When starting to think through the realities of day to day life on a mission trip, one question you may be thinking is “What will I eat?” In this series, PPM’s Missions Coordinators and Full-time Missionaries want to offer you a little insight into the delicious international cuisine we get to eat on a day to day basis. So come and join us on a trip and don’t be afraid to taste the flavors of the world!
When you think about food in Jamaica you probably think about the fruits and that's about it. If you've never been to Jamaica then your mind probably starts to wander and you think, "what if they eat dog/cat/goat"? Well, none of those are true...except the goat. ;)
There are several "staples" of Jamaican food. There's for sure "rice and peas" (red beans and rice) and chicken...all the time. For breakfast there are eggs, dumplings (almost like donut holes), pancakes, french toast...the usual familiar stuff. For lunch there are Jamaican beef patties, which is traditionally a semi-spicy ground beef in a tasty, flaky pastry shell. If desired you can also get a cocoa bread with it which is a fluffy, buttery, almost brioche type bread that you sandwich your patty in. For dinner there's pork, stewed beef, potato salad, coleslaw...the list goes on of familiar food. But there's always chicken...breakfast, lunch, dinner...chicken.
What I would consider the crown jewel of chicken is Jamaica's famous jerk chicken! You can find jerk chicken almost everywhere on the island with some places being more famous than others. One of the biggest perks of working with PPM is being able to traverse the island and try jerk chicken literally everywhere. But my favorite is good ole Scotchies in Montego Bay! I can have it daily if necessary...and I often do. :)
Jerk is a style of cooking combined with a unique marinade. Everyone does it differently but there are a few standards that make jerk chicken stand out from regular marinated, grilled chicken.
- whole chicken...never boneless breasts - I've tried making just jerk chicken breast and it's just not the same
- white vinegar - I don't know why but if you wash your chicken in white vinegar first it seems to keep it more moist and adds a unique flavor
- jerk seasoning - I use a combination of store bought dry seasoning and a wet marinade - scallions, garlic, onions, Jamaican allspice, thyme and the Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper are usual ingredients - I’m not ready to try and make my own yet - ideally you would let it marinade for a day or so but just a couple hours will do the trick too
- WOOD! NEVER GAS! - in Jamaica the wood almost ALWAYS used is pimento wood, also known as Jamaican allspice - here at home it's hard to find pimento wood so I use hickory - at Scotchies they use pimento coals and cook on top of pimento logs so there is a TON of smoke which is where a lot of the flavor comes from - the goal is low, slow heat with smoke
- put the chicken on the grill and feel free to forget about it for a while - if your heat is low enough you can let it cook for sometimes 20 minutes or more without having to flip it
- a little char - the spice marinade will char up a little and that's great! - this char is very flavorful and desired :)
The outcome is a flavorful, sometimes spicy, tender chicken! In Jamaica you don't eat jerk chicken in actual pieces (ie. leg, thigh, wing, breast, etc.). Instead they put it on a block of wood and with a butcher knife just cut it into pieces, bone and all.
To top it off some use ketchup (Jamaican ketchup is a little sweeter), some use a ketchup/Red Stripe (Jamaican beer) mix, and some have a unique, homemade, spicy jerk/pepper sauce. Or you can just eat it as is. Regardless of how you eat it you won't be disappointed!
So if you're thinking of a mission trip and you're worried about food...we got your back! Come to Jamaica and try the best chicken you'll ever have! And I won't even start with the jerk pork...