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Vacation Food Musings From RIU in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

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I am 62. This is my first trip to an island in the Caribbean. I mean, it’s not that I haven’t been abroad or traveled outside the US, but this is my first time to go to an island in the Caribbean, or to an all-inclusive resort and I’ve never set foot on a cruise ship.
I’m rather shocked. It seems a little like Disneyland. I haven’t really been to Disneyland, but I have been to Six Flags… I guess I really didn’t know what to expect. So far the food is mediocre to bad. I’m beginning to think the “all-inclusiveness” of it, and the scale of it, makes for mediocrity. There is supposedly an average of 1,500 guests, at this one resort, at any given time. The only beer is Red Stripe (which is passable (if you’re hot and it’s cold), the only scotch is Highland Mist and much of the food seems to have come from a can. I was commenting that I did not see any incentive to finish a beer if it was getting warm or finish any food if it is served buffet style or if you can just keep ordering more from the menu till you find something you like. This suggests to me that they would not spend a lot of money on high-end food or ingredients.
We went to Tushima, the “Japanese” restaurant. You get a compulsory sushi combination platter without asking. These were pathetic and not fresh. I think there was a dab of cooked shrimp in one and another was decent tasting smoked salmon. The others were veggie! The rice was almost inedible. I ordered soup and, much later, finally received (instead), some decent grilled shrimp and yucky flautas-like rolls with zucchini inside. I tried to eat some pretty melon (with nice fan slicing job), but found that both were unripe and inedible. I had the very traditional Japanese dish of sweet and sour shrimp and SO had another “classic Japanese” beef dish, which we found out, came with plain, sliced, baked potato. They asked how she wanted the beef and she said rare. It was truly raw and truly gristly. Neither of us could finish the piece we tried. We had their special Tempura ice cream dessert, which had little if anything to do with ice cream; this rubbery treat tasted like it was filled with cole slaw or was it rubber bands? A truly nasty dessert. They also have nice wine selections; red and white. This meal, it came out of a wine bottle (rather than a spigot), and tasted decent. The white was from Argentina.

Am I boring everyone? Do most of you already know this is the food that awaits you at the average, all-inclusive resort? As I said, I am a little amazed. Perhaps there was someone on Chowhound who suggested that you don’t go for the food… but I really didn’t go for the free-flowing cheap booze or ganja. Several people were quite loaded in the restaurant, last night; wobbling in and out. One inebriated man was quarreling with his wife; she left in mid-meal, then he left and then they came back. Others came in the restaurant to chat and hang out with four people having dinner. This was one of their “gourmet” restaurants, where reservations are required, too.
I’m not saying the food is all mediocre or inedible; just a lot of it is. The tuna is canned and the fish fillet came from Guyana. My fish fillet had many bones in it. I haven’t seen nor had any local fish… The grapefruit and coffee is good. The dark, smooth coffee is actually excellent, with a hint of chocolate. The bacon is nondescript and the previously frozen, deep fried hashbrown slabs were grease-filled. The jerk pork and chicken fricassee was wonderful. I have enjoyed the breads. They have some with real substance to them. The freshly made cheese and onion omelet was plain, but very enjoyable. The sliced cheeses are very mediocre. I did find some blue cheese that was good. At lunch we had relatively good success with desserts, but we’re not big on desserts.
Last night we went to the “Special Jamaican Dinner”. This means that they grill chicken and pork and there were two special sauces; one sweet mango and the other peppery and dark brown. This was good. I find it interesting that in Jamaica (at least), they just hack away at the meat without reservation as to content or quality. There were many pieces of pork that were pure fat and there were pieces of chicken that were unidentifiable and nothing but bone and cartilage. We found some rum infused ice cream and some nice desserts again. Now, we are becoming big dessert fans!
Being adventurous, we don’t always look at the identifying cards above the food or reject anything just because it is foreign to us. We found a lot of new foods, like bread fruit, that were inedible and the tangerine was tasteless. The pineapple was good but the small, Gala looking apples were not that gala.
I suppose I could continue this whining ad nauseum. The weather is nice and I’m getting to swim a lot. No worries!

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  1. I hear your pain!!! Five years ago I stayed at the RIU all inclusive in Negril and it was much the same. In this particular dining room, at the entrance you were shown a "typical Jamaican meal", not to be eaten, just looked at' then you went on to the buffets, which resembled those in my high school cafeteria. I still laugh about asking the waiter which red wine they had available. He looked at me and said it was red! I think it is delivered in a railway tank car. If you have any standards for food and are not a rabid drinker, this is the worst holiday possible.
    Actually second worse! We went on to an all inclusive in Ocho Rios (Not a Riu) and the food was evven more dreadful. It was served on a sandy beach, so the plastic tables and chairs kept sinking in the sand. But then who wanted to eat anyway. The moment you put your plate down on the table, it was completely covered in flies! I must admit the booze was better quality as it came in name brand recognizeable bottles. They just gave you full bottles to drink. No straw!!!

    Last straw was after that first evening, my boyfriend dumped me and I threw up all over the hotel troom, so I got to leave without really having eaten their food!

    1. Hi Scargod,
      I'm sorry to say but that is typical of all-inclusives. I've eaten and explored a good bit of Jamaica and an all-inclusive is the last place I'd want to be(although I can understand the appeal). But you have the right attitude-Jamaica is beautiful so kick back and enjoy the beach!

      1. Scargod,
        If it's any consolation you have made bad food sound really funny. I've never stayed at an all-inclusive resort. A few years ago we took our sabbatical sailing from CT to Bermuda, then on to St Martin and every other island in the Caribbean chain down to Becquia. Then back. We fished a lot, shopped at local markets, and ate at local places. I remember walking five miles to a market day on Domenica and returning with goat. Every step of those miles was spent dreaming of an all-inclusive resort, any all-inclusive. I would begin with frozen anything. At that moment, it seemed so glamorous and bountiful. We experienced the hacking of meat everywhere we went, usually with murderous looking machetes. Enjoy Jamaica. The farthest away I'm getting this year is New Haven.

        1. I stayed at a Riu in Cancun a few years back. The food wasn't Chow-like, but I didn't expect it to be. I loved the breakfast, didn't mind lunch, and found that their "special" restaurants weren't good at all for dinner. At breakfast they had a made to order smoothie bar (banana coconut was my fav), and because they catered towards non-US (I think), had a lot of interesting cheeses and cured meats. Of course they had the obligatory pastries, eggs, and waffles. What I enjoyed was filling a take out container with the pastries to munch on later on the beach. Lunch and dinner were a lot like college, and since we were only a couple years out it didn't bother us too much.

          I actually prefer to stay at all-inclusives on "beach vacations". I don't want to worry about when I eat or where I eat, I just want to relax. And there is something nice to be able to try all those girly beachy drinks w/out having to pay for them. If I want to travel for food/sightseeing I go to Europe, not the Caribbean.

          1. While I don't think of the Caribbean as one of the world's culinary hotspots, like Mexico or Thailand, this seems like all-inclusive 'resort' culture.

            I recommend considering leaving the resort for a meal or afternoon or two--you can even do a search on chowhound to see where to go.

            1. Update:
              We had lunch at Piccola Italiana. This was my first encounter with real seafood and perhaps my best meal yet. We had green-lipped mussels, shrimp, in their shells and calamari that was all fresh and freshly cooked in a jerk spice. I really enjoyed it. There was pizza, too. It was not worth eating again. They had one piled with big chunks of what looked to be hotdog. I think they were the same sausage links served for breakfast. That would have surely made me gag.
              I am adjusting to the feel of the buffet steam tables and “food court” scene of a shopping mall. Since I have been to Vegas once, those wishing noise, drinking and smoking will be right at home here. I understand that there are places like the Grand Lido that are very nice, but we were trying to find a place that we could afford and that would appeal to our late twenties children that accompany us. Plus, it had many positive reviews on the internet, which I will try and balance when we return.
              Dinner was quite different and fairly good. They have a policy of only being able to make four reservations at their “gourmet” dining places per week. However, if you are there at the appointed time you can wait and see if they have any missed reservations. By our estimation, not showing for dinner is common. There were four tables available in a fairly small dining room so we were able to eat at Sir John without a reservation. Otherwise you often have to make reservations two days in advance! Again, the one red or white wine and menu limited to four main entrees. My halibut was overcooked but the crab and shrimp bisque was decent and the mussels Rockefeller were pretty good, too. SO’s lamb chops were quite good but I’m tiring a bit of everything having jerk seasoning. The Crepes Suzette came with a good coconut ice cream but the crepes were rubbery. Little of my fruit medley with honey was good. Service was very good and wine… well it flowed like water. This was an upscale setting with nice silverware and dishes; chargers and the like, yet the food didn’t quite match the pretentiousness of Sir Johns. There was a lack of balance and sophistication in much of the food. Still, overall this was our best meal yet and I have hope, as a Chowhounder, I will sniff out enough deliciousness to get me by. Last night, while we were in Sir John’s they were serving a surprise special of lobster tail at St. Ann, the all-purpose restaurant. There was a very long line. That’s OK, neither of us like lobster, as an entrée, that much… This morning I found some sugar-cured ham to go with my fresh omelet! We’re off to play tennis…
              I don't think we will be traveling off the reservation. Kids are going on formal tour to Dunn's River Falls today. I did not find too many dining places worth the hassle to go to.

              1. At 62, I am not exploring girly drinks. I did like the mango and rum they gave us when we arrived. The indiscriminate hacking of meat is a puzzle. Makes it a little challenging; like eating fish. You never know when you will chomp down on a small chunk of bone!
                Played tennis and went snorkeling. Lots of little fishies to look at. Was told the sea urchin is the edible kind.
                Lunch expedition: we had lunch of pork, cold shrimp, smoked salmon, fries, cake and ice cream at what is classified as a snack place. Not really much different from the places classified as lunch places. Pork and shrimp were good but there was no seasoning on the pork and the red sauce for the shrimp tasted like the bad catsup they serve. Doctoring time… though I can’t find any horseradish. There’s lots of pepper sauce available!
                I’m starting to run out of new things to try; still, they may surprise me. Tonight is special gourmet meal for our 30 YO birthday boy.
                FYI: we have been on standby twice and have secured entry each time without reservations. If you play your cards right you can eat at gourmet restaurants every evening! Policy says you can only have reservations 50% of the time.