The Fast Food of Choice in Jamaica: Beef Patties
“I grew up eating traditional local food,” says Mark Scott, executive chef at the Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort near Ocho Rios, Jamaica, “such as ackee and saltfish, Mom's famous fried chicken with potato salad, rice and peas, steamed fish, Jamaican fruit cake, and tons of local fruits in season — Otaheiti apples [a mild-flavored fruit also called cocoapple or Malay apple], naseberry [known in Mexico as sapodilla], jackfruit, mangoes…”
He began working at the resort in mid-2013, cooking both Jamaican fare, traditional and modern (which he calls “Caribbean fusion”) and also Italian, Asian, and American dishes. He finds that Caribbean dishes are the most popular. "Guests are interested in trying Jamaican foods," he says, “foods with a jerk flavor or combining meats, seafood, or poultry with local fruits for sauces. Chutneys, relishes, and salsas are always a big hit, too, as they give that umami taste experience.”
“Tourists no longer come to Jamaica for just the beautiful white sand beaches,” he explains. “They come wanting to experience the local food we have to offer. It is a part of the Jamaican culture experience.”
Patties — savory empanada- or turnover-like pastries — are the fast-food of choice in Jamaica. They are big business here, and in Kingston you can find patty store next to patty store next to patty store in the thriving city center. Jamaicans take their patties seriously. Everybody has a favorite purveyor and will defend that patty store to the end. Scott says, “I do think there is a difference in the flavor profile of each store's patties.” For him, the two that really stand out are Tastee (a chain with locations all over the island) and Juici Beef in Kingston. Another Kingston store, Devon House, he thinks people like more for nostalgic value.
“The flaky-pastry beef patty is most the most popular variety,” Scott says. “This is always made with ground beef and a combination of thyme, onion, garlic, Scotch bonnet peppers, and spices.” There are also chicken, shrimp, and vegetarian patties.
Patties are eaten on their own or stuffed inside coco bread — starchy rolls made with coconut milk, split open — as a full meal.
Scott enjoys putting his own twist on local recipes, and offered us his recipe for oxtail patties. When we asked him for the secret to a good pastry crust, he replied, “The best secret is to always follow the recipe correctly….”