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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
As a film-loving Brightonian, I’ve long been a fan of the Duke of York’s cinema, but it has always struggled with the size limitations of the admittedly lovely building. Late last year, they opened up a new space at the Komedia with two screens and a cafe-bar and I was thrilled to hear that they now have a kitchen serving snacks and more substantial meals. I’ve always thought that more cinemas should serve proper food: I often want to eat something before a film but don’t necessarily want an elaborate ‘dinner and a movie’ situation. Being able to meet friends for a drink, a light meal, and a film all in one place is a no-brainer and happily the Duke’s at Komedia has pitched it just right. There’s a varied menu but their central concept is the hotdog: not the questionable Coney Island variety but the modern, reinvented hipster dog with locally-sourced sausage and inventive punchy toppings. Its rare to see American food done well in the UK so clearly I had to investigate… Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for my vegetarian and vegan readers–who impressively continue to read despite my love for all things porcine–so I wanted to post a little something meatless to start the week off. Lemur friend the Geek Goddess gave me Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice as an un-birthday present (because she is the kind of awesome friend who knows you are stressed out and responds with cookbooks!) and it has a brilliant range of vegetable dishes from Sichuan province and beyond. I particularly loved her simple meatless version of ma po tofu: meat works more as a flavouring than as a main component of the dish in its traditional form, so it is actually relatively easy to replace the meat with other umami flavours. The real pleasure of ma po tofu for me is the contrast of soft, cooling tofu with the fiery, oily, tingling chili and Sichuan peppercorn sauce and this version focuses your attention on precisely that experience. I know there are people out there who are yet to be converted to tofu and I think this might be one of the dishes to do it. It’s making my mouth water just looking at the picture. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve long been a fan of XO sauce, possibly because Dim Sum Go Go restaurant in New York makes an amazing spicy-fishy-umami version to slather on its otherwise light and delicate shrimp dumplings. As a 1980s invention designed to connote luxury, it’s probably a terribly déclassé aspect of Hong Kong food culture, but I don’t care, I love it. Still, I’d never have thought to make it if not for a coincidental series of events. First, I was given the Momofuku cookbook for Christmas. It’s a fascinating read and a lovely book but incredibly cheffy: many of the recipes require you to have made a bone stock that takes three days and some special dashi before you even begin. It’s unapologetically impractical. But one thing did stand out – a recipe for XO sauce that required two things I just happened to have: lots of good quality dried shrimp and lots of good quality leftover ham. As it happened, I had a big bag of plump pink shrimp I’d brought back from Vietnam and a vacuum-sealed pack of 5-acorn Serrano ham scraps I brought from Barcelona. It was kismet! Thus began the XO sauce experiment. Read the rest of this entry »