Why is it when you return from vacation, you feel so drained that you could use another week or two just to get back into your groove? I’m not one to do the normal tourist thing, especially when I’m in the Caribbean, as I see every island as “home” And as I would do when I’m in Trinbago, I go exploring! Some places even the locals would think twice about venturing, but with my cocky self and curiosity to see how people really live, I do get a good glimpse at life of the everyday man.
Our visit to Jamaica was a last minute suggestion (“pack your back we’re going yard”) so I didn’t have time to do my usual planning as I would normally. But we lucked out as the friend we traveled with is originally from JA as well as the good friend we met while there. Basically we were with people who knew how to show us “local” life. If you ever get the chance to travel with someone who’s originally from your destination, I highly recommend it.
Our trip took us from Montego bay where we landed, to Ocho Rios for a couple days, then Kingston, back to Montego Bay where we were based the last couple days and a day trip to Negril. On the night we arrived we took the drive from MoBay to Ocho Rios where my friend spent the first 10 years or so of his life. That’s when the culinary experience started. In town (must have been after midnight) we immediately got some roasted nuts from the nuts man on patrol (see pic below). The nuts are a bit different than in Trinbago, as these ones were still in the shell/husk. (this pic was taken during the day in Mobay)
We then headed to the market area where there was a buzz of activity, including a wide assortment of “drum” chicken on sale. Basically oil drums cut in half to form a BBQ, where chicken is grilled over coals. I heard the chicken being called “jerk”, but it was more a of a grilled chicken, as there wasn’t any real “jerk” seasoning to it. I also found that the meat was severely overcooked and dry to the bone. The “drum” chicken I had in both Ocho Rios and Kingston didn’t really impress.
The last day of our stay in Ocho Rios we did hit the farmers market, but since it was not an official market day it was not as packed with vendors or shoppers. However the produce on sale were fresh and there was an ok assortment. The sales people were super friendly and always willing to share a smile and story. Here is where we picked up ingredients for dinner that night. I made a lovely spread for us as it with my friends birthday. Herb stuffed chicken roasted in the oven, fresh green salad and rice and peas. I’m not sure if it was the herbs grown in the wonderful Caribbean sun or the chicken that was probably raised on corn, but I was told that it was one of the best roasted chicken everyone had ever had. You could even smell it cooking three floors down at the pool area.
On our drive down from Ocho Rios to Kingston we stopped off at a roadside vendor for oranges, soup (a huge pot of goat head soup) and roasted yam. And a quick drive up a bumpy road, saw us visit the home of the famous Walker’s Wood Jerk Marinade (basically a house at the top of a hill with a beautiful views of the surrounding area). The oranges were very sweet and the people manning the stall were friendly and full of banter when we did chat a bit.
Kingston on some levels reminded me of Port of Spain, with a true loud Caribbean buzz of activity and crazy driving. But to be honest I didn’t expect to see so much garbage on the streets, especially since Jamaica is such a mecca for tourism in the Caribbean. However once you entered New Kingston, you felt as if you were in a typical North American city. Clean, modern and even the people seemed to be more professionally dressed. My friend insisted we head over to Gloria’s in Port Royal (5 Queen Street; Port Royal, Kingston), for dinner. Gloria’s is one of those places where both locals and tourists head to for good seafood meals. A street setting, with tents on one side with tables and chairs and on the other side of the street is where the kitchen was situated. Overall a terrible experience for 3 of us in our party, but at least my friend got what he wanted and was very satisfied. He had the steam fish platter (see pic below)… we also ordered the spicy shrimp and curry shrimp platters. The curry fish was rather salty and combined with the terrible service, long wait (how does a seafood restaurant not have seafood?) and chicken being on the menu and not having any, it wasn’t what we hoped for.We did get a couple free side orders of bammy and festival, which were both delicious.
We were fortunate to have stayed at our friend’s place, so this meant home cooked “Jamaican” breakfast in the mornings by his mom…(I did get the recipes, which I will be sharing soon). Ackee and saltfish, dumplings, green bananas and how could I forget the hot Milo and that wonderful bread. I can’t believe that I actually enjoyed whole wheat bread.
Our last night in Kingston saw us head over to Portmore to a seaside sort of bar (like a rum shop in Trinbago) for what was supposed to be for a Guinness and cup of fish tea, but after the fish tea (which seemed to have heightened our hunger) we decided on dinner (yea this was about midnight). This was going to be my first experience having steamed fish with ochro, steamed vegetables and crackers. The pics below will show you a quick glimpse of the kitchen our meals were prepared in and the fact that you get to choose the fish you want, before it’s cooked. I opted for the red snapper as the parrot fish looked too pretty to eat. The joint had a good local vibe to it as you got the impression that the people who were there at the bar and tables just got off work and where here to have a good meal and watch the news which was on the tv up in the corner. I’m not sure how they could hear the broadcast as there was loud music being played on the outside of the bar.
BTW, we got a good taste of island fast food (?) when we had lunch at one of the malls in Kingston. We opted for food from “Island Grill” and I fell in love with pumpkin rice (really wanted to try the callaloo rice but the order got mixed up). I’ll definitely be making this dish for the site very soon.
It was then time to head back to Montego Bay where things were a bit more touristy. It’s a beautiful drive from Kingston, through Ocho Rios though valleys, hills and some of the most lush vegetation I’ve ever seen and finally MoBay. We were on the lookout for Scotchies as we entered MoBay, but ended up at the “Ultimate Jerk Center” which turned out to be the 2nd best jerk I had on the island. In the pics below you’ll see the jerk chicken salad, jerk chicken with rice and peas, curry chicken with rice and peas which I had. The Ultimate Jerk Center is a wonderful spot to stop for lunch and it seems that most of the tour buses stops here. Beautiful grounds, clean bathrooms and excellent service tops the list for this place. There’s a well kept cricket pitch at the rear, which took me back to my days playing colts cricket, in whites.
This would be the first time since landing in Jamaica that I got jerk packed with flavour, a rich smokey explosion and a bit of heat from what was surely scotch bonnet peppers. If you like spicy food, do ask for a side of the hot/jerk sauce… a chunky sauce, bursting with the heat from the locally grown peppers and enhanced with the essence of pimento berries. You must stop here for the food.
The culinary adventure then took us from Montego Bay to Negril. After an hour in the car we decided to stop at the next bar to stretch our legs, as five people in a compact car can only lead to a bit of discomfort. This landed us (by pure luck) at a road side jerk restaurant called “Supreme Jerk Center”… the BEST jerk during our trip. We had small portions of the jerk chicken and pork and my mouth is still watering as I type. Perfectly grilled over coals, juicy (not overcooked like elsewhere) and just bursting with flavor. I can only assume that the meats were marinated overnight and basted while grilling. After the first batch, we ordered another.. it was hard to drive away from this spot without filling up and ruining our plans for lunch in Negril.
The resorts as you enter Negril are quite impressive (same for Montego Bay), especially for me who hails from Trinidad and Tobago where we don’t really cater to tourists as our cousins in the rest of the Caribbean do. That said, Negril is a tourist town, with Rick’s Cafe being one of the spots every tourist hits. Rick’s is well put together (I can check that off my list)… but really not my thing. However I do plan on going back to jump off the cliff at a later date. That night in Negril we headed over to “Sweet Spice” restaurant, where once again we dined with quite a few locals. If this spot was a bit closer to the main town area in Negril it would be very hard to get a table. The service was typically Jamaican (friendly chat when you tried to complain about something) and the food was just superb. My camera was hindered by the low light, so I do apologize for the bad quality pics of the curry goat dinner and the fry chicken steak platter. Definitely a spot you must try if you go to Negril
The final morning we decide to head out for breakfast as everyone else in our party slept in. We had a full day left in Montego Bay and we wanted to make the most of it .. we got word that we would be returning to fresh snow when we got home. Absolutely the best dining experience when it comes to service can be expected at the “Pelican” restaurant in Mobay. With a great view of the ocean from our table, I had the Jamaican special.. fried plantian slices, green banana, yam, fried dumplings and some of the most tasty callaloo (chorai bahaji) and saltfish I’ve ever had. This was the first time in this trip I got a chance to enjoy a good cup of coffee.. oh how I missed my coffee. There was even some calypso and soca being played in the back ground. And to top it off our waiter even gave me some slices of fresh scotch bonnet peppers.
I was stuffed good and proper and the ethnic fatigue was about to set in, so we headed head out for a stroll up the street or risk me falling asleep at our table. Later on after trying frantically to get a flight to POS (was missing home bad at this point) we did head over to Margaritaville for lunch. I wans’t really hungry, but when I found out that they too had coffee on their menu I just had to have some. I did get a peculiar look from the waiter, seeing that it was a hot 30C sunny day and I was ordering coffee, while most people were drinking cold beverages and fancy cocktails. Here’ you’ll see the fajita combo we got as well as the banana strawberry smoothie at the end. I did snoop at the table beside us and they had the fish and chips platter.. looked amazing! Wish I could sneak a pic for you guys.
I left Canada thinking if it’s one thing I must do while in Jamaica was to dine at Scotchies, but that turned out to be my biggest disappointment. On our way to the airport we decided we would have dinner at Scotchies, so my excitement level was at code level red when we stopped off here. Once again we were greeted by dry, overcooked and meats with no real flavour. The only bright spot for me was the roasted breadfruit with butter, something I’ve always wanted to try. Next time I can source a breadfruit, guess what I’ll be doing? Scotchies is all hype and no substance, I could never recommendnd that spot to anyone. The bar area setting was nice, but everything else was a let down.. even the stray dog that came begging me for ah sample!
Overall I wish I had enough time to explore more of the island and partake in more of the local cuisine, but that’s for another trip I guess. Food prices are somewhat equivalent to prices you would pay in North America (or even cheaper at times). But when you get your first bill and it reads $5,000 for dinner for 4, it’s shocking. BTW, with one Canadian dollar we got 84 Jamaican dollars, so that worked out to about $60 Canadian for that dinner. The curry dishes were uniquely Jamaican and I came to realize that every island cooks curry a bit different.. still love meh Trini curry though. Food options are plentiful and I recommendnd you keep away from the fajitas and other North American dishes when you dine out, to get a true feel for Jamaica. Be sure to try the local fruits that in season as well.
Jamaica for me was more about the people, food and lush vegetation. I’ve been up and down the Caribbean, so beaches and other touristy things don’t really stand out. I had the opportunity to not only visit Kingston, but Tivoli Gardens as well and it was quite the experience. We did a “Weddy Weddy Wednesday” with Stone Love, with Elephant Man and I think it was Bounty Killa in attendance, after which we headed over to “Lime” after party while in Kingston. Had the opportunity to hang out with Mad Cobra at a recoding studio, where we got a taste of his latest track being produced and drank a Guinness with Frankie Paul as well. Also hung out with some up and coming artists as we recorded some dub plates (friend we traveled with is big in the music industry), but I don’t recall their names off hand.
While in Montego Bay we did an after party at Pier One.. absolutely the best time we had as far as nightlife goes. We controlled the dance when the DJ dropped the soca (latest as well) and the pics we took could be incriminating. The Guinness flowed, the music boomed and we had an excellent time (hopefully the stains on my linen shirt comes off).
Drove by the “Office” (home of the Reggae Boys) and even played a bit of ball with Mad Cobra and his peeps at a late night session. I had the opportunity to visit my friends childhood home and village, where we even made time to visit his grandmothers grave. A person who took me in her home when I first moved to Canada, as one of her grand children. Wrestled a goat (don’t ask), picked coconut fresh coconut off the tree and cut them open with my skillful use of a cutlass (machete). Basically, this was like going home for me. BTW, is it me or are the women in Jamaica a lot more friendly and outgoing than the men?
For more pics of my Jamaican trip including videos, check out : Jamaica 2011 (on the left side of the page you can click on either pictures or videos).