Caribbean fast food: Where to stop for food

At El Churry in Puerto Rico, you’ll find burgers and
Travel and fast food are strange bedfellows; travel broadens horizons, and fast food narrows them. Even so, when traveling, fast food is an omnipresent part of modern life. 

Those vacationing in the Caribbean will have a range of familiar franchises to choose from, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut. In fact, KFC is incredibly popular in Jamaica. Instead of lining up for the Caribbean version of the Whopper or Hot ‘n’ Ready Pizza, hungry travelers are better off choosing a local version of fast food. I don’t think I’ve ever had a good hamburger in the Caribbean, but I’ve had plenty of good on-the-go meals, whether it was at a franchise restaurant like Juici Patties in Jamaica, or buying doubles from a street vendor in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

When visiting Jamaica, chances are at some point in your vacation you’ll be zipping down the highway on the north coast of the island, or cooling your heels for an hour or more in one of the island’s airports. This is prime time to try one of the island staples, the Jamaican patty. What are you getting when you order a patty? First, you’ll have a pick of fillings, including beef, chicken, and beef and cheese. If you’re going for tradition, chose a beef patty. What you’ll get is something like an ultra-delicious hot pocket made with a light, crusty pastry filled with curried beef, spiced up with scotch bonnet peppers and onions. It’s also piping hot, so careful with that first bite. This is perfect food on the go, being easy to eat. If you want to go full Jamaican, order a slice of coco bread with your patty. The coco bread is fluffy and made with coconut milk, although it’s not oversweet. The coco bread is actually meant to be wrapped around your patty as though it was a sandwich. Pasty wrapped in bread sounds insane, but it’s actually delicious, although a steady diet of the stuff could be a health hazard.

Juici Patties has been serving up sustenance since 1980. Their competitor is Tastee Patties and the companies have a rivalry similar to that between McDonalds and Burger King. There are Juici Patties and Tastee Patties stores all over the island, making it easy to sample this island specialty. For a more health conscious fast food meal, travelers in Jamaica can always zip into an Island Grill restaurant. Most of their locations are in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, although there are also restaurants in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Here you can get jerk pork, chicken, and fish, and sides like plaintains, and festival (a non-sugary cruller). They even have a “rolla” resembling a burrito, filled with veggie stew peas.

In Barbados, there‘s the popular Cheffette chain. If you’re intent on tastes from home, there’s the option to order a burger or pizza. But for the island fast food experience, you’re better off going for a beef, chicken, or potato roti, a curry-spiced sandwich wrap with its roots in the Caribbean’s East Indian cuisine.

El Churry is a chain in Puerto Rico which at first glance seems to offer run-of-the-mill menu items. Look a little closer, and you’ll see their signature sandwich is made with a combination of grilled chicken and skirt steak, referred to as churrasco. If that combo wasn’t enough, it’s dressed with a handful of skinny fries. You’ll find burgers and chicken on the menu, but also wraps, quesadillas, and fried plaintains, El Churry has restaurants and several food trucks, made famous in a segment of Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” with host Adam Richman tackling a gut-busting churrasco sandwich.
In the Dominican Republic, there’s a wealth of little eateries selling pollo al carbon: hearty meals of grilled chicken with healthy sides like salad and the DR staple, rice and beans. A popular franchise is Pollo Tropical, which has outlets in other islands throughout the Caribbean.

If a traveler is going to be an adventurous eater, they’ll also want to try some of the local Caribbean soft drinks. These vary from Island to island, and include Cola Couronne, a Haiti mixed-fruit champagne; Bahamas Goombay punch, a sweet-tasting soda with a hint of bubble gum; and Solo, a Trinidad soda line, with flavors like sorrel, banana, and ginger beer. In Jamaica, you’ll have a choice between regular Ting and Pink Ting, both tart with the taste of grapefruit. For something really different – most likely an acquired taste – try Puerto Rico’s Malta India, which tastes like syrupy-sweet beer that’s gone “off” with a funky smell. Like the durian fruit in Asia, true blue travelers have to try it at least once.
One of my favorite meals in Jamaica was when I was traveling in a cab on a two hour ride in the rain from Ocho Rios to Port Antonio. We stopped at a Juici Patties and I treated the driver to lunch. We got back in the cab and as the rain poured down on the lush landscape, with occasional glimpses of the white-capped ocean, we both enjoyed our meal to the swish of the window wipers. Caribbean good times you won’t find in a brochure.

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