Jamaican me hungry
By Steve Seguin
How easily the mind wanders. I think of motorcycling through the streets of Kingston, stopping to sample the sumptuous street vendors’ treats and Jerk barbecue pits on Hellshire Beach.
I gotta pull over.
Fishing around in my console, I look for a pen or a Sharpie. My eyes dart around the car. “Watch the road,” I thought. Driving on the highway, looking for something to write on while simultaneously trying to suckle at the chicken bone in my hand may not be the smartest move. But I can’t help myself. This kind of food just begs to be eaten immediately. Now that I’ve started, I must finish every morsel. I must get these feelings on paper before this fleeting moment passes.
With a pen behind my ear, I am steering with my knee now and nibbling around the impossibly tender chicken absolutely dripping with this addictive jerk sauce that's threatening to fall into my lap.
How can you call yourself a foodie and NOT be fighting to get in the door here?
How easily the mind wanders. I think of motorcycling through the streets of Kingston, stopping to sample the sumptuous street vendors’ treats and Jerk barbecue pits on Hellshire Beach. The Blue Mountains and a revitalizing coffee after a hike through the tropical foliage. Giving myself over to meditations of impossibly clear water, white sands and swaying palm trees. Toots and the Maytals smooth reggae groove works its way into my ear canal. A youthfully fleeting notion enters my mind: to run away to the Caribbean Islands, buy a boat and never return. A permanent holiday, where I can explore the rich Jamaican cultural heritage for the rest of my days.
I am reminded of the term “soul food.” Toothsome rice and peas, tender cabbage, sweet plantains and this luscious jerk chicken is a harmonious combination that is revitalizing me with every mouthful. I can feel the blood coursing through my veins as I greedily lick the sauce from my fingers. Have I been without proper nourishment for too long, or is the food just this vital to my well-being?
I must get these feelings on paper before this fleeting moment passes.
When I finally do park, I feverishly scrawl my thoughts on my to-go box with my other meal, a braised oxtail with collards, rice and peas, and of course oxtail gravy. My hands move seemingly on their own, dictating images and sensations from this first encounter with Caribbean Delight there on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston. I want to get all of this down before the moment is gone. Why the hell have I not been here before?!… Needless to say, my return trip would come much sooner than my first.
On my next visit, I bring a couple friends, and we order so much food. Magnificently subtle Curry Goat, the surprising and curiously addictive Ackee and Saltfish (the national dish of Jamaica) in a wonderful pepper sauce. Escovitch, which is a whole fried Snapper over rice and peas, served with cabbage and smothered with a tangy sauce that features the incredibly unique sweet heat of the scotch bonnet pepper — an undeniably Jamaican flavor. We ordered beef patties; flaky, rich and comforting. And curried shrimp, too…
Is it the scotch bonnets working their magic? Is it the allspice and thyme in the spice mixture that now flows inside my arteries and has me sweating? Could it be the addictive black pepper sauce on the creamy Ackee?
If that sounds like a lot, it is. This feast covers our entire table. We could use another person or two to share the generous portions. A meal fit for royalty. Neither of my fellow diners have been here before, but one of them has been to Jamaica. As she recounts moments from her experiences at Montego Bay, Kingston and Negril, the wistful gaze on her face says it all. I already wanted to visit this island paradise. Seeing her recall the experience only solidifies my resolve to begin plans for a Jamaican trip. (Cue 10CC’s 1978 hit, “Dreadlock Holiday”)
Sampling our tasty treats, chatting away, sipping Grace fruit juices and Ting grapefruit sodas, the outside world disappears. Lost in meandering conversation, we chat about it all. The latest gossip. About work, family, our passionate love for food, and musings about life. We could have been at a picnic table on Doctor’s Cave Beach, time melting as the sun dips below the horizon with moonlight glittering across the crystal waters — and a bucket of Red Stripe to quell the fires in our chests from the black pepper and scotch bonnets. King Crabs pulled right out of the water, cooking before our very eyes. Jerk pork is smoldering atop powerfully aromatic pimento leaves and branches just a few feet away. The euphonious conversations fill the air all around us as the beach party is just beginning…
I can feel the blood coursing through my veins as I greedily lick the sauce from my fingers.
Now, I know not everyone feels this way about food. I totally understand. To some, food is just fuel to sustain us. I have family members who feel this way. For them, food powers the body. It’s not a sensory experience; it’s not transportive like it is for me. I respect that viewpoint but one thought I cannot shake is why is this place not absolutely packed?
Why aren’t people queueing up around the block? People will wait for almost an hour for some flavor-of-the-month-chef’s “vision,” just to check something off their bucket list but not this? How can you call yourself a foodie and NOT be fighting to get in the door here? This food is wonderful, with a rich history that goes back to Western and Northern Africa, Spain, England, and across the European map. We’re talking traditions and cultures that span generations.
To some, food is just fuel to sustain us. I have family members who feel this way.
Jamaican cuisine has it all. Sweet, spicy, tangy, crispy, unctuous, and after a few bites you realize the glorious heat that is building inside your chest. Your body feels warm and tingly all over. Is it the scotch bonnets working their magic? Is it the allspice and thyme in the spice mixture that now flows inside my arteries and has me sweating? Could it be the addictive black pepper sauce on the creamy Ackee? One thing is for sure, food like this makes me feel slightly possessed. I physically cannot stop my hands from reaching back into the plates in front of us, going back for another burst of flavor. I’ve already polished off my Ting grapefruit soda and wish I’d gotten a bottle of cranberry “Wata” to help wash this meal down. Caribbean Delight is a dining experience that anyone who calls themselves a “foodie” should absolutely seek.
With full bellies and smiling faces, I think how blessed we are to be here. New friendships and business partnerships form, and we make plans to come back, try new places, and muse about where our appetites take us next.