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Jamaican Food Names

Uniquely Caribbean


Each country the world over, has various names for given food items. The items can be produce or the actual prepared dish. For example, eggplant is a pretty common name for the vegetable but in Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, it is also called 'bigan' (by-gan) and 'bolanger' (boh-lan-ger).

The region has a reputation when it comes to naming things - Guyanese are very literal and practical in their approaching to naming things. They accord names on what they see and on taste. For example, what is known as Rice Pudding in the West is called Sweet Rice in Guyana - simply because it is a sweet rice dish.

In Jamaica, the same practicality is present but what is particularly interesting is that some names are given based on the perception of the dishes capabilities and of course, taste. 

Here are five of the most interesting names.

Mannish Water

Mannish Water is a thick, highly-seasoned soup made from goat offal, green bananas, vegetables and root vegetables (ground provisions). This soup got its name because it is believed to be a tonic that makes males more virile, particularly in the bedroom. It is for this reason that even today, Mannish Water is served, particularly at country weddings and on other festive occasions. Given the use of Goat offal for this dish, you can be assured that once Mannish Water is on the menu, so too is the island's famous Goat Curry.


While many people outside of Jamaica hear this word and immediately think of marriage, to Jamaicans, Matrimony also refers to a fruit salad made of star-apples (a sweet fruit that when cut crossways reveals the inner flesh designed in the shape of a star), oranges, grapefruit and condensed milk. The combination when mixed together is unique and extremely exotic and flavorful. It is a matrimony of the fruit flavors.


Leggings is a collection of items put together so that it can be sold in a bundle to take home to make Jamaica's famous Saturday, Beef Soup. Leggings consist of pumpkin, cabbage, carrots, turnips, parsley and thyme.

How does a bundle of vegetables become leggings?

Haitians when they lived in Kingston, Jamaica, back in the day, would sell this bundle and call it Legumes - French for vegetables. In true Jamaican style and with their wonderful accent would say legumes but it came out sounding like leggings. Hence the term leggings.

Johnny Cake

Johnny Cake is not unique to Jamaica. Versions can also be found in the Eastern Caribbean islands as well as places like Turks & Caicos, Cayman Islands and St. Croix.

Johnny Cakes are fried dumplings. The dough, once kneaded is formed into balls and deep fried. Johnny Cakes are a real treat especially when served with sauteed salt fish. They can, however, be eaten as is, with jam, butter or cheese. Johnny Cakes were originally called Journey Cakes as they were made and packed as a part of a lunch and snack for the plantation workers, for a long lasting journey.


Festival is another kind of fried dumpling. It is made of cornmeal, all-purpose flour, sugar and salt. Once kneaded, pieces of the dough are shaped like thin hot-dog rolls and deep fried. Festival is frequently served with Jerk dishes.

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