Come hungry when you cruise to Montego Bay. And rest assured that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a delicious day ashore tasting classic Jamaican eats. Everything from meat patties — the island’s favorite fast food — to jelly coconuts, spicy jerk chicken and flopping fresh seafood awaits.
Jamaica’s national breakfast is not for those with weak stomachs. But if you’re open to new tastes and can stomach a heavy feed in the morning (it makes a great lunch, too!), you’ll most likely enjoy a plate of ackee and saltfish.
While ackee is a fruit, when it’s cooked and spiked with salted, dried cod flakes, the taste is closer to that of scrambled eggs. The dish is usually served with fried plantains, johnny cakes (dumplings) and a lashing of the Jamaican greens called callaloo. Try it on the Hip Strip in Montego Bay at longstanding favorite restaurant, The Pelican Grill.
Friendly Jamaican Alrick Allen leads guests on food-tasting tours in and around Montego Bay with his tour company, Your Jamaican Tour Guide. It’s a great way to dive into Jamaican flavors and spend a few hours filling your belly with authentic eats. Allen will pick you up in his tour van and take you to see the morning’s catch (usually snapper, parrot fish, barracuda, lobster, conch and more!) at local fish markets. Then you’ll stop by fruit stands and perhaps an Ital (Rastafarian) restaurant or two before Allen takes you to a lunch spot only the locals know.
One of the most-Jamaican lunch staples you can try is a hearty plate of oxtail stew, spiced with classic Jamaican-grown herbs such as scallions, garlic and thyme. You’ll find that dish and other Jamaican favorites, such as whole snapper in brown sauce, on the menu at Dragon Lounge Seafood Restaurant & Bar, a hole-in-the-wall favorite with locals that’s located right by Montego Bay’s international airport.
There’s a fruit for every season in Jamaica, and the best spots to sample them at the best prices are the many small fruit stands scattered around Montego Bay, like this small setup across from Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club on the Hip Strip. Jamaican mangoes, in season for several months twice a year, will likely be the sweetest you’ve ever tried. And other island-cultivated fruits to look for include soursop, nispero, passionfruit, pineapples and bananas.
Ital, the food of the Rastafarian movement is omnipresent in Jamaica. And if you’re a vegetarian you’ll particularly rejoice in the in the delicious and fresh offerings at Ital cafes that might include a savory stew of coconut, potato and the Jamaican green called callaloo.
Rastafarians shun meat and processed foods, opting for a natural way of cooking that uses herbs and hot peppers in lieu of processed seasonings; they also limit added sugars. Food, for Rastafarians, is considered medicine for the body. Sample some of the best at Jerry’s Restaurant in Lucea (about 45 minutes west of the cruise port) or head out on one of Alrick Allen’s tours for a taste of Ital in Montego Bay.
For living in such a hot climate, it’s surprising how much Jamaicans love their street-side soup fixes. Red pea soup, spiked with hearty bits of ham hock, is an island-wide favorite that has just the right amount of spice. And thick Jamaican yellow conch soup — full of fresh conch chunks and dumplings — is another classic.
Soup stalls can be found anywhere street-food vendors and jerk stalls amass. In Montego Bay, look for them along the western end of the Hip Strip. Be sure to have cash handy (it’s less than $2 for a bowl) to get your fix.
You haven’t been to Jamaica until you’ve gotten your hands sticky with allspice and bitten into the spicy deliciousness that is the island’s jerked meats. Chicken and pork are the most common varieties, and they’re grilled over coals and wood from the Jamaican allspice tree to impart the tastiest flavors.
Sample some of the island’s best jerk at the famous jerk bastion Scotchie’s, located about 20 minutes from the cruise port on the road leading east from Montego Bay to Falmouth. Such spicy fare goes down perfectly with a frosty Red Stripe beer.
At the top of the heap when it comes to delicious Jamaican seafood is Caribbean spiny lobster. And it’s available fresh for most of the year outside of the closed lobstering season, which falls between April 1 and June 30. Smaller than Maine lobsters (and defenseless by comparison, without those huge claws), the crustaceans are at their tastiest fresh from the grill and served with a ration of melted garlic butter. Enjoy them with an oceanfront view at Seagrape Terrace Restaurant, an exceedingly scenic spot located on the property of the iconic Half Moon resort.
Nothing refreshes and hydrates you on a hot day in port like fresh coconut water straight from the source. Look for piles of green coconuts at streetside stalls or signs that say, simply, “Jelly.” Jelly refers to the inside of the coconut, which Jamaicans love to eat. They usually drink the water from the coconuts with a straw, then machete open the fruit to get to the jelly lining the shell. Street vendors along the Hip Strip and downtown Montego Bay are the places to buy the fruit, which usually goes for about two bucks a pop. And there’s a lot more water inside than you’d think.
They may not look like much, but Jamaica’s favorite fast food is the savory meat pie fill-up known as the patty. The crust is deliciously buttery and flaky. And when you bite inside, expect a mild to moderately spicy taste sensation to ooze out (keep the napkins handy). The most typical fillings are beef and chicken. Juici Patties and Tastee in downtown Montego Bay are the island’s best-loved patty-selling chains. These spots are particularly crowded if you arrive just as school lets out in the afternoon. Inexpensive and filling, you can’t go wrong with a savory patty snack.