What: Breakfast is no joke in Jamaica, and this one happens to be the national dish. Jamaica, of course, is not the only Caribbean island to favor pungent salt-cured, dried fish (like cod or pollack) first thing in the morning—see Antigua: Antiguan breakfast—but it’s the ackee, a local, custardy tropical fruit, that keeps things interesting. Its yellow lobe-like flesh resembles scrambled eggs in both looks and texture (it’s also called “vegetable brain”); its taste is mild, taking on the strong saltiness of the fish and vegetable sauté. Neither the fish nor the fruit is native here—the former is from northern waters; the latter likely traveled here from Ghana via slave ships in the 18th century—but ackee does grow wild in Jamaica; you might have glimpsed the red fruits hanging from local trees (don’t go trying it on your own though; the fruit is poisonous when unripe!).
Ackee and saltfish is typically accompanied by johnnycakes and/or callaloo, making a good thing even better. Fruit and fish for breakfast? You bet.
Where: We were fortunate to try this freshly prepared by the kitchen staff at the Moon San Villa at the Blue Lagoon (876-993-7777; map) in Port Antonio.
When: Mornings, for guests. If you’re staying there, be sure to request it.
Order: This ackee and saltfish was a perfectly traditional specimen, a sauté of bell peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and Scotch bonnet chiles with the briny shredded fish and creamy ackee, which absorbed and mellowed the intense, spicy hits of flavor scattered throughout. Here it was served with fried plantains and knotty fried-dough johnnycakes, a great stand-in for toast that was ideal for sopping up the juices left behind.
Alternatively: While likely any hotel will be able to make this for you, traditional-eatery types—like Mom’s in Ocho Rios (876-974-2811; 7 Evelyn St., map; closed Sundays) and The Pelican Grill, a Montego Bay staple since 1964 (876-952-3171; Gloucester Ave., map)—are always good bets at breakfast time. In a pinch you can also find this on the breakfast menu at Juici Patties (multiple locations including Lot 138K Boundbrook, Portland parish, map), the fast-food franchise otherwise known for its meat patties.