Television host and author Lucinda Scala Quinn has featured the unique qualities of Jamaican food in an article for Conde Nast Travel magazine. She begins her exploration of island cuisine with a trip to Scotchies restaurant immediately following her landing at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. It is never too early to enjoy some jerk chicken or pork at the thatched-roof venue known to locals and food aficionados for its slow-cooked, pimento-smoked delicacies served with roast breadfruit and accompanied by a bottle of Red Stripe beer.
Quinn has been visiting Jamaica since he was a child and has always loved the island’s food. She especially notes her appreciation for foods representing the various cultural influences in Jamaica over time: fried red snapper Escovitch with Scotch Bonnet pepper and cane sugar vinegar sauce for breakfast, cassava cake or bammy from the Taino Indian tradition, the pimento jerk flavors originating with Jamaica’s Maroon population, pickled fish from the Spanish colonialists, curries from East Indians and sweet-and-sour dishes from the Chinese settlers. She also mentions traditional dishes like saltfish and ackee, oxtail and butter beans, pumpkin soup with “spinners” (dumplings).
Cooking techniques have not changed much since her first visits, but Jamaican food has really come into its own in recent years, according to Quinn. The many micro-climates on the island provide abundant coffee, sugarcane, cacao, and other fruits and vegetables that have prompted local food activists and farmers to bring top quality products in an impressive variety to markets island-wide. The local authentic food choices, traditionally concentrated in roadside shacks and in home kitchens, has been reinterpreted by chefs who approach food with a global sensibility. Overall, Quinn believes that Jamaican food is “having a moment” and proceeds to describe a suggested food tour of the island.
On the North Coast, Quinn highlights Scotchies in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios for its jerk menu and authentic side dishes like festival, a crispy cornmeal johnny cake; Stush in the Bush for its mostly vegan “rootsy-chic” experience on a 16-acre hilltop farm; the HouseBoat Grill moored in Montego Bay for its peel-and-eat shrimp and rum cocktails; the Lobster Trap for its grilled kingfish, snapper and lobster and fermented noni drink; and Half Moon Resort’s Sugar Mill restaurant for its location in a 17th century water mill and modern takes on traditional dishes. Also noted: Coach House Villa at Good Hope, GoldenEye, and Round Hill.
On the South Coast, Quinn recommends Smurfs for ackee and saltfish and Mannish Water; Murray’s Fish and Jerk Hut; Jake’s Full Moon Dinners for local produce at Treasure Beach;Floyd’s Pelican Bar a quarter-mile out at sea on a sandbar; and shrimp from the Middle Quarter Shrimp Ladies in St Elizabeth.