The Jamaica Food & Drink Festival: a week of culinary delights staged in Kingston! It brags a multitude of local and international chefs, some of whom patrons may be familiar with through some favourite Kingston restaurants and beyond. The annual grand affair features 7 gratifying events, each focused on a different indulgence:
- Pork Palooza – Pork Dishes
- D’Vine – Wine Pairings + 11-course tasting menu (invitation only)
- Chopstix – Oriental Meals
- Crisp – Fried Foods + Cold Alcohol
- Picante – Spicy Eats
- Meet Street – Street Foods
- Brunch in the Hills – Breakfast Favourites (invitation only)
With the exception of Meet Street, the festival events’ meals and drinks are all-inclusive, giving more than enough excuse to eat and drink to your heart’s content. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly-small servings; trust me, THEY ADD UP so pace yourself. I had the pleasure of attending the 5 events that are included with a season band; D’Vine and Brunch in the Hills are invitation only.
For the 5th staging of Jamaica’s Food and Drink Festival, the fanfare and food were definitely on a larger scale than previous years. With foodies constantly flowing into the various venues each day, I was pleasantly surprised that I had little to no traffic nor parking issues at any event. Attentive cleaning crew constantly patrolled the spaces to clear abandoned food and drink holders from tables and seats, and create space for future diners. Though there was an understandable delay to replenish some food stations throughout the nights, for the most part the servings were ongoing and the waits short.
Jamaica Food & Drink Festival: Season Band
Palooza [pa-loo-za] / noun – An extravagant party with friends;
by no means is this an exaggeration of Jamaica Food & Drink Festival’s opening event. Blocks of chef tents ready to show off their prized pork plates bordered a section of the Hope Botanical Gardens for the 5th year staging. The venue transformation into a western chic food haven is complete with wooden ornaments, haystacks, and accents reminiscent of old country. A large tree adorned with hanging amber lights acted as the space centrepiece surrounded by set picnic benches. Shades of indigo lights and upbeat musical selections enhanced the feel-good atmosphere of the already picturesque setup.
From the smallest grain of bacon salt to hefty prime parts, succulent pork flavour lines every dish! The pig party includes a variety of cuts prepared in ways you’ve probably never imagined. Pork enthusiasts make their way from tent to tent to sample the multitude of chef and barista offerings: Hearty soups, comfort foods, elaborate entreés, and even pork-topped desserts, washed down with flavourful cocktails at over a dozen stations. After sampling menus, patrons are encouraged to vote for their favourite using a provided ‘Top Hog’ wooden chip.
Sink your teeth into traditional Asian dishes with notes of vinegar, soy sauce, sriracha and beyond. The coveted Chopstix event brings Eastern flavour to Jamaica, where the cuisine is already very popular.
A red glow blanketed the venue, accented with golden ornaments and lights shining through hanging paper lanterns. Strings of lit bulbs connected chef tents and gateways in another themed section of the Hope Botanical Gardens, this one just beside Hope Zoo.
Dishes are packed with ingredients ranging from raw to well done, providing that signature zing that many around the world have come to love. Salty-sweet meats, sushi, dim sum, naan bread and more: various cuisines stemmed from the continent are highlighted as patrons move from tent to tent. Needless to say packaged chopsticks are available, as well as the option of forks to suit your comfort. In Asia, dining seating ranges from low to high; similarly here, patrons had multiple tiers to choose from including standing tables, long cushioned seats, and low wooden table sets.
Crunchy and brittle foods complemented by chilled, refreshing liquors! At every turn of Crisp is comforting deep-fried dishes and bottles of alcohol sitting in ice water buckets. The lyme-like atmosphere matched that of a sophisticated backyard cookout with friends. The 5th staging, in the revitalized Downtown Kingston area, created an urban chic vibe from the graffitied stage area to the elevated bar strip.
Sizzling deep fryers and skillets weren’t restricted to savoury foods; even crumbly desserts are served at the event! Just about every bite is packed with an ASMR-approved crunch. An invigorating way to wet the palate after munching at each food station is to pop bottle caps and release a frosty mist of cold brew just before it kisses the lips.
Stepping into the 5th staging of Picante was like stepping into a starlit Arabian night. A walkway wrapped in warm shades, pepper lights, and an indigo glow transported patrons to a land of spices. The theme was enhanced with glitters of gold, smoking hookah pipes, and even a shimmying belly dancer.
The term ‘picante’ is synonymous with ‘spicy’ in at least 2 languages. Known for its hot, zesty flavour in previous years it has been said that the packed heat was a bit much for many. It seemed the feedback was greatly considered this year as the spiciness was reportedly taken down several notches all around. The bars were stocked with spirits poured into handled mugs, in the midst of chef stations. In my opinion though the line of chef tents weren’t short on flavour, the food seasonings didn’t have me craving a cooling relief.My belly was pleasantly filled with delicious servings, but my spice tolerance was never tested as expected.
Meet Street & the Market
Blocks of peaked tents create the ultimate family foodie escape, with cuisines touching various countries of the globe. This open-air food fair differs from the other Jamaica Food and Drink Festival events in a few ways:
- It’s the only family-oriented event
- Patrons pay per meal
- The food options are more abundant and varied
- It lasts from afternoon to late night
Meet Street serves street food with a twist from the grill, jerk pan, coal stove, and truck kitchen! Chefs and vendors grab patrons’ attention with more than just their menu options. Activity areas, mascots, pop up shops, featured displays, and product samples create fun for the whole family.
Though scores of benches and tables are available, eating as you stroll and peek at the culinary options seems to be the popular choice. Why wouldn’t it be, when the picturesque Kingston waterfront acts as a backdrop to the whole scene?
Jamaica Food & Drink Festival: Invitation Only Events
This exclusive dining experience is an elegant affair, perfect for wine enthusiasts. Long running tables with a floral bedded centrepeice are perfectly set for a misty afternoon of food and vino pairings. With patrons lining both sides, it creates a feeling of a large family-like dinner table. Chefs cater to guests with small plates of delectable eats savoured with sips of complementing wine.
Brunch in the Hills
The closing event ends the culinary experience on a high… elevation that is. As if soft music wasn’t enough, the surrounding mountainous views add a perfect backdrop to your brunch experience. Swirl Champagne mimosas that pair well with soft sunshine as you dig in to plates provided by world-renowned chefs for an ideal start to any day.
With so many great chefs and menu options, it’s hard to deny anything. After having more than my fair share of food at the 4 events (I hadn’t recovered enough to eat at the 5th!), it’s safe to say that the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival is very much able to put patrons into a food coma lol. I’m already looking forward to next year; if you are too, jot it down on your Kingston to-do list for October to November.
Which of the 7 events best fit your foodie desires???
Let me know in the comments!
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