When I think of Jamaica, the first things that come to mind are reggae, tropical lushness, Usain Bolt and Red Stripe beer.
The cuisine was not even on my radar until I lived in Chicago a few years back and had to walk through a neighborhood in East Rogers Park that had several Jamaican restaurants.
I’d stop on occasion and became a fan of the melting pot of ingredients used to create that distinct Jamaican style. I was stoked when David and Tina DaCosta opened Jamroc nine years ago, bringing authentic Jamaican food to coastal Encinitas.
David DaCosta was born and raised in Jamaica and is a great resource for the island’s culinary history. Below are some highlights from a recent conversation.
Lick the Plate: You grew up in Jamaica. What is your background and how did your family end up there?
David DaCosta: My ancestry is Portuguese Jewish and Jamaican for 300 years plus. My family fled Portugal after the Spanish Inquisition and arrived in Jamaica under British rule and has been there ever since. I left 40 years ago to go to school in Canada after which I arrived to my new home and life in San Diego.
LTP: Growing up in Jamaica, what were your earliest memories of the food and were there any dishes that really stood out?
D.D.: Jamaicans like to have a good time and are very well equipped with their warm and friendly personalities. I remember a lot of parties and many large family gatherings with dancing and, of course, food. Curried goat would be my favorite and my wife has proudly duplicated my uncle’s recipe from home.
LTP: What brought you to Encinitas and what was the inspiration behind Jamroc?
D.D.: My San Diegan wife, Tina, and I settled in Encinitas 15 years ago after 10 years in La Costa. Tina raised two beautiful daughters and Jamroc was our plan B when the girls left home. We wanted to bring the Jamaican cuisine and culture to North County, as even though Bob Marley made reggae famous worldwide the food was left up to “mom and pop” entrepreneurs. Tina had always liked cooking and would bring recipes home when we visited. I enjoyed putting the concept together but Tina and the kitchen is the heart of Jamroc.
LTP: You have been in business for nine years, since before Encinitas became somewhat of a foodie destination, what do you attribute your longevity too?
D.D.: We work hard at our mission statement, which is to be the best offering for an authentic Jamaican restaurant serving the culture, food and drink in a comfortable atmosphere at economical prices.
LTP: Tell me a bit about the foundation of Jamaican food, it’s somewhat of a melting pot of cuisines correct?
D.D.: Absolutely! The food mimics the history and peoples of Jamaica. First there was the Spaniards then the British in the 1650s, then the slave trade with African food staples. After slavery was abolished immigrant labor came from China then India. As a result, we have a melting pot of races and food proving the motto of Jamaica … “out of many one people.” Please don’t forget that Jamaicans like to drink … from the local Red Stripe beer to all concoctions of rum. We offer a large selection of fun tropical drinks.
LTP: What dishes would you suggest to a newbie to Jamaican food?
D.D.: Well, 75 percent of the menu is authentic. You would have to try a Jamaican beef patty, which is like an empanada. Then the most common dishes are Jerk Pork and Jerk Chicken with rice and beans.
LTP: What are your most popular dishes?
D.D.: Jerk Pork and Jerk Chicken with rice and beans. Jerk is the process of spicing and grilling meats, poultry, and even vegetables. The resulting food yields a spicy-sweet flavor and a tender texture. Coco bread is a true favorite, which is baked fresh every morning from scratch (trade secret). Our seafood jambalaya is to die for. Yea mon!
LTP: You also have ribs on your menu, what is your smoking technique?
D.D.: We use an electronic smoker oven with wood chips mixed with cinnamon sticks and pimento seeds. This is a slow cooked process, which makes it taste so delicious.
Jamroc is located at 101 N. Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas. Check out their full menu at jamroc101.com.