Jamaica's Rastafarians Have Their Own Cuisine

Jamaican people are friendly, gracious, humble, and love to make fun of themselves and others. If occasionally a Jamaican may seem brash, give him or her some gentle wit in return and he or she will beam with pleasure. But often outsiders wonder whether all Jamaicans are friendly. The Rastafarians often come to mind.

Wafting through their days like spirit gods from the past, Rastafarians in Jamaica are ubiquitous and immediately recognizable from their thick dreadlocks festooned with spliffs, to their red, green, and gold clothing and their air of laid-back wisdom. Some may be intimidated but, I, for one, have found them to be both friendly and profound. Their days revolve around their intense prayers and personal meditations. They would say that their ways depend on faith, not a church.

A fellow I met one day on the beach at St. Margaret's Bay told me how he "gwine in and out with de tide." He swims out to sea on the outgoing tide, then turns to float on his back, worshipping the view of the mountains and shore. "Then I light me up one spliff and catch de tide and drift back in. Dat is why," he slowly winked, "We do put de spliff in de dreads! To keep 'im dry." Most Rastas use marijuana as both a medicinal and religious herb.

Rastas believe in Hailie Selassie and in living as close to nature as possible. Their food, the Ital cuisine, reflects those values. Ital comes from the word vitality; they believe that by dropping the first letter of many words, it makes the language their own. Ital food is natural, pure, clean, and always comes straight from the earth. They believe this way of eating builds up structure. Rastafarians avoid salt, oil, and meat.

Most local outside food markets sport an Ital shack or two. Amongst the many food offerings, you can recognize Ital by the red, yellow, and green paint colors. In Negril, eat at Ras Rody's Roadside Organic for fabulous Ital food. Wherever you are in Jamaica, ask where you can find the nearest Ital food shack.

As they do with their colorful clothes, Rastafarians love color in their food. Once I ate a wonderful vegetable stew at a local Ital food shack in Port Antonio; it was lush and vibrant with potatoes, carrots, string beans, gungo beans, scallions, and coconut milk, topped with fresh chopped peppers in vibrant colors. "It builds up de nature," said the smiling Rasta cook, holding a year-old baby on his hip. "It pumps up de heat. It's in the creation of de ting." He jiggled his baby.