Curry goat, callaloo, ackee and saltfish, patties, gizzada, bammy, the honour roll of Jamaican food is extensive and exciting but you don’t have to hop on a plane to Kingston to sample this Caribbean island’s most famous dish: jerk chicken.
A style of cooking that involves dry-rubbing or marinating meat with a distinctive hot spice mix; today jerk is added to everything. But, for now, we’ve stuck with the classics and rounded up the best places to try jerk chicken outside Jamaica.
Barbecued jerk chicken at Notting Hill carnival in London
While the wider area has undoubtedly changed in recent years, Brixton’s food market remains a stronghold of Caribbean culture. Try ackee and saltfish at the fishmongers’ stalls, fill up with a hot patty, and, of course, treat yourself to some authentic Jamaican jerk chicken.
If you visit London in August, head to the Notting Hill Carnival where Jamaican-run food stalls set up the traditional ‘jerk drums’ for grilling jerk chicken and pork as you wait. Or if you’re planning to have a go at making your own London-inspired jerk, stick close to Brixton market and book a self-catered apartment at Marble Apartment Effra Court.
Jerk chicken and plantain canapé
The Jamaican community in Baltimore is one of the biggest in the US and many of the locals have connections to the Portland Parish of Jamaica. This is one of the (admittedly many) places that claims to be the birthplace of jerk cooking and Baltimore has certainly benefitted from the association.
Some of the city’s best jerk chicken can be found at restaurants in Baltimore’s north-west arts district, including Caribbean Heat, and Judy’s Island Grill. Call ahead to have your wings prepared with extra heat, follow it up with a side of fried plantain and then sleep it off at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, or admire the view of Baltimore from the hotel’s skybar.
The AF1 Caribbean Canteen in Toronto
Home to ‘Reggae Lane’ and a growing Jamaican community, the Eglinton West district in Toronto has been locally dubbed ‘Little Jamaica’ and is a must-visit for fans of the island’s food and culture. ‘Reggae Lane’ is claimed to be the centre of reggae music, outside Jamaica that is, and visitors can stay nearby at Rose Garden Bed and Breakfast.
Toronto is also the city where acclaimed Jamaica-born chef Adrian Forte founded his fried chicken shops franchise, The Dirty Bird, and is now sharing his love of jerk at the newly-launched AF1 Caribbean Canteen. Forte prefers traditional methods for preparing jerk chicken (grilling with pimento wood and charcoal) but other people are happy to experiment, with fusion restaurants like Rasta Pasta and Chris Jerk popping up.
New York, USA
Fried plantain perfection
New York is a city with a thriving Jamaican community and a healthy appreciation for good food, so it’s hardly surprising that the jerk chicken to be found here is some of the best in North America. Utica Avenue in Brooklyn is teeming with restaurants, bakeries, and opportunities to try the New Yorker variation of jerk chicken; stay within a short walk at the Fairfield Inn & Suites.
Other places to visit include Peppa’s Jerk Chicken in Flatbush, Winston & Tee Express Jerk Chicken in the Upper East Side, and the recently launched TMT Caribbean Delight food truck. New York’s Jamaican restaurants don’t always display all their dishes on the menu so it’s always worth asking if you don’t spot that coconut rice, fried plantain, or jerk chicken you’ve been craving.
Wellington, New Zealand
The Jamaican community in New Zealand is relatively small and recently formed, but they’ve already had an impact on Wellington’s foodie culture. In fact the city’s love affair with Jamaican flavours has reached the point where restaurants like Laundry are winning awards for their Jerk Chicken Burgers.
If you want to keep things authentic, however, there are plenty of Jamaican-owned eateries serving up classic flavours, including Sweet Mother’s Kitchen Restaurant, Three Little Birds, and The Carribbean restaurant. The jerk chicken at all of these establishments is done to perfection but the ‘friend festival’ plate at Caribbean Restaurant will take your trip to a whole new level. Eat your fill and then sleep it off at Wellington City Cottages.