Friday, September 7, 2007

WE Food - Eating my way around Jamaica

By Natasha G. Samuels

The stress of life that is America had taken its toll. Longing for the picturesque views and slow pace of island life I secured a ticket, shopped, packed and jetted home to catch up with relatives, sleep and most of all good food.

I emerged from the Sangster International Airport into the arms of my nephew and my sister with two overstuffed suitcases, and an orange and white box of Junior’s cheesecake, which would be consumed later with ginger tea over conversations of hard life and broken promises.
I quickly settled into island life oblivious to the poverty and the dangers that the international press warns about by cruising with the locals at fast food “cookshops” like Juici Beef, Mothers and Island Grill.

I stopped to sample the menu at the Pork Pit on Montego Bay’s famous Hip Strip where they serve authentic Jerk –roasted on an open pit over pimento wood.

From there we hugged the coastline, driving past the loudly colored but humble wooden houses perched on stilts in Hanover, then to the tourists Mecca that is Negril. There, after window shopping, we sampled Italian Ice treats flavored in ginger, coconut and banana before settling at Sweet Spice Restaurant for fish tea, curried fish, tripe and bean.

It was on to Ricks CafĂ© in Negril’s west end to watch the rum and sun-drunk tourists cliff dive, and to view the devouring of the sun by the sea while we downed bottles of Red Stripe.

The next morning, we ventured into the cool hills of Manchester, to our old farm house, stopping along the way to collect sugar cane, naseberry, mango, sweetsop and guinnep from the roadside stalls.

Later, we gathered in Mandeville to celebrate the marriage of a relative over cups of manish water and plates of curried goat with white rice. Servings of ackee and saltfish with cornmeal dumpling, green bananas and plaintain greeted us for breakfast the next morning. We ate on the verandah in silence listening to the distant hum of a tractor and the conversations, carried by the wind, of farmers as they weeded their fields.

I walked along the road that was still as bad as the days when I walked them in my blue school uniform, past the bamboo trees and the old standpipe, over to my neighbors to pick up the promised sweet potato pudding and coconut drops.

Later, we packed into the little hatchback and ventured down the winding path of Spur Tree Hill past fields of thyme, watermelon and scallions to the fishing village of Alligator Pond where the Little Ochi Restaurant can be found. The hoisted fishing boats with their thatched covered roofs were far more plentiful than my last visit 10-years before, but the charm of the venue was still there.

We handpicked our fish and then it was fried to perfection and served with sides of festival, steamed bammy and roasted breadfruit washed down with cherry juice and reggae medley punch. It was on the road again to Kingston for another family meal and than back to Montego Bay to the Tortuga factory to sample their famous rum cakes before reluctantly boarding my flight for my return trip home.

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