English speaking people the tree is called "pimento" and the berries "allspice". The name allspice originated from the popular notion that the pimento berry contains the characteristic flavour and aroma of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper, all combined in one spice.
Pimento is the basis of the now famous jerk flavour of Jamaica - the wood, leaves and berries of the pimento tree can all be used in the process, but it is now less popular to use the wood for barbequing the jerked meats, so that the trees can be preserved. The berries are dried and can be found in most Jamaican households, to be added to soups and stews. It is also made into a very fine liqueur called “pimento dram”.
The name “escallion” is used for several members of the onion family such as immature onions and young leeks. The true scallion has straight sides at the base, showing just the beginnings of a bulb. The Jamaican scallion is far more potent and flavourful than the scallion or green onion found in temperate climates. It is used in all Jamaican cooking, often as a substitute for onion, as it has much more flavour and a touch of pepperiness.
Apart from being cooked in stews and soups, it can also be chopped in salads. It grows readily in Jamaican soil, particularly in the parish of St. Elizabeth and can also be planted among other ground vegetables to keep away pests.
Scotch bonnet, also known as Scotchy, is one of the hottest peppers in the world, found mainly in the Caribbean islands, and particularly popular in Jamaica, where it has given its name to a chain of restaurants - Scotchy’s. Most Scotch Bonnets have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 Scoville Units. In comparison, most jalapeño peppers have a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale.
These peppers are used to flavour many different Jamaican dishes, such as ackee and saltfish, and range in colour from green to bright orange according to ripeness. Ripe peppers are prepared for cooking by cutting out the seeds inside the fruit which are the hottest part of the pepper. Pepper jelly and hot pepper sauce are condiments made almost solely of these extremely hot peppers.
There are over 100 varieties of Jamaican thyme, but the most commonly used is garden Jamaican thyme that is easily grown and cheap to buy. It is sold in bunches and may be used as whole sprigs or leaves. Generally the Jamaican cook will add whole sprigs of thyme to the pot, whether it is soup or stew, particularly oxtail stew, and remove the sprigs after cooking.
The tiny leaves may be chopped for addition to seasonings such as jerk. It is also one of the classic ingredients of a “bouquet garni”.
The most delectable fruit in Jamaica and also the most commonly enjoyed are mangoes, said to have been first introduced into Jamaica in the 1700's following the capture of a French ship on its way to Haiti, at sea by Lord Rodney. The ship was carrying Mango seeds and plants. Today, mangoes go by a variety of local names. Some of the most popular are the Julie, Bombay, East Indian, Number 11, Hayden and Tommy Atkins. These mangoes range from very fleshy fruit to other varieties that are much more of a chore to eat because of their stringy texture.
Reputed to have aphrodisiac powers, the mango is certainly one of the more sensual Jamaican fruits. In addition it has many medicinal properties, most popularly that of being a digestive aid, a blood and skin purifier, preventative for heat stroke and cure for the common cold.
Guineps are sold in all local markets and quite often you see street vendors with bunches of them at traffic lights. Many enjoy the unique texture and flavour of this tropical treat and it makes for a great snack on any drive through the countryside.
The flavour is sweet and pleasant, ranging from a spicy apple - pear flavor to almost perfumed taste. Some of the fruit can be seedless, but most have from 3 to 12 hard, black, shiny, flattened seeds. Oval in shape and brown in color the naseberry flesh is very sweet. It is also used in a variety of ways including naseberry custard or naseberry ice cream are very delicious.
The fruit is oblong to pear-shaped with a thin, smooth and slightly waxy, dark red skin protecting a crisp spongy white flesh that has a mild sweetish flavour. Most Jamaicans enjoy it right off of the tree, but many can enjoy a chilled Otaheite apple and recount many a childhood memory.
The Otaheite Apple tree is a beautiful tree that can grow up to sixty feet tall, grows and bears quite quickly. Although not indigenous to Jamaica, Otaheite apples grow abundantly here.During its peak season it bears in such abundance, that they are bagged by the dozen and sold on street corners all over Jamaica.
As with many other Jamaican fruits, locals have found a variety of ways to enjoy this delectable fruit. They make great preserves and can be enjoyed sliced and stewed with ginger, grated lime and a touch of sugar and served over vanilla ice cream as is quite customary in many posh Caribbean fusion restaurants world wide.
More recently, creative Otaheite lovers have produced inventive new ways to enjoy the fruit and preserve its flavour year round with Otaheite apple pancake syrup, jellies and locally a new popular favourite is the bottled Otaheite Apple Juice which is quickly becoming popular with school children because of its bright pink colour.
Bananas were first introduced to Jamaica by Jean Francois Pouyat, a French Botanist and chemist in 1820, he brought the fruit back from Martinique to his coffee estate in an effort to diversify his farm’s produce. It was originally called the "Martinique Banana-Pouyat" in his honour and then later shortened to the "Martinique Banana". History records show that the Agricultural Society of Jamaica awarded Pouyat a doubloon for his effort in introducing such a valuable variety of produce to the island.
Few are aware that long before Chiquita and Dole, Jamaica was the first commercial producer of bananas in the Western Hemisphere.
Locals enjoy green bananas boiled and eaten as a staple instead of rice or potato, while the ripe fruit is eaten raw or incorporated into several tasty recipes such as banana bread and the ever-popular Jamaican banana fritters. These fritters were household treats in most grandparents’ homes. Served with tea, or after a meal, a special occasion was not really special without some warm, banana fritters with just a light dusting of confectionary sugar on the top.
In Jamaica we have two main varieties of bananas, the more traditional banana and a dwarf banana which is locally referred to as a bumpy, or chiney banana. This smaller sibling to the regular sized banana has a much denser texture and its flavour is a combination of that of apple and banana. It is quite a unique snack and adored by children because of its size. Both are available at all markets island-wide or along the street corners with a variety of other produce.