10 Food Items That Overseas Jamaicans Will Eat All When It Spoil

Farrin is a real struggle bus!

There are two main components of the Jamaican Diaspora. The first is the Jamaicans who live at home on the island. These Jamaicans have access to everything that makes us Jamaican: the food, the beaches, the food, the music, and of course, the food. Then, you have the Jamaicans who once lived on the island but have since relocated overseas — like me. Our connection to Jamaica is peppered with nostalgia, mostly related to how much we miss the food.

When Homeland Jamaicans come to visit, they are often surprised at what still sits in the refrigerator from the last trip or the two before. We still have last summer’s breadfruit, last year’s ackee and peppers from two years ago. We’re not touching anything in that fridge until they bring replenishments. Homeland Jamaicans will never understand our pain. 😭

After posting the original tweet, however, dozens of other Overseas Jamaicans came to my defence! Through their contributions, I was able to put a list together of ten Jamaican food items us OJs will eat even when they’re well past the expected expiration date.

1. Breadfruit

This whole fiasco began with me frying months-old breadfruit at 3 AM to eat with baked fish. I thought I had finished this legendary breadfruit only to discover a piece at the back of the freezer awaiting my frying pan. I was so excited I decided to fry it immediately! Apparently, I wasn’t the only one hoarding breadfruit.

For the Non-Jamaicans: If you have no idea what breadfruit is or looks like. Here you go.

2. Ackee

As you can see, one of the breadfruit’s greatest companions is ackee. Because of this, OJs tend to hoard these in pairs. In my case, I was already due for some “new breadfruit” in a week or two, so I could make the sacrifice. For most other OJs, that sacrifice is more than they can bear.

For the Non-Jamaicans:

It’s a fruit that we cook like a vegetable with codfish. Known as ackee and saltfish in Jamaica, it is our national dish. Ackee also allegedly plays a role in Haitian Vodou, so they often think we’re nuts for eating this. That said, ackee is poisonous if not cleaned and prepared properly. Many of us are actually allergic to it. I’ve never heard of any severe allergic reactions or deaths though. Most tourists come to the island and enjoy it just fine.

3. Sorrel

I have never made sorrel before in my life. Mom is the one who makes sorrel in the household. I just toss my money in the sorrel funds so she can get a whole bag full, if not more. If you live in Atlanta, you can usually get Jamaican Sorrel at Nam Dae Mun. The name might be different, so keep a close eye out for it when you go. If you can’t find it and need to ask an attendant for help, try asking for “hibiscus”.

For the Non-Jamaicans: Jamaican Sorrel is a plant that we boil to extract the flavour from. We then add sugar and ginger. Some Jamaicans drink sorrel without rum due to religious reasons, but real sorrel includes white Jamaican rum. For most Jamaicans, this was probably their first taste of alcohol. Most people use a moderate amount of rum, but adult-only gatherings will sometimes add enough rum to put a swagger in their step.

The video below explains what sorrel is made from, how we make it, when we drink it, and what it looks like.

4. Beef Patties

When Homeland Jamaicans come to visit, one thing that’s always on the wishlist for my household is beef patties. I don’t eat beef, so I miss out on this joy, but my parents will bicker down to the last crumb over these patties. Apparently, they’re not alone either!

For the Non-Jamaicans: Patty is a pastry with minced beef stuffed between what is simultaneously a crispy and soft dough. You can also find soy, lobster, shrimp, chicken, vegetable and ackee versions. If you want to try one for yourself, pick up a box of them at WalMart, Kroger, and even the Dollar Store. It’s as close as you’ll probably get to the real deal outside of Jamaica or a Jamaican restaurant.

5. Bammy

Unfortunately, most Jamaicans don’t know how to make this from scratch. Because of this, we rely on the partially made flatbreads that come frozen.

They are really hard to come by in America. If you’re an Overseas Jamaican living in the Atlanta area, we’ve been able to find bammy at the Dekalb Farmers Market.

For the Non-Jamaicans: When Christopher Colombus landed in Jamaica, he found Natives, just as he did in the United States. Unfortunately, the Spaniards made a sport of killing and raping the Indians. Known as Arawaks or Tainos, they were a peaceful people. Many of them committed suicide to escape the hardships forced upon them.

However, as the Indians were being wiped from the island, Africans were being introduced and we picked up a few things from them along the way, including their use of cassava to make a flatbread that can either be steamed or fried.

6. Mango

I don’t eat mangos. They were one of the first fruits I developed an allergic reaction to as a child. The number of fruits I can’t eat has only continued to grow the older I become. My mother, on the other hand, loves mangos. It is illegal to transport this into America with the seed intact, but if you peel the mango, slice it up nicely and freeze it, you can bring it in.

Trust me on this. I got quarantined in the Atlanta airport so many times bringing mangos up for Mom in the summertime that the officers knew by name. Once the mangos are safely here, Mom, like other Jamaicans, store them in the fridge or freezer. If you live in Atlanta, you can usually find fully intact mangos for sale at Nam Dae Mun.

7. Spice’ Bun

When our family comes to visit, they always bring bun with them. I’m not too keen on bun, but I always take one or two just in case. Last time, my aunt sent me two with the message, “Please don’t wait until dem stale to eat dem!!!”

Apparently, while I was out in California last fall, Mom ventured into the apartment looking for Shadow. No one else was home, so she helped herself to my snack basket and found a bun. Naturally, she stole my bun and took her treasure upstairs with her, forgetting all about Shadow.

I returned, looked for my bun and, of course, I couldn’t find it. I shrugged it off and thought, well maybe I ate it and forgot. Mom then confessed her sins to my aunt, while also adding that I had the bun so long, it had actually gone stale. My aunt then sent me two in replacement with the iconic message. I’ve already eaten one of them.

For Non-Jamaicans: It’s actually spelt “spiced bun” but we don’t pronounce the “D”. Most Jamaicans slice this along the side to cut it in half and slide cheese in between. The mixture of salty and sweet is so good. In the picture below, she’s using the loaf instead of the round individual buns I have. For the most part, both taste the same.


8. Callaloo

No one else commented on callaloo when I asked, but in my house, this is another thing we might keep in the freezer for up to a year, if not longer. The irony of having to ration callaloo now in my big old age is that even up to my teen years, callaloo grew freely in my backyard.

For the Non-Jamaicans: There is no equivalent in America to callaloo and I have never been able to find it here. The closest thing to it is collard greens in the South without all the bacon or ham. Many people also compare it to spinach. Neither of them quite taste like callaloo. We usually eat callaloo with other vegetables, and occasionally, with saltfish.


9. Peppers

The one thing in my house that lives the longest in the freezer is peppers. I hope I’m not exaggerating, but I remember Mom freezing some for about two years while I was in college. When we wanted them, we would take out the frozen peppers and cut them. Once you cook them, they taste the same, and yes, they actually retained the flavour!

You can find something almost exactly like our peppers at Kroger labelled as “habanero”. I buy those fairly often. You might be able to find them at Nam Dae Mun as well.

For the Non-Jamaicans: At the word “habanero,” you might think you have an idea of what this pepper looks like now, but not quite. I can only describe ours as “more muscular”. When you see it, you’ll understand. I’ve had trees growing in the backyard of almost every home I ever lived in from childhood to teen years.

The specific one this person is holding is Scotch Bonnet pepper, which is our absolute hottest. The seeds are what will get you weeping in one bite.

10. Tamarind

The original plan was to publish this article on Sunday night. Naturally, work took the opportunity to get in the way. While I was working on the first draft, Mom peeked over my shoulder to ask what I was writing this week.

“You know,” she said, thoughtfully, “I think I have some tamarind in the back of the freezer that’s been there for about a year now!”

When she said this, I remembered that two people had mentioned this on Twitter and went looking for their tweets.

For the Non-Jamaicans: I’ve never heard any American utter the word “tamarind,” so I assume it’s not available here. Feel free to correct me.

It’s a tangy, fleshy fruit. Some people pick it out of the shell and eat it as is. I think most of us prefer rolling the balls in sugar. We call those tamarind balls. In the video below, they are at least twice the usual size we would get in a store.

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Tamarind Balls — Full Recipe link in bio!

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Are you an Overseas Jamaican like me? What treasures do you have stored in the fridge for three months or more?

If you’re a Homeland Jamaican, you’re probably laughing your butt off at us poor Overseas Jamaicans with our one-year-old ackee. That’s fine. You just make sure you bring our entire grocery list the next time you visit!

If you’re not Jamaican and have questions about these delicacies of ours, feel free to shoot me your questions in the comments below.

Update Dec. 13. 2019: WordPress had a glitch and disabled the comments under this! If you were unable to comment, that would be why. Hopefully, it’s fixed now.

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8 thoughts on “10 Food Items That Overseas Jamaicans Will Eat All When It Spoil

    1. 😭😭😭

      Rochelle, please come off my blog and go home. Maw go block you. Can’t believe you come over here to make fun of me. 🤧

      1. Lol. I’m sorry. Mah go behave better. 🙃

        Really though.. I always swore there were enough stores supplying local things in the States given the size of the diaspora. 🙁 I mean, they wouldn’t have everything but still sigh.. not even a constant supply of white rum, or Chippies?

      2. Sometimes you do find the stores and the prices are so high that you might as well tek plane go back a Jamaica. 😂 Jamaican restaurants up here are also very expensive, at least, they are in Atlanta. I’m not sure about other cities. The struggle is real!

    1. I never received a notification for this. Oops! I found it while cleaning up my comments. I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

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