Jamaican Beef Patty -
Another Jamaican Fast Food Staple
In demand globally, Jamaican patties are scrumptious! A genuine Jamaican patty is made of ground beef, usually spiced with onions, pimento (allspice), thyme and the heat of Scotch Bonnet peppers, and then wrapped in a flaky pastry crust with a distinctive yellow-orange color, which comes from various sources like annatto seed, turmeric or food coloring. They are about 8” long rectangles with a half-moon shape, and there is a distinct horizontal grain running through the crust. Appetizer-sized (or “cocktail”) patties can also be found – they make great party food!
Patties are some of the most popular snack foods in Jamaica, equivalent to the popularity of hot dogs and tacos for Americans. And while beef patties are consistently the most popular, you will also find chicken, fish, lobster, shrimp, cheese, vegetable, ackee and even tofu patties. Patties can be baked (prevalent in the English-speaking Caribbean islands) or fried (prevalent in the Spanish-speaking islands and Latin America). And, even though the idea of vegetarian patties seems like just a health food craze, these too are authentically Jamaican because of the Rastafarian dietary laws.
Based on the historical British influences in Jamaica, some think patties could have derived from the British meat pasty (with the ‘a’ pronounced as in “cat”). Cornish miners carried pasties with them for lunch deep in the tin mines of Cornwall, U.K. The traditional pasty was made of diced steak, onion and potato, all wrapped in a dense, folded crust. Covered in dirt and mine debris, the pasty was something easy for miners to hold and eat – the perfect “to-go” food. They could eat some for breakfast and save the rest for lunch. And, when baked, pasties could stay warm for long periods of time. If kept close to the body, they could help the miner stay warm. Apparently pasties were also quite popular with miners elsewhere, particularly in Montana.
Whatever its origins, the Jamaican patty has worldwide relatives! It is quite similar to the Spanish, South American and Latin American empanada, the Italian calzone, the Arabic, North African and Turkish sambousa, the Eastern European and Yiddish knish, and even the well-known American microwavable Hot Pocket, produced by Nestlé. The patty is truly an international food design!
Jamaicans eat patties from early morning to late at night. Many prefer a patty wrapped in coco bread, named because it’s a large, soft, sweet bun that you need to break open like a coconut (it contains no coconut). They claim the coco bread helps soak up the juice and spiciness of the patty.
The two largest patty competitors in Jamaica are Tastee Patties (born in the 1960s) and Juici Patties (born in the 1980s), both with outlets all over Jamaica, and great debates ensue over whose product is better. Information about both can be found on the Internet along with menus. Today, patties made by various companies are widely distributed, including internationally. Many U.S. markets carry frozen patties (primarily Florida and New York), and they are widely available in the U.K., Canada and the Philippines. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Brooklyn, New York, look for them in restaurants too.
Don’t ever let a delightful, authentic Jamaican patty cross your path without sampling one!