Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Negril, Jamaica

Just got back from a relaxing childless week in Negril, Jamaica. A very lovely island with a solid tradition of good food. Negril has a four story limit on it's buildings and lower cost hotels and motels abound. We stayed at the budget friendly Xtabi on the cliffs, but we were a short taxi ride from the famous 7 mile beach which is slowly being taken over by the large upper scale all inclusive hotels.

Breakfast was included in our stay at Xtabi, and I chose the Jamaican Breakfast 4 times out of seven. When I didn't choose it I wished I had. Every morning we ate on the terrace of Xtabi's hotel overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

Jamaica Breakfast at Xtabi, Negril

Ackee and salt fish (cod): Ackee is a tree growing fruit. Our waiter called it a fruit/vegetable. The ackee and salt fish are sauteed with onions and sweet peppers and the final dish is similar in taste and appearance to scrambled eggs. As I understand it ackee is not a pick and eat kind of fruit:
The fruit of the ackee is not edible in its entirety. Only the inner, fleshy yellow arilsseedweed, at the tips of the arils, and the bright red pod enclosing 3 or 4 arils are discarded. Ackees must be harvested, prepared and cooked properly. Ackee pods should be allowed to ripen and open naturally on the tree before picking. Prior to cooking, the ackee arils must be cleaned, washed, boiled and the water discarded: raw ackees and the inner red tissue of the ripe ackee arils contain potent alkaloid toxins (Wikipedia) are consumed. The shiny black seeds can be smoked in


Calaloo: Calaloo can mean a dish which includes the green leaf from the spinach family or it can refer to the leaf itself. There is some confusion here and I wasn't able to untangle it. I love rapini and spinach (which taste a lot like calaloo), but never have them for breakfast. Dense greens on my breakfast plate seemed like a good way to start my day.

Fried plantain: Well known around the world, plantain is from the banana family but is larger. and quiet starchy. Frying slices of the unripened plantain brings out its' sweetness and a slight caramel flavor. Plantain is much sturdier than bananas and requires some processing in order to be eaten.

Fried dumplings: Our very efficient and friendly waiter Omar told us that the dumplings consist of flour, milk, eggs and butter. They are rolled and then deep fried. They were not greasy in the slightest, and I was not 100% sure they were fried until I asked Omar. The deep fried dumplings were very good and hard to share.

Every where we ate the food was prepared to order. This meant some waiting, and the mandatory sipping of a cold Red Stripe beer. Our dishes were always freshly prepared and made with pride.

Conch: I had never tried conch before visiting Jamaica. Think calamari in texture and flavour. I ordered seafood any chance I had and ate 3 different conch curry dishes at three different restaurants. Three Dives had the best: okra, onions, green peppers and tender conch in a mild curry sauce...yum! I also enjoyed conch fritters at Xtabi's restaurant.

Jerk Chicken, calaloo, rice and beans & Conch curry with fries at The Three Dives, Negril

Just Natural was a restaurant neighbouring our hotel and lucky for us: because we were on a strict budget (Xtabi is not an all-inclusive), and had to plan to eat out twice a day. For 17$US my husband I had a soup* (pumpkin), a main course, desert (pumpkin/rose water cake with key lime icing) and a Red Stripe.

*One local I talked to told me that he enjoyed soup every day. It seems to be a staple of the diet even in the blistering heat. I ended up flop sweating while consuming mine (takes some getting used to).

Lentil burger, seafood salad, a side of calaloo, garlic toast and fried plantain

Just Natural Terrace

Unripe mangoes, beach vendor, hotel vegetation

Tart and sweet with undertones of tomato
(Growing on Xtabi terrace and often eaten by waitstaff.)

Other things I noted about the food of Jamaica. Crazy for peanuts: Sweet peanut drinks, peanut ice cream, peanuts or their flavour were present in sweet and savory foods. I partook of a Peenie Wallie over ice which is a peanut cream liqueur...delicious if a little too sweet.

Jamaicans seem to eat year round what a Canadian would call winter food. Hot soups, heavy baked goods, thick sauces over stewed meat, rum cakes, porridge etc... We spent a day at the 7 mile beach and several vendors were strolling down the beach selling banana bread and muffins.

The influence of former British rule is most evident in the grocery store, but happily only the best of their cuisine is retained by Jamaicans, namely desserts. Indian influence: every menu had a curry on it. My husband had a delicious goat curry at the Charela Inn on the 7 mile beach. I partook of their famous homemade peanut ice cream. It was harder to find the Spanish influences in the food of Jamaica, but I imagine the strong presence of rice and beans were a part of it.

Of note: There is extreme poverty in Jamaica and the living conditions for many Jamaicans are treacherous and fragile. Inflation is high, and groceries are expensive. Electricity and gaz prices are high also. I was informed on a few occasions by locals that Jamaicans cannot afford to travel. Most cannot save enough in a life time to afford a plane ticket. When a Jamaican can afford to leave Jamaica to seek opportunity elsewhere they often send money home to help out family, and also try to bring family over. I urge people to visit Jamaica as Jamaica's economy relies heavily on tourism. I hope I have been accurate and respectful in this post on Jamaica. I would love to hear from someone who could fill me in on some of the foods I may have overlooked.

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