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Hungry at the Beach

This is my third and final post about Jamaica (at least until my next visit). I’m happily staying close to home for Christmas but with everyone else in transit, I thought it would be good time to linger in the Caribbean awhile longer and pick up where I left off…After our trip to the mountains, we headed out the next day for the beach at Port Antonio, Portland. Getting a late start, we stopped for patties at Sugar and Spice where someone suggested we try folding the patties inside the coco bread. Getting advice from other people in line at crowded bakeries is always a good sign that it’s going to be good, but we ended up splitting the bread so I only had a couple of bites with my patty – a melting hot beef and scotch bonnet filling wrapped in flaky pastry. Next time I’ll know to listen.

Already late and patties long gone, I spent another dizzying drive with my eyes shut and downing ginger candy. We’d almost reached Portland when somehow we missed our turn. I stayed quiet but was really regretting the long detour, then just as suddenly the road leveled off, all was right and I could take in the roadside stands, town life, endless green, and glimpses of water . It was the quietest stretch of my trip and my favorite though I wasn’t meant to see it at all – not off limits, just not part of the plan. As it turned out, getting lost was as lovely as getting there.

Eventually, we did arrive at Goblin Hill, the shabby chic, eccentric and aptly named resort where we’d be staying that really did feel haunted, though not at all frightening. It was more like the last guests had left abruptly some time in 1982 or else been transformed into the many hummingbirds hovering around the property – a collection of villas surrounded by rolling lawns overlooking San San Bay. The next morning, Desserine, the helper assigned to our room came over to make breakfast – callaloo and saltfish, eggs, and journey cakes. I’d been reading an about Jamaican breakfast since before I came so watching her work was something like seeing a celebrity up close. Gracious and patiently answering my questions, she finally gave me a task, teaching me how to shape the pineapples into marigolds – something to take with me.

Full and happy, we finally made it down to the beach – an emerald green, fresh water stream wrapping around cliffs and feeding into the Caribbean sea. If you’ve ever watched a movie where the actors get shipwrecked and wash ashore to a deserted island and found yourself thinking – I could be happy there – then you’ve seen Frenchman’s Cove.

Portland is the birthplace of jerk so we couldn’t leave without visiting the Boston Jerk Center. We got there beach hungry and in a few minutes had bundles of jerk pork, sausage, blackened bread fruit, roasted yams, festival bread, cold bottles of Ting and fresh soursop juice. The air smelled like pimento, cinnamon and smoke, the food was served in plain craft paper or pulled up from an open pit, and the streets were full of goats and chickens. Sitting on the rickety benches tearing into our bundles, you just knew it couldn’t be better.

So that brings me to the end though of course there was more – red pea soup and goat curry Norma’s on The Terrace, lobster patties at Devon House Bakery, passion fruit cake from The Guilt Trip…I thought I was just going to be with friends and take a break from the city but my trip was not the disconnect I’d planned. Just before take-off, I read that ackee, a staple of the Jamaican diet, was actually poison… or at least poisonous until ripened. Fortunately, it’s easy to tell because the bright red fruit opens up to reveal its jet black eyes so there is no melon thumping ambiguity. Taking potentially toxic produce and not only incorporating it into your cuisine but making it your national fruit show that you take food deadly serious. This was my first sign that Jamaica is an extraordinary food destination but then there were many, many more. I’ll stop here but really I could go on forever.

Photo credit shared by Ana Pelaez and Carmen Pelaez.

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