Eating healthy in Jamaica is easy!! The secret? Ital, the diet of the Rastafari.
Ital restaurants, if you can call them that, will not be in the guidebooks. They are truly off the beaten path, on some obscure side street, with a dirt parking lot and picnic tables for eating, if you’re lucky. However, the food is pure goodness, and the energy of these conscious cooks is welcoming and inviting.
Ital is the food of the rasta man. The diet enhances vitality. Hence, the saying, “Ital is Vital.” The diet is a rejection of the artificial products of industrialized agriculture, which is seen as oppressive and contrary to healthful living. Ital food is a complex mixture of spices, beans, a variety of vegetables such as callaloo greens, corn, peanuts, cabbage, ackee, along whole-wheat dumplings, and the requisite rice and peas bring it all together. And, if you’re lucky, they may even offer up some Sip; a brothy vegetable soup with peanuts.
One of our best memories of Jamaica is our time eating and hanging out with a local rasta man, Carl, and a delicious meal he prepared for us at the last minute. On our way to Negril, we stopped by the Reggae Man to eat, but he wasn’t open and wouldn’t open until later. Well…after spending the day cliff-side at Rick’s Cafe drinking, we decided it was time to eat so we went back to the Reggae Man. He had a couple of customers waiting, but he wasn’t prepared for our large group of six, but he prepared us a meal from what he had on hand. Oh my goodness, is what it was.
The feeling was one of being welcomed into someone’s home. After he had finished preparing the food, he joined us in great conversation as we chilled out under the stars, enjoying what turned out to be the chillin-est night of our entire stay.
So…how do you find these hole-in-the wall Ital spots? You have to get yourself a good knowledgeable driver, or maybe you can ask a local. For sure, they’re not on the tourist. What to order? No need to worry…you get what’s on deck that day, then you just sit back and enjoy.