Jamaican beef patties are to islanders what the hamburger is to the United States: a yummy, inexpensive, and portable meal, loved by most everyone. So trying one (or three) of the meat, seafood, or veggie-filled turnovers is a great way to get an authentic—and delicious—taste of the region’s largest English-speaking island and a much-loved Caribbean street food.
Although it’s believed to be derived from the Brits’ Cornish pasty and is similar to the Latin empanada, the Jamaican patty is a savory pastry unto itself, a mouthful of spiced goodness enveloped in a flaky, buttery, and distinctly saffron-colored crust. Kingston-based Tastee has been making the original version, filled with piping-hot minced beef, since 1966, turning out more than 100,000 of them a day in its patty shops across the island. And, while beef is the classic, over the decades Tastee has added many other varieties, including curried chicken, soy, veggie, lobster, and shrimp iterations, so even vegetarians, pescatarians, and “flexatarians” can get in on the action.
Tastee isn’t the only patty shop in town. The other popular brand is Juici Patties, a Clarendon-based challenger that’s been around for 35 years, gaining traction in towns outside the capital. And the rivalry between the dueling brands’ fans is as hot as a fresh-from-the-oven Jamaican beef patty itself, with city slickers generally pledging allegiance to Tastee, and Juici being the country man’s choice. So which one’s the better Caribbean street food? Try both and decide for yourself.
You can’t walk 10 feet on the island without stumbling over a shop or roadside vendor selling Jamaican beef patties, but you’ll find the widest variety of fillings at a shop, so start there. The menu board will list the fillings but you’ll also see cocktail patties (two bite-sized versions sold by the dozen) and coco bread as options. Forget the cocktail patty. They’re too small for a real taste. But if you’re really hungry, consider adding a coco bread, a soft and doughy pita-like pocket that you tear open and wrap around your patty. It’s a carbo-licious extra that’s guaranteed to sustain you well past lunchtime.
Here, the patty is served in a brown paper bag and you eat the pastry directly from it, with no plates or utensils necessary. Pull the top two inches above the serrated edge of the bag and take a bite. But be careful because the crust will be hot, the filling hotter still, and scorched taste buds are a common hazard. Now, as you bite down, feel the fragrant steam from the filling rising up to meet your face. Inhale its spiced scent as you enjoy those first delicious bites. And don’t worry if flakes of that buttery crust end up embellishing your face and chest. It’s all part of the patty experience. You bet it won’t take more than a few bites to realize that this is the tastiest two dollars you’ve ever spent. Now continue your research by trying rival brands. After all, the truth is in the tasting.