Asking About Food in Jamaican Patois

Perhaps one of the most important conversations to be had with a Jamaican is about food; because if we are being honest – who doesn’t like eating Jamaican cuisine?

There are a number of phrases or sentences associated with asking about food on the island, whether you are buying at a shop, making an order at a restaurant or just talking to someone about the food. Here are a few popular sentences/phrases:

Wah wi a eet fi brekfass?
What are we having for breakfast? This is perhaps the most frequent question a mother/wife/spouse hears at home either before bed (securing for next day) or shortly after waking up.

Weh u waa’n nyam?
What do you want to eat?

Mi caa’n get sum wata please?
Can I have some water please?

“Sell mi wan bokkle a iyl / sell mi big jill a iyl”
“Sell me a bottle of oil / sell me a big jill of oil.” – Jill is a very old unit of measurement that equates to 5 fluid ounces… etc

“Yu nave nuh callaloo?”
“Do you have any callaloo?”

“Sell mi tree poun a sal’ fish.”
“Sell me three pounds of saltfish”

“Mi nuh dun eat yet”
I haven’t finished eating. – A phrase often uttered when one person is being called by another person while he/she is having a meal.

“We nuh ave dat.”
We do not have that item. – At any popular restaurant or food joint, this is the most feared response after requesting a popular dish or item. These popular food items are usually the crowd favorite and the ones that go quicker than they are being prepared.

“Yuh want gravy pon di rice or pon di side?”
Would you like to have the gravy spread over the rice on beside the rice?

Ask any Jamaican and they’ll tell you, a very important component of their food is the gravy – rich, thick and tasty. Most dining restaurants will put the gravy on the side of the plate while food shops/stall vendors will ask if you would rather it on the rice or on the side. Also, be sure to let them know if you only want a small amount of gravy as they can be pretty generous with it.

Photo by Evieanna Santiago on Unsplash