Jessica in the Kitchen

Eating Vegetarian or Vegan in Jamaica – Top Tips

Top 5 Tips for Eating Vegetarian or Vegan in Jamaica

Here are my Top 5 Tips for Eating Vegetarian or Vegan in Jamaica. Eating local can be very easy if you have a great guide!
Overhead shot of coconut flakes kiwi and granola in coconut half.

RELATED: Be sure to check out my vegetarian meal guide.

Jamaica is a country known for it’s prevalence of Rastafarianism. Its followers have a strict “no bone zone” rule when it comes to their eating habits. This means that they are either vegetarian or vegan and tend to follow a “ital is vital” rule. If you think that this would mean vegetarianism or being vegan would not only be popular in Jamaica but highly celebrated, then you would be wrong. A show of hands in a room of 100 randomly selected Jamaicans would probably reveal that if 15 were vegetarians/vegan, this would be groundbreaking.

Fortunately, I’ve found that thorough research throughout my journey has allowed me to be vegetarian with barely any difficulty. In fact I have never enjoyed food as much as since I decided to become a vegetarian! I’m here to help you enjoy your stay while you’re here on vacation. If you live here, even better. Whether you’ve decided to make the (great) decision to temporarily or permanently taking up residence in this beautiful island of Jamaica. Here are top 5 Tips for Eating Vegetarian or Vegan in Jamaica .

  1. Eat at the local “mom and pop” shops of Jamaica

    This #1 rule has proven to be the most friendly towards me; eating foods that are known to be Jamaican instead of trying to constantly eat at fast food franchises that cater mainly if not 100% to meat eaters. Many many Jamaican foods, especially for breakfast, are not only naturally vegetarian, but naturally vegan. Ackee (without the salt-fish of course), Dumpling, Breadfruit, Callaloo, Plantain, Boiled Dumpling and Boiled Banana are all foods I thoroughly enjoy and eat all the time that make a full breakfast meal and can easily transition into other items throughout the day. You’ll not only get to experience the real Jamaican dishes, but you won’t have to worry about only eating side dishes (read: if you’re a vegetarian then you know most vegetarian dishes at restaurants only include pasta!) and you’ll get a full meal each time.

    For lunch and dinner, you can easily have any combination of Callaloo (like Callaloo patties) or pumpkin, or stewed chickpeas. If you’re at the beach where you can usually only get seafood, you can order festival and bammy or even roasted sweet potato or yam. Anywhere you go you are bound to get a variety of stews available made with beans as Jamaicans really love their kidney beans and chickpeas. Rice and peas will also always be available for dinner (and it’s usually vegan). Jamaican cooks are notorious for being extremely creative with these ingredients and you’re bound to not only have delicious food but go home with new ideas of what to prepare. If you’re staying at a hotel for your stay in Jamaica, you’ll find most of these dishes in the breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets or you can ask for it (re asking, see tip #2).

    If you have to eat out at a non-Jamaican food restaurant, your best bet is a Chinese  or Japanese restaurant which will definitely have tofu on hand (I love tofu when made properly) or an Indian food restaurant restaurant which will have a variety of dishes without meat that are very filling.

    Overhead shot of a vegan fajita bowl with lime wedges and a fork on the side.

  2. Ask and you shall receive

    I’ve learned that “ask and you shall receive” is quite the golden rule for eating vegetarian or vegan in Jamaica. Almost every time my husband and I eat out, I say “I don’t eat meat, no not even fish. Can you please either (a) make a specialty item for me or (b)make this dish, but without the meat?” I’ve never been in a situation where I have been told no and every single time without fail my fiancé prefers what I got! People in Jamaica are very accommodating and want to ensure that you enjoy your experience at their restaurant, so don’t be afraid to ask for a custom dish. They’ll even go the extra mile and add more to make up for the “lack of meat”.

  3. Plan ahead

    I think the #1 reason most people fail at eating vegetarian or vegan in Jamaica is lack of planning. If I know ahead of time that if we’ll be going to a specific restaurant, I check out their menu online or just call and ask if they have any vegetarian or vegan dishes (you have to specify no fish because many restaurants in Jamaica do not count fish as “meat”). This always helps me to know what options I have, and whether to avoid that restaurant all together.

    The truth is that most places will have an option, and if they don’t see tip #2 above for what to do in a sticky situation. All it takes is about 10 minutes and you’ll be worry-free for the rest of the evening to focus on eating all the good food! This also applies to if you’re invited to a local friend’s house; you should let them know ahead of time of your dietary requirements so that you/they can plan accordingly.

    Quinoa fried rice in a bowl with chopsticks.

  4. Make your own food!

    Owning a food blog for the past few years would probably make it clear that I really love to cook! I have no problem making my own food. If I’m going to a get together or staying at a villa and have that option. In fact most times I prefer to make my own dish. It means I will have something I know I’ll enjoy 100%. BONUS: There’s always another vegetarian/vegan at the get together who rejoices when I arrive and they’ve got something to eat!.

    See all my vegetarian recipes here.

    If you’re staying at a hotel this clearly isn’t an option. However, bringing your own snacks or make ahead meals (energy bites, Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies) would help. This is especially true if you can’t eat for a few hours and you need a bite NOW. Of course if you’re staying in a villa, then this would be very helpful. This tip ties in with the “plan ahead” tip of eating vegetarian or vegan in Jamaica. I have a “Go-To Meals” list that make life much easier. I’m reminded of a list of 20 items that I love all the time for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. My favourites are my Quinoa and Sun Dried Tomato Burgers, Black Bean and Quinoa Burgers and Vegan Chickpea Curry. I have a variety of vegetarian and vegan meals on my blog including many make-ahead dishes and snacks. Total life savers.

  5. Go with the flow

    Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you’ll end up in a situation that won’t be 100% ideal. DON’T forsake your beliefs and eat meat; just go with the flow! This may mean that sometimes there will only be side dishes available for you. In the end you’re bound to still enjoy yourself wherever you are hanging out with friends and family. If I find myself in this situation, I just eat what’s available that I can and enjoy myself. After all, “bread and butta” is loved by all Jamaicans!

If you enjoyed this article Top 5 Tips for Eating Vegetarian or Vegan in Jamaica, please let me know in the comments section!