Jamaica

Good morning from Jamaica! Our first excusion within the letter J brought us to North America’s third-largest anglophone country, after the United States and Canada, located in the Caribbean Sea just south of Cuba. Although its indigenous inhabitants were tragically wiped out long ago, Jamaica has become a melting pot for peoples and cultures from all over the globe—from Spain and West Africa to the United Kingdom and China. Given the country’s internationally renowned music, foods, and traditions, we were excited to learn more.

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Jamaica is the home of reggae music, and where the late Bob Marley was born in 1947. On Friday evening, after purchasing a variety of tropical groceries, we listened to Marley’s greatest hits while Jess did some preliminary food prep for breakfast the next morning.

For many Jamaicans, that breakfast might be rundown, a sweet yet spicy stew usually made with mackerel. Jess’s vegetarian version goes by the name of run-up, based on a recipe published in Saveur from chef Yvonne Peters-Hope.

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The vegetables include chayote squash, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, and pigeon peas. Served with some rice, it tasted delicious! The stew took so long for Jess to prepare (it was a lot of chopping!) that after finally eating breakfast and heading to the market for a few more groceries, it was already time to start making lunch. Meanwhile, I needed to grade some assignments and began soaking the dried fruit for the Jamaican black cake that we planned to bake later.

Jess was making Jamaican “beef” patties for lunch, using this authentic recipe for the dough, with butter instead of shortening, and this vegan adaptation for the filling. On the side was some sweet yet spicy (always sweet yet spicy) Jamaican cabbage. Everything was quite tasty!

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After our lunch, we finally had time to watch the Jamaica episode of Geography Now:

In the episode, we learned that although English is the country’s official language, many citizens speak a unique creole dialect known as Jamaican patois. I then got to work baking the rum cake. While it was in the oven, we also watched a short tourism guide to the island, prepared by Virgin Atlantic.

Dinner brought us to Kalypso, a renowned Jamacian restaurant located in the city’s University Heights neighborhood. I ordered the jerk chicken, while Jess ordered the butter bean delight.

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Both meals came with a fried plantain, a crunchy cole slaw, and the ever-popular peas and rice. The chicken was (you guessed it!) sweet yet spicy. And as you can see, we were also sipping some Tropical Rhythms: one mango carrot, one pineapple ginger, and both imported straight from the island itself!

Our feature film for the weekend was Countryman (1982), the story of a simple Jamaican fisherman who aids the survivors of a small plane that crashed in his swamp. Here is a trailer:

The film was beautifully shot, and gave us a glimpse into daily life in a mid-twentieth century fishing village (as well as our fair share of action and adventure). By this point, the rum cake had cooled. I enjoyed a slice, sweet yet spicy, as we watched the movie:

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The next morning, I boiled some more rice for another breakfast of Jess’s tasty stew from the day before. For lunch, I was soon busy preparing a spread of traditional Jamaican dishes, including a couple of those that we had already tried at Kalypso. The main dish was good old rice and peas, which I cooked using a recipe from Extending the Table. On the side, I used this recipe for callaloo to steam up a somewhat Americanized version with kale instead of leaves from the callaloo plant itself. I also pan-fried some slices of plantain, as the recipe suggests. Here are the results:

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We had one more video to watch in the afternoon: a Fung Bros short that looked at both the country’s rich culinary traditions and its significant Chinese-Jamaican population:

The weekend weather was warm, at least for Western New York, but an October in Buffalo hardly compares to an October in Kingston, Jamaica. There, the highs were forecast to be in the upper 80s throughout the weekend. While so much heat and humidity might have made the two of us rather cranky, we remembered that life in Jamaica moves at a slower pace. Sweet, yet spicy.

–Derek

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