Ok, we recently passed 2 years that we have been living in Negril Jamaica and although I have considered doing this post for quote some time I am just getting around to discussing the cost of food at the grocery stores in Negril and what your options are for value or how to extend your food budget while living in paradise.
I would guess that the primary reason I never got around to writing much about the cost of food in Negril is that it’s never been such an issue to save on my grocery bill as it has been this year. When we arrived in July of 2007 we had no idea what it would be like living here and we made a lot of mistakes with the currency exchange and with the cost of certain foods in the grocery stores in Negril. There are huge differences in shopping in Jamaica that I will not get very detailed with but suffice to say you will not have much of a selection of anything and those foods that are familiar to you from shelves in America will most likely cost you quite a bit more than they did back home.
Snack items like Doritos chips and Chips Ahoy cookies are just crazy and I have seen a regular size bag of Doritos marked at about $8 US in the Hi Lo grocery store. That’s just nuts if you ask me but we paid it once or twice even before noticing how much it was. Many of the stores in Jamaica do not place pricing labels on the items and it can be a serious sticker shock when you realize the cost of items like a box of imported cereal or a skinless chicken breast which can go up to as much as $960 JA per kilo or about $11 US. You can buy 2 whole frozen chickens for that kind of money if you know how to shop and you’re able to do a little bit of labor on your own.
In Jamaica the grocery stores do not provide the same level of services that you find in most American grocery stores. There are no deli cut meats other than some prepackaged and overpriced items shipped from overseas and those stores that do cut meat charge a fortune for the service. The current rate for chicken by the pound runs from between $170 to $190 JA per pound for Grade A whole birds from companies like Best Dressed Chicken and of course prices go up if you want just breast, legs or thighs. In Jamaica they eat the whole bird and you will find chicken backs and chicken feet are actually incredibly popular for use in soups and stews.
In Jamaica chicken soup will often be chicken foot soup which is a bit shocking for your first experience. I will not soon forget looking into that steamy cup of soup and seeing a foot with toes sticking up in the air as if someone dunked a chicken in there upside down. I controlled my gag reflex and moved past it but I did remove the offending appendage and not consume it.
I do not eat feet. It’s an odd rule maybe but one I stick to firmly. I don’t do pigs feet, cow foot or goat feet either. I am an equal opportunity hater. I will not be sucking the meat off a chickens toes now or any other day of my life. They peel the skin and wash them well but no amount of heat and spices can cover the fact that chickens spend their lives walking around in chicken shit an I am not sucking its toes!
So what do we do? Well as a family of four we have the ability to consume a whole bird rather effectively and we no longer purchase parts unless we want to really save. At the Value Master which is located in the shopping center located adjacent to the Negril Round About or Town Square they have daily chicken specials with chicken parts usually running at around $150JA per pound or about $1.80 US which is actually the cheapest I have ever seen chicken sell for anywhere in Negril. You get a mixed bag of parts with no choice in how it is delivered but it’s a good deal when you are on a budget or strapped for cash. A kilo or just over 2 pounds serves us well for dinner and we have been having fun trying new ways to cook it including brown stew, curry and I have even come up with my own jerk chicken that is much more moist and flavorful than most of the pan chicken you can buy in the area.
A quarter serving of jerk chicken with a slice of bread goes for about $300 to $350 JA from most pan or jerk chicken shacks everywhere in Negril. I can buy a kilo of chicken which I wrap in aluminum foil to retain the juices and marinate in a basic jerk seasoning before tossing them on the fire outside. It’s much better and not as dried out as much of the jerk chicken is around here. We eat more than just chicken and in fact we have been eating a lot more fish than we ever did.
A standard size can of jack mackerel in tomato sauce costs about $160JA if you chose either the Lasco or Grace brands when you serve it over a nice big plate of black beans and rice with maybe a side vegetable it’s another great family meal for less than $5 US. A can of tuna from Brunswick can cost as little as $75JA and as much as $180JA for premium brands. Frozen seafood is pretty standard in most places with the Rainforest Brands of packaged fish being the more popular. They import lots of fish I never heard of before I came here including bangamary and others that are available at around $240JA per pound and they do stock Caribbean varieties such as kingfish in slices which run about $250JA per pound or maybe you prefer a whole red snapper which goes for about $350 per pound. Fresh fish is available regularly from a number of places including the small fishermans beach near MiYard but the fish most locals eat are unacceptable to me and I generally find myself buying imported frozen cuts from the local markets.
I was raised in South Florida and we never ate things like parrot fish, jack crevalle, goggle eyes, pufferfish, blue tangs, blue head wrasse or even sting rays and I see those on the menu every day around here. I was also shocked to see the size of most of the fish eaten are less than the length of your hand and some are as small as the length of your finger. It made no sense to me until I realized that the nearshore waters are completely overfished and devoid of anything but these less desirable fish. You rarely see things like nice size yellowtail, grey or mangrove snapper except for one or two places around here it seems. I rarely see nice cuts of salmon or other common fish and most of what you find comes from the Caribbean with the exception of codfish whihc is so popular here for ackee and saltfish breakfast. Some of the fish locals eat are a downright crime and someone should stop them. As an example my 4 year old barked out to a local fisherman passing by in his canoe to “gimme a fish mon” and the rasta tossed a baby grouper to him that was no longer then the length of my hand and more likely to be found in a fish tank in American than on someones dinner plate. So long as they continue to eat these baby fish there will be no future for the fishing in the area and sadly I think its only going to get worse before it ever gets any better.
You can find fresh fish on the seaside near the bottom corner of West End Road just past First Choice Grocery or “China Mans” as it is commonly referred or directly across from the SeaView Corner Bar where there are some shade trees with benches lined up on the seaside of the road where you will often find a salesman with a load of nice big fish he sells for some of the larger boats that travel to deeper waters. He often has a couple larger fish but he always wants too much money for them and I have trouble with the fact I have seen him out there peddle the same fish all day and on occasion for two days. It’s like 90+ degrees outside and he has about a cup of ice in a bucket full of fish some days that wreak to high heaven. Be careful.
Lobster, crab and octopus are also popular seafoods here but none of them are on my list as I simply do not care for them. I especially do not like the lobster nor do I understand the popularity of such a tough meat. I don’t mind a lobster tail in butter with garlic but it has to be more than a bite size piece to tempt me and I cannot see the sense in paying so much for so little. I don’t think I have ever seen a stone crab or blue crabs in Jamaica and most of what they eat are what we called toilet crabs or swamp crabs that lived in the mangroves back in the Florida Keys. There is a large hole in an empty lot thats usually full of goats and every summer a bunch of these crabs come out into the streets and neighborhood in search of food or water I suppose and Jamaicans snatch them up and have a feist on them.
We do eat three meals a day and it’s not always a big dinner. For breakfast we have taken things back to the old days I suppose. My kids love pancakes and Aunt Jemima was like a real family member to us in a lot of ways. Her face has graced the packages of our breakfast meals for many years now but it was easier than I thought to walk away from her and that we have done. We used to eat a box of pancake mix per week and of course wash it down with a bottle of Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup which is little more than flavored corn syrup and not as healthy as you may think. What are your options? Well we now purchase the raw ingredients and mix our own whole wheat pancake mix and we prefer Jamaican organic honey over corn syrup products. A one pound bag of whole wheat flour is like $80JA or about $1US and we can make a lot of pancakes with that and a liter bottle of honey runs about $500JA and lasts at least two weeks where a bottle of syrup is $350 and lasts less than one week,
We get creative with the pancakes as well and mix up everything from bananas and plantains to fresh mango and even strawberry jam or orange marmalade if we don’t go with the usual honey over wheat cakes. Not much for blueberry or blackberry here in Jamaica and you can even forget about finding fresh strawberries for most of the year. Be careful when you do find them as you will be shocked at what they cost. I paid almost $15US for one small basket of not so fresh strawberries t Hi Lo when we first arrived because I did not price check them and we had eaten the entire basket before we even walked out of the store. It’s hits like that that kill the grocery budget. We also eat more oatmeal, green banana and peanut porridge and even my oldest son and most picky eater AJ will sit down to a bowl of oatmeal and peanut porridge with a drizzle of honey over the top. The peanut porridge is a favorite of mine and has been since I had my first hot cup full many years back. It’s always better when you buy fresh made from a cook shop or maybe rasta road side stand but we eat a prepackaged porridge from Creation Foods thats almost as good if prepared properly. Creation Foods makes a number of organic products that we are now eating and I’m happy that it not only lowered the cost of groceries but has improved our diet as well. You can’t beat that can you?
Shopping in Negril is expenisve and most of us that live here now shop in Sav La Mar which is about 30 minutes away by taxi or bus or about $300JA if you take the route taxis. There are a number of shops in Sav La Mar and D&Y is a popular spot down towards the end of Great Georges Road where there is also the open farmers market but I prefer the new Shoppers Fair which is adjacent to the roundabout and offers a nice new store with better inventory. D&Y is good for buying cheap meats and vegetables but Shoppers Fair has a much nicer selection of items and the prices are very competitive. I usually stop in at the patty shop out front before going shopping now because it saves me on munchies and snack items that I inevitably reach for as I cruise the grocery store.
You may ask about the price of other meats and I would not be the person to ask as I don’t eat much more than chicken or fish. I see lots of pork here and it seems reasonable priced but you do not see much beef here and I do understand what cuts you do find are low grade and very expensive. My good friend Rick tells me they eat mostly bull meat and they do not neuter the cattle here but I cannot confirm that. Checking in at the local Hi Lo I see they offer pork chops for about $350JA per pound, pork leg for under $300JA and pork spare ribs are about $500JA per pound. There was not much beef in the shop when I checked but they did have the chuck steaks pictured here for about $400JA per pound and oxtail for about the same price.
Jamaica is blessed with bountiful farm lands and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables that you can find in many places across the island. Here in Jamaica we often get home delivery of fresh vegetables from local farmers who stop by once a week in their farm trucks. Find one that comes to your area and start a relationship with them for the best deals. We eat lots of farm fresh vegetables that we used in soups or steamed most often. We make a large pot of vegetable soup at least once a week with large pieces of irish potato, sweet potato, onions, peppers, corn, scallions and Jamaican pumpkin. When we buy a whole chicken we often take the chicken back, neck and wings and add them into a chicken soup that I may spruce up with an extra package of chicken backs you can get for about $200JA.
You can also get lots of fresh vegetables and fish at the open market in Sav La Mar which is usually best if you want to buy something in bulk. As an example you can buy large bushels of sweet potato, breadfruit, casava, oranges and other common Jamaican vegetables at discount prices. In Negril you can find a vegetable market in the alley alongside the Juici Patty shopping center just past the roundabout on the road to Sheffield where you can find fresh veggies and fruits like pineapple for $150JA or bags of oranges for $250JA and some delicious honey banana for $25JA each or 5 for $100JA and you are supporting a Jamaican farmer rather than the national grocers chain.
I’m proud to say we have kicked the soda habit and now drink less than one per month as a treat on occasion for the kids. If it were my choice we would never do that but I suppose they enjoy them still. All of us drink a lot of water because it can get hot like fire here especially in the summer and sticky sodas just don’t quench the thirst. I was able to explain this to the kids and they now request water or fruit juices with every meal and we don’t even drink the local Jamaican carbonated drinks which we had switched to from brands like Coca Cola and Pepsi which are less healthy and more expensive in most cases. Ting is made from Jamaican grapefruits and seems to be a little better for you than soda. I had the kids drinking those for quite some time as a soda replacement but these days we drink quite a lot more fruit juices. Tru Juice brands are the best and most natural juices available at about $500JA for a gallon of fresh Jamaican orange juice which we all love or any number of other juices available here including pineapple, banana, mango and the many mixes.
Here are some tips for anyone shopping in Jamaica. Be aware of the price you pay for any item before you reach the counter or have paid for it. Unlabeled items may carry high price tags and those of course are subject to change based on where you might be from and how much you might be able to afford. Also be careful to keep an eye on the bag boys. I know it sounds messed up but I have no doubt that they have stolen items from us before. It’s impossible for an item to get rung up and paid for but not make it home in the bags of groceries unless the bag boys has been taking things. We have had many different items come up missing and its usually some type of treat or candy that will not go unnoticed for long. Plan on shortages of staple items like milk and cheese like sour and cream which can disappear for as long as a week or more. If you have a craving for something special and you do find it in Jamaica then grab as much as you can because you never know how long it will be before you see it again.
My best advice for grocery shopping in Negril on a budget is to shop around at all the stores and start price checking things to make certain you get the best deal. If you plan to spend more than $100US per week than take the trip to Sav La Mar and save more money on your total grocery bill.