Living vegan in the Caribbean
Today we have a very exciting guest blog that comes all the way from Jamaica. Natalia Welsh is Founder & Head Cook of Hungry Eyes Vegan Foods, a vegan catering service in Kingston. She's here today to introduce you to all the tasty vegan and vegetarian food available in the Caribbean. Take it away Natalia!
The connection between palate, people and culture is the bedrock of Jamaican gastronomy. Our food tells stories about Africans, Spaniards and Asians who have migrated their own spices and cooking methods with them to the island since the 1800s. These influences infused Jamaica’s culinary culture with effervescent flavours that tantalize taste buds and mirror the spirit of our people. Building community, sharing stories, and exploring common ground is at the heart of it all.
Growing up in Gordon Town, a rural district in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, bush life offered much in the way of homegrown fruit, produce and the freedom to go outside and pick what you need at that moment. Coffee, mint, bananas, tangerines, the juiciest pineapples, and the biggest, creamiest avocados were among the bounty. Real food, grown the way nature intended, is the normal way of life for many people in Jamaica. Living in the countryside, where you literally eat what you grow, ‘organic’ is the only option. If you grew up with your grandmother, you’ll probably never taste something more delicious than dinners she slow-cooked in a dutch pot over her outdoor fire.
Caption: Farm fresh whole foods grown in Jamaica, including breadfruit, yam, plantain and coconut. (IMG_7784)
Today, the evolution of Jamaican cuisine is in full swing. Traditional ingredients are being combined in new ways and infused with global flavours. New eateries seem to pop up every month, and the menus are proof that chefs are reimagining conventional Jamaican fare. There’s also an increase in the availability of plant-based fast-food - and I’m not just talking about Ital Stew. So, if you’re wondering how you’ll maintain your plant-based lifestyle while visiting Jamaica, fret not...yuh nice. These are some of the foods you have to look forward to:
- Ackee is one of the main ingredients in Jamaica’s national dish. It’s a yellow fruit that’s relatively bland and really versatile. Ackee is available almost all year-round. We love it!
- Ground provisions, which include yam, potato and cassava, are collectively called ‘food’ in the Jamaican vernacular. This is our way of referring to produce that keeps us grounded and full for hours. So, if you go to a cookshop and see ‘food’ as a side order for your ackee and saltfish, you know what we’re talking about.
- Greens and leafy veggies like callaloo, pak choi and cabbage are in abundant supply and are popular breakfast dishes.
- Other vegan delights you’ll find at the market and in most local supermarkets are pumpkins, breadfruit and avocado (which Jamaicans call pear).
- Fruits and fresh herbs are also in abundant supply. Be sure to try coconut water to ‘wash off yuh heart’ (with the jelly!), jackfruit, guava, guinep and star apple if they’re in season.
Jamaica is abundantly blessed with foods that taste good and are good for you.
Caption: A traditional (vegan) Jamaican breakfast with sautéed ackee and callaloo, boiled banana, fried breadfruit and ripe plantain served in a calabash bowl.
We’re seeing a rise in the number of farmers’ markets focused on providing fresh produce. They’re growing some interesting things too, like oyster mushrooms, swiss chard and a variety of other greens. Farm-to-table dinners are also popping up everywhere. When it comes to eating out, Kingston has a few dine-in vegan restaurants, while most offer take-out only. Browse this “Vegan Jamaica Directory” compiled by Marianna, blogger and author of Nana’s Kitchen, for an islandwide listing of plant-based restaurants and caterers.
>When it comes to street food, look out for giant soup pots atop roadside coal stoves. Order boiled corn with a piece of dry coconut. Be sure to ask what the corn was boiled in though! Crayfish and chicken feet are regular suspects. When you’re driving the streets of Kingston, listen for a loud, piercing whistle then look out for a man pushing a cart of freshly roasted peanuts. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a coconut vendor around the corner and just like that, you’re fueled up for another couple of hours. Don’t skip dessert! A slice of sweet potato pudding with ‘hell-a-top, hell-a-bottom and hallelujah in the middle’ is enough for two people - trust me, they’re huge.
Look beyond the cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, the shop painted red, green and yellow is the one you’re searching for.
Edited by Morag@BarrheadTravel