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Ok, the island I’m referring to is Manhattan as much as Jamaica, but still. I have been to Jamaica and I ate really well, but most of my Caribbean-food-as-comfort experiences come from a place on 14th St that the Lemurs used to frequent with our old boss Miss L. With a Jamaican-Cuban background, Miss L knew all the best Caribbean joints and how to charm little extras from the staff. A dumplin here, a plantain there: we gossiped about our workmates in style when we ate with her. Anyway, Caribbean food is sadly no longer part of my everyday routine (although this reminds me I need to get my ass back to the Brixton market soon). I was pretty excited, then, to see a Jamaican storefront had opened near to the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton and we took the first opportunity to try it out for lunch.
Now, I should say, it’s a takeout place mostly, classic hole in the wall, so it doesn’t look much. More than that, it has a name that strikes me as mildly unfortunate, though it’s probably some Jamaican reference I don’t get. There are two branches in London, too, so it’s kind of a fast food mini-chain. Let’s just say you’re not going to eat here for the aesthetic experience and leave it at that.
As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be good. Firstly, it smelled delicious, redolent of long-braised meat and allspice. Secondly, there was a little girl behind the counter, arranging home-made cakes. When we came in, she shot in back to alert her grandma or whatever older relative was cooking back there that there were customers. Thirdly, there was a blackboard of specials, offering Jamaican classics like callaloo, saltfish dumplins and veggie rundown. It just felt like a real family business: it might be fast food when you eat it, but it is clearly prepared with love. Looking at the dishes on offer, we decided on a modest repast of curry goat, ackee and saltfish, rice and peas, and saltfish dumplins. It was only lunch after all.
Ackee and saltfish is one of those dishes I can never get past on a menu. I love it to an unreasonable degree. I actually ate this for breakfast the entire time I was in Jamaica, probably because it is a savoury breakfast that doesn’t include eggs. Egg eaters tell me that it offers some of the same pleasures as the egg (shudder). It is soft and creamy, custardy even, rich in mouthfeel but mild in flavour. It’s hard to credit that ackee is a fruit, but somehow it is and when sautéed with salt cod it’s just delicious. Mr Lemur is not normally a huge fan of this dish but he thought this version was the best he’d ever eaten and it was actually quite hard to prise the plate away from him.
The curry goat was similarly fab – that’s the picture at the top of the post. The goat wasn’t at all goaty; I actually don’t mind a bit of goatiness but some people find it too strongly flavoured – here it was tempered by loooong slow cooking. The curry looks quite plain but it had layers of flavours, a careful hand with the spicing and all the pleasures of biting choice meat off of bone. A bit of bone marrow too – result!
We knew we didn’t really need more food than that, but one of the cooks came out to tell us about his saltfish dumplins and, well, we could hardly say no, could we? When they arrived they were comically enormous, giant fluffy monoliths of dough and fish. They would have been perfect to dip in a coconutty veggie rundown, but as it was we were too full to do them full justice. They were serious dumplins though.
Washed down with a glass of Ting (what else?), we left in a state of complete Caribbean food happiness.
Cummin Up, 2A Preston Rd, Brighton BN1 4JQ
Before summer made a last-ditch effort to appear this year, giving us a few blissful days of 79 degree weather, we had a more normal southern English autumn of sun and showers. Mr Lemur and I decided to take a popular local walk along the base of the sea cliffs from Brighton to Rottingdean. It’s easy to forget what a beautiful place I live in, and this walk was the perfect reminder. Plus, we had an ulterior motive: we’d heard that a regular looking pub in nearby Rottingdean had a Jamaican chef who made really good Caribbean food. Clearly, this was a necessary research excursion… Read the rest of this entry »
Eating arepas last week got me thinking about the cheap and delicious Latin food that used to sustain me when I lived in New York. I ate a lot of Cuban food, especially the ropa vieja from National Cafe, a great little neighbourhood place on First Avenue, now sadly closed. They also made plantains fried in pork fat, stuffed with ground beef and topped with crema. I could cry just thinking about them but it truly wasn’t a place for the diet-conscious. My other favourite haunt was Brisas del Caribe in SoHo – also now tragically gone – which in addition to mouth-watering Cuban sandwiches made amazing maduros, or fried ripe plantains. It was more or less impossible to finish both at one sitting, but there was no way not to order the sweet sweet plantains on the side.
While it’s probably a good thing that my lunches these days tend to involve less deep frying in lard, I do find myself craving Cuban flavours when it’s warm outside. Thus, I’ve been spending the last few days impatiently waiting for the plantains I bought in Brixton market to ripen. To make maduros, you need the plantains to be completely blackened, on the edge of fermenting really. If they were bananas, you’d be giving up on eating them and deciding to make some banana bread instead. But they’re not bananas and they are, at this point, perfect. Read the rest of this entry »
I ate food served out of small vans twice in 24 hours this weekend and the two experiences could not have exemplified better what I love and hate about London. First, a hipster pop-up restaurant in Southwark, a one night only conceptual dining experience, learned about through word-of-mouth and ticketed online and second, a street food stall in Brixton market with some plastic tables and chairs set up opposite the recreation centre. Which do you suppose I loved and which made me seethingly homicidal? Hmm… Read the rest of this entry »