When you think of Jamaican food, what do you think of? Jerk chicken? Rice and peas? I must admit, I didn’t know much about Jamaican cuisine until I visited the country for myself last year. I spent seven weeks in Jamaica; two weeks at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, the Hotel Riu, and five weeks at a low-cost apartment on the West End Road in Negril. During this time I got a true taste of authentic Jamaican cuisine, dining amongst the locals and eating the foods they ate.
This is the first in a series of posts on the different restaurants I visited in Jamaica, most of which were located in Negril (as my food was inclusive whilst staying in Montego Bay).
I stayed at the Almond Tree Apartments, a small, family run business on West End Road, about two miles west of the town centre and a ten minute drive from the beach. The apartment was self-catering but the kitchen was small and facilities were limited, so I ate out a lot of the time.
|The entrance to the apartment (Copyright: Almond Tree Apartments)|
The cost of food varied widely depending on where I ate. Small, family-run cafes and casual diners were generally cheaper than those located within the various independent resorts that lined the West End Road.
When I arrived at the Almond Tree Apartments, I was tired and hungry. I’d been on a ten-and-a-half hour flight from Manchester Airport, followed by a two hour shuttle transfer from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. I dropped my suitcase off and met up with my friend Cody, who is from Negril. We headed straight for the first restaurant in sight, which was conveniently located opposite the apartment – Sips and Bites.
|Photo from Sips and Bites’ Facebook page|
|Photo from Sips and Bites’ Facebook page.|
Situated in a colourful wooden shack with a corrugated iron roof, Sips and Bites is a small, family run restaurant serving authentic Jamaican cuisine in vibrant surroundings. The menu features a selection of traditional Jamaican dishes including brown stew chicken or beef, jerk chicken, fried chicken, chicken or goat curry, oxtail and snapper fish served with Jamaica’s side dish of choice, rice and peas, or fries.
|Photo from Sips and Bites Facebook page|
We began with a small bowl of home made vegetable soup. This was full of flavour and made for the ideal comfort food, given how tired I was. Although we hadn’t ordered the soup specifically, it came as a starter with the main meal we had opted for, brown stew chicken.
Brown stew chicken is widely eaten throughout most of the Caribbean. As the name would suggest the dish is dark brown in colour, achieved by browning the chicken in brown sugar to create a gravy to which vegetables like onion, garlic and carrots are added. The sauce was rich and fruity and the chicken was cooked on the bone. It was served with a dome of rice and peas, plantain, yam and a small side salad.
Plantain is a variety of banana and yam is similar to sweet potato, although both are fairly starchy and lack sweetness. Both were enjoyable and made for a refreshing change to the kind of veg I’m used to eating in the UK. I ordered a ‘small’ meal and the serving was definitely ample for one person. The entire dish was both traditional and tasty, making my first meal in Negril a memorable one.
The value for money at Sips and Bites was fantastic – this meal cost around $6, while a larger portion would have cost around $8.
Sips and Bites also offer a take-out and delivery service and on several occasions we popped over the road for some food to go. Although the restaurant serves other popular Jamaican meals besides brown stew chicken, I stuck with this whenever we ate here because I had tried brown stew chicken at a few other places in Negril, but I much preferred it at Sips and Bites.
The chicken was of a decent quality and the meal would always be served with some extras, like plantain, yam, salad or coleslaw, alongside rice and peas.
Sometimes the meal would include ‘festivals’, which can be seen at the top of the tray in the picture below. Festivals (deep-fried dumplings) are very popular in Jamaica. Made using flour, cornmeal, vanilla, baking powder and water, they are relatively soft with a subtle sweetness. My favourite way to eat them is with jerk chicken, served with hot chilli sauce for dipping.