Ocho Rios, today, is Jamaica’s and the Caribbean’s leading cruise ship port and a leading stop-over destination for tourists.

The name Ocho Rios, which is of Spanish origin, translates to Eight Rivers in English and came from a time when the Spanish occupied Jamaica, before being driven off by the English in the mid-1650s.

Fast forward 300 years and by then American bauxite company, Reynolds, had built a pier at the western end of the town to ship alumina to the United States.

For the next three decades, bauxite remained an important money earner not just for Ocho Rios and the parish of St Ann but Jamaica as well.

When Reynolds closed operations in the 1980s it meant a big blow for the economy of the town, which was then forced to rely solely on the tourism sector which, over the years, had been seen as a secondary foreign exchange earner.

While the two sectors, tourism and mining, meant employment for the masses, the skill of fishing which had preceded both and had characterised how Jamaica and the world saw Ocho Rios in the early years, continued as the main source of livelihood for lots of families.

But Ocho Rios, blessed as it is with natural beauty, was seen by many as potentially a top tourist destination. As a result, investments in the tourism product for the town picked up momentum.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) through its agency, St Ann Development Company (SADCo), which was established in the 1960s, played a major role in getting the town ready for the development of tourism that was to come in the following decades. Beach land was reclaimed and developed, the harbour dredged and the area zoned for development of hotels and resort apartments.

Hotels that were built decades earlier, such as Jamaica Inn, Silver Seas, Shaw Park and Plantation Inn, among others, were joined by newer properties that improved the tourism landscape.

Some larger properties such as Mallards Beach and Americana (that later merged to form Jamaica Grande and known as of 2016 as Moon Palace Jamaica Grande), meant more tourists to the town.

Local hotel brands such as Sandals, SuperClubs and the pioneering Couples played a pivotal role in helping Ocho Rios attain and maintain worldwide appeal as a tourist destination.

Other smaller properties such as Pineapple Court, Hermosa Cove, Village, Mystic Ridge, Fisherman’s Point, Sand Castles, Rooms, among others, also helped to boost Ocho Rios as a premier tourist destination.

One major development that also played a significant part in catapulting Ocho Rios to the top as a destination was the opening of the Ocho Rios cruise ship pier in the early 1980s.

It meant cruise ships with thousands of passengers could visit the town on a regular basis. It meant too, that there had to be something to attract them, so much more attention was paid to the attractions that were available and new ones developed.

Ocho Rios’ premier attraction, Dunn’s River, had by then garnered world wide appeal and its popularity grew even further with the opening of the pier, as tourists began descending on the attraction in droves.

New attractions such as Dolphin Cove and Mystic Mountain were to come on stream in the ensuing years.

Shopping also developed with several shopping centres catering to the in-bond shopping needs of tourists being built. Today, Ocho Rios boasts plazas such as Soni’s, Taj Mahal, Harbour Shops and Island Village that cater almost exclusively to tourists.

The craft industry, the transportation and banking sectors, farmers and the remaining fisher folks, too, also began benefiting directly from the boost in tourism in Ocho Rios.

The boom also brought in international brands. Of significance, Burger King opened its first restaurant in Jamaica in Ocho Rios in 1985. KFC and Pizza Hut are also in Ocho Rios.

With development came congestion and this forced the government, after lobbying by the St Ann Chamber of Commerce, to build a bypass road for Ocho Rios, which was built in the mid to late 1990s.

Over the past two decades, Ocho Rios has seen significant development that has completely removed the “quiet fishing village” tag to a more appropriate label of leading tourist destination.

Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism is currently (as in 2017) working to promote Jamaica as a gastronomy destination, inspired, no doubt, by the island’s spicy and mouth-watering cuisine that has grown in popularity outside of the country’s borders in recent years.

For those people who love Jamaican food and want to know more about it, here is a list of indigenous Jamaican dishes that you dare not miss when you visit Jamaica.

If you’re staying at a hotel you would definitely find some of these dishes being served there but there might be a few that you have to hit the road to find, at a restaurant located off-property.

You may also want to try some of our favourite beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. An ice cold Red Stripe beer is quite refreshing, while a sip of Appleton rum can be quite exhilarating. Sorrel, ginger beer and a wide array of fruit juices are also available.

Ackee and Saltfish (Codfish)

Ackee and saltfish (salted cod fish) is Jamaica’s national dish. Ackee and salt fish can be eaten with a wide variety of foods, but is preferred with items such as boiled dumpling, yam, potato, roast breadfruit, fried dumpling.

Breadfruit

Roasted then sliced and fried, the breadfruit is an important and versatile starch in the diet of Jamaicans. It can be eaten with just about any type of meat, fish or vegetable. Goes well with ackee and salt fish, callaloo and salt fish, corned beef, pickled mackerel, mackerel in tomato sauce, brown stew chicken. The breadfruit can also be boiled but is usually preferred roasted and fried.

Bulla and Pear (Avacado) or Cheese

During pear season, (in the summer) a favourite snack for Jamaicans is pear with bulla, a small, round and flat cake made with flour, molasses and spices. Bulla is, traditionally, a snack for children but is enjoyed by everyone when accompanied by pear. Bulla is also enjoyed with cheese.

Bun and Cheese

Eating bun and cheese is an Easter tradition in Jamaica. Of course, bun and cheese is available all year round but bakeries bake special Easter Buns (with fruits and raisins) for the season and is something Jamaicans look forward to.

Two slices bun, one slice cheese and you’ve got a delicious sandwich. Try it.

Callaloo and saltfish

Callaloo and saltfish may be considered an alternative to ackee and saltfish and is enjoyed in a similar manner to the national dish.

Cornmeal Pudding

Another popular Jamaican delicacy. Prepared similarly to the sweet potato pudding but cornmeal replaces sweet potato as the main ingredient.

Curried Goat with White Rice

Curried goat (or curried mutton), preferred mostly with white rice, is a favourite of many Jamaicans who enjoy when the meat is well seasoned and peppery.

Fried Fish & Bammy or Festival. Also Escovitch Fish

Fish, seasoned with spices and sometimes peppered to eye watering degree, fried and eaten with cassava bammy, is another Jamaican specialty that should not be missed. Sometimes festival (seasoned and fried flour dumpling) is used to accompany the fish but either way, it is a delicious meal.

Escovitch Fish is fried fish which is then marinated with a vinegar based dressing seasoned with hot pepper (for sure!), carrots and onion. Enjoyed the same way as described above.

Ital Stew

Ital stew is one of several Rastafarian dishes that have become popular in Jamaica and enjoyed by non-Rastafarians as well. Rastafarians promote healthy lifestyle, which includes natural eating, chief of which is a non-meat, vegetarian diet.

Ital stew consists of beans with a variety of seasoning and vegetables prepared in reduced coconut milk. It can be served with rice.

Jerk Chicken

When it comes to worldwide popularity, Jamaica’s jerk chicken is only second to the Jamaican patty. Jerking chicken is basically cooking the bird over open charcoal flames, using the smoke as part of the cooking process. Specially developed “jerk seasoning” is used to give the chicken that extra flavour.

Jerk Pork

Jerk pork is prepared in a similar manner to jerk chicken and is also a favourite of many Jamaicans.

Mangoes

Bite into a juicy, delicious East Indian of Julie mango today and taste what Jamaicans enjoy about their summer, year after year. There are several species of mangoes on the island and they’re all delicious. Be like us, don’t bother to

peel it with a knife. Just wash it and bite it and peel with your teeth. It’s delicious fun!

Patty

The history of the Jamaican patty goes back several decades. It is a pastry that contains various fillings and spices baked in a flaky crust. Ground beef was the preferred choice for filling in early days but nowadays fillings can be any form of meat – chicken, fish, shrimp, lobster, pork, curried goat – or vegetables. The patty is sometimes enjoyed with coco bread.

Porridge

Porridge is a favourite breakfast food for many Jamaicans as it represents just enough essentials to get your day going on the right foot. Among the more popular flavours would be cornmeal, peanut, corn, banana and oats.

Rice & Peas and Fried Chicken

While ackee and saltfish is the national dish, it can only be enjoyed during ackee season. Rice and peas and fried chicken is enjoyed all year round and is the number one dish prepared in Jamaica homes on a Sunday. It is also the number one menu item at restaurants. The chicken is sometimes prepared in a variety of ways, including jerk, curry, brown stew, or otherwise. There is also variation in the type of peas used, which could be red peas, cow peas, gungo peas or otherwise. The rice and peas is usually prepared using coconut milk for added flavour.

Rung Dung (Run Down)

If you’ve never liked coconut flavoured food, then after tasting Jamaican run dung, you’re going to start loving it. Run dung is a stew that consists of salted (pickled) mackerel, (although other variety of fish may be used) reduced coconut milk, onion, tomato and other seasoning. The stew is usually served with boiled bananas and dumplings but will enhance whatever it is served with.

Stamp ‘N’ Go (Salt Fish Fritters)

A batter made of flour and including shredded salted cod fish and seasoning, scooped with a spoon and dropped in boiling cooking oil will give you this delicious appetizer. A traditional Jamaican favourite that has remained over the decades because of its tantalizing flavour.

Steam Fish, Okra & Crackers

Some Jamaicans will swear that fish, steamed in a sauce that includes okra and other vegetables, with crackers added at the end, is an aphrodisiac. Maybe it is, but for sure, it is a delicacy and should not be missed.

Stew Peas and Rice

A delicious stew made with red peas and simmered in coconut milk and Jamaican seasonings, and enjoyed over white rice, doesn’t sound anywhere close to how this meal tastes. It’s awesome! Meat, such as pig’s tail or corned beef, is usually used in the stew. Vegetarians will omit the meat but the taste remains one not to be missed.

Sweet Potato Pudding

It’s easy to understand why sweet potato pudding is a favourite of virtually all Jamaicans, it’s simply awesome! It is regarded as one of Jamaica’s favourite baked item of all time, comparing favourably with Christmas fruit cake and Easter buns.

Ingredients include sweet potato, flour, raisins, evaporated milk, coconut milk, spices, sweetener, and a bit of rum (optional). Some persons add a bit of yam.

It is more enjoyable when baked over a coal stove with some of the coal also heaped on top of the covered baking tin, than when baked in an oven, as it leaves a soft, delicious layer on top.