I visited Jamaica only once, years ago, years before I became a chef and food began to occupy most of my waking hours. But I do have fabulous culinary memories of a cuisine I never really tried again. I was staying at a pretty resort in the fairly remote area of Port Antonio, not as swanky as Montego Bay or Negril but also not as touristy. The drawback was the food at the resort – a variation of goat meat or frozen shrimp night after night. And that was during my semi-vegetarian period. Shrimp got old after three days.
My friends and I decided to venture out, against everyone’s better judgement. Truth be told, there wasn’t much in the way of food establishments near the hotel or in the nearby village. But there was a Jerk stand – a large grill underneath a corrugated metal roof, a few hight tables to lean over, no chairs but a comfortable pavement where patrons sat and enjoyed the spicy chicken. That was food I could have night after night, no problem. After a few days, the cooks got to know us and obliged my bizarre request for jerk fish – not an easy task as the fish in direct contact with the heat of the grill could easily fall apart. But, sure enough, the following night I was presented with an entire fish which had received a vigorous jerk rub and was still smoking hot from the grill.
To accompany the meat (or fish), we noticed that everybody was eating an oblong sort of fried dough. A morsel into it and I was hooked. Festival bread. Try as I might, I have not been able to find why this sweet, fried dough is called Festival. But no matter. Its sweetness and its hint of vanilla cuts through the jerk spiciness and makes you want to keep on eating. I scoured various recipes on the internet and it appears that the dough is made with equal parts flour and cornmeal, no leavening agents and sugar and vanilla. Then fried. It sounds like a project for this week-end. Next I have to find a jerk recipe that will match the fiery memory of what I ate.