TRAVEL: COOK'S TOUR OF JAMAICA; Top Chef Goes Back to His Roots to Check out Caribbean Cuisine

Article excerpt


WHILE the Banana Boat Song is Harry Belafonte's best-known song, Jamaica Farewell, the plaintive cry to the isle of his birth, is almost as popular.

The handsome movie star sings "sad to say, I'm on my way" and ends "I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town".

Another line is "ackee, rice, saltfish are nice, and the rum is fine, any time o' year".

This was a culinary tug at the heartstrings for Jamaicans who had grown up on those Caribbean staples, varieties of which are now being explored and devoured by visitors to this Island In The Sun (another Belafonte hit).

Add jerk chicken, call a loo (which is like spinach) and cassava root vegetables, all spiced up with a little scotch bonnet pepper, and you're really cooking Caribbean style.

For this jewel in a gin-clear sea is not all sun, sand and self-contained resorts.

It is an island with a heart, thumping these days to the heavy pulse of reggae, but also beating out a spicy, robust and tasty tune in kitchens from Kingston town to Montego Bay.

More and more sun-seekers are breaking away from their all-inclusive hotels at coastal resorts to join mutineers from cruiseliners to see for themselves what's cooking in the melting pot that is Jamaican cuisine.

The recipe..

I JOINED Patrick Williams, one of London's top Anglo-Jamaican chefs, on a tour of what the is land has to offer beyond the sand dunes and the harbour walls.

Patrick took time off from his successful Terrace In The Fields restaurant in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields for an all-too-rare visit to his family homeland - and to discover that even in the few years he's been away, tastes have changed.

We ate everything from a Sunday lunch buffet at the exclusive Strawberry Hill Hotel and Spa, owned by Bob Marley's manager Chris Blackwell, to the takeaway fare at Juici Pattis, Jamaica's homegrown equivalent of yer average burger bar.

But this place sells breakfast of ackee and saltfish for about a pound, or beef, chicken, lobster and shrimp pasties, for a fraction of that sum.

Jamaican cooking isborn of influences as rich as the history of the island itself, from the indigenous Tainos indians and the Caribs, to the Ashanti, Dutch, English, Indian, Portuguese and Irish settlers who followed them. They all brought dishes from their own larders, eventually blending them into the cuisine that decorates the groaning West Indian dining table of today.

The ingredients..

CASSAVA and sweet potatoes were already being used by the Tainos when Columbus arrived, but they have Captain Bligh to thank for breadfruit from the South Sea Islands. Ackee is an unusual and delicate fruit, cooked and eaten as a savoury vegetable.

A truly Jamaican signature dish is jerk chicken or pork. The meat is highly seasoned, preferably overnight, then slowly cooked over a fire pit of wood - preferably aroma-packed pimento wood.

Jerk joint sareto

Jamaica what KFC places are to America, but with so much more authentic taste packed into their fare.

Rundown is another wonderfully Jamaican cuisine, slow-cooking savoury dishes with coconut milk and spices. …