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Island Life, Mon: A Guide to the Fusion Cuisine of Jamaica

Open a food app in New York City, skim the food section of a Lonely Planet guide, and chances are you’ll be inducted into a world of multi-hyphenates. In Montreal, butter chicken poutine combines Indian flavours with the classic Quebecois dish of fries, gravy and cheese curds. San Francisco is home to the original Sushiritto, fusing the Tex-Mex burrito with Asian-inspired flavours. Even Oreo has been rolling out some spectacularly engineered new fillings. Think fruit punch, strawberry shortcake, and cinnamon bun flavoured cookies. Okay, Oreo. Am I still looking at a cookie, or a chocolate wafer sandwiched between a 50s world fair?

Yet, while fusion cooking may seem like a cultural novelty of the 21st century, fusion cuisine has a long and fascinating history. Pick a given country, trace back the history of its cuisine, and before you a country’s entire cultural history will reveal itself. A tour of Jamaica’s culinary scene is one of such truly diverse and globetrotting experiences. Jamaican cuisine has been adapted by Irish, African, Indian, British, French, Spanish and Chinese influence, alongside the original flavours and spices of the indigenous people of Jamaica. And naturally, a true tour of Jamaican cuisine would be incomplete without its Rastafarian influences. Rastafarianism, an Abrahamic religion that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, brought a vegetarian, or Ital, approach to the island’s cuisine.

The following is a tour of our favourite Jamaican dishes, made with love and served with pride at our communal Carleva Bay breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Carleva is more than a rental villa, or a place for voluntourists to kick back their heels and relax, it’s our home, and now it can be yours too! Find out how we can make your stay memorable, whether for a weekend away or longer. We’ll do the cooking!


Rice and Peas

In Jamaica and many English-speaking countries of the Carribean, “peas” is used in reference to legumes and not to the garden-variety green pea. Rice and Peas are often seasoned with pimento seeds, ginger and coconut milk. Many Jamaicans will fondly recall their mothers whipping up this staple Jamaican dish every Sunday afternoon like clockwork.

For tunes to groove to see Count Basie’s “Mama Don’t Want No Peas ‘N Rice ‘N Coconut Oil”!

Finished product above, family recipe below!

This goes with just about any Jamaican recipe, and is very different from the Spanish rice and beans you may have had in the U.S. Give it a try!

And just in case you were wondering what on earth a Scotch Bonnet Pepper is, take this photo to the market. And use a knife and fork when cutting, they are hot!


Jamaican Jerk

Arguably the most classic and most beloved of all Jamaican dishes—jerk chicken (or fish, or tofu, whatever suits your fancy!) is a Carleva Bay favourite! Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica where meat is dry-rubbed with a hot spice mixture. Some historians say the technique was developed by escaped African slaves when Britain captured the island from Spain in 1655.

Assembling cooking supplies, walking up to the Yallahs market, talking to the local fruit vendor, picking out the fruits for the jerk sauce—all of these steps are as big a component as preparing the sauce itself. Our Carleva Bays team has cooked for groups of all sizes and dietary preferences, and know how to tweak classic Jamaican dishes to accommodate vegan and vegetarian diets. Ask about our jerk tofu!

Preparing the jerk sauce and marinade. That incredible cutting board we are using is actually the trunk of a tree that once grew on our property!

Here it is again!

The basic recipe for jerk seasoning is above, but there’s also a marinade which you see us making here. Secret incredient? Spray liberally with Red Stripe beer while it’s cooking!

Fresh locally grown produce from the area is always the starting point of every meal we cook.

And here’s the marinade! True Jamaican Jerk is fairly labor intensive, therefore we highly recommend a few friends in the kitchen to help!

Spices and papaya (or pawpaw as we call it in good old JA!) are ready!

Grinding up the scallions (escallion), papaya and Jamaican allspice (or pimento!) for the marinade.

And here’s what you do with the chicken!

Marinade ready to go! Where’s the tofu?

At Carleva we are vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, omnivores, gluten free and everything in between! Here’s our delicious jerk tofu recipe, come dine with us!

And once you’ve made the sauce and the marinade, here’s the rest! Marinating overnight in the refrigerator is a wonderful way to bring out the best flavour. Jerk chicken can be made in the over in our kitchen, or outside on our seaside barbecue. Jerk must be tended to, basted regularly with extra marinade, and sprayed occasionally with beer during cooking. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it!

The amazing spread for an afternoon of food, conversation, and friends by the lovely seaside!


Other Vegetarian Fare

Jamaican food is one of the best things about coming to Carleva. Ital food, or Rastafarian vegetarian fare, is well known throughout Jamaica, and most dishes can easily be made meat free. We love our vegetable coconut curries at Carleva, and can make them fire engine hot, or with just a touch of fire for those who can’t take the heat! In much the same way as Jamaican musicians make mash-ups or reggae versions of popular songs, our kitchen loves to experiment with Jamaican versions of recipes found in cookbooks kept in the house. Ask us what we can dream up for your group. Dinner’s ready!

Miss J cutting up some fresh bok choy (ask for pak choi or pop chow at the market) for one of our vegetarian dishes, coconut curried veggies, yum!

Here’s the finished product: fried tofu, carrots, pak choi, and cauliflower, in a lovely coconut curry sauce, all local Jamaican grown!

One of our delicious meals!

Service with a smile and a warm Jamaican welcome!


Ackee and Saltfish (what’s that you say?)

Ackee and Saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica, and the ackee fruit, which resembles scrambled eggs in appearance only, was imported to Jamaica from Ghana prior to 1725. Jamaicans are among the only people on the planet crazy enough to eat ackee, because if eaten before being fully ripe, it can kill you. Yes, you read that right! It is thought that one of the reasons Jamaica has so many fast runners (Usain Bolt, are you listening?) is that we are an outlier in the ackee consumption category. So don’t pick it yourself, ask Ms. J to whip some up for you for a lovely Jamaican breakfast with johnnycakes, or lunch, or dinner, or a snack, or actually anytime of the day!

This looks about right!

Johnnycakes are essentially fried flour, but you’ll burn them off easily with a morning run, right? Let’s eat!

This is a typical Jamaican breakfast, yum!

Fresh fruit and juices are always a part of the fare at Carleva. Here is one of our typical healthy breakfasts, great after a morning swim!


Fish Tea (what on earth is that?)

In Jamaica, all things warm are called tea! Thanks to British colonists, old-time Jamaicans started referring to hot liquids as tea. And so we have coffee tea, cocoa tea, and, of course, fish tea—a savory fish soup that is often served as an appetizer before a meal. Talk about fusion cooking: fish tea includes “Irish” (potatoes to the rest of us), “Scotch” bonnet peppers (don’t even think of eating it raw!), a vegetable called cho cho (“chayote” to the Mexican-inclined), carrots, and spices (garlic, thyme, and pimento). It’s served in a cup, not a bowl, and is often eaten while waiting for “the (real) food.” Here is our favorite Carleva take on fish tea, being prepared outside on our barbecue overlooking the sea!


Call it a kitchen with a view!

Fish tea is being prepared, along with roast breadfruit!

Breadfruit being prepared for a delicious meal!

Simmering in the pot in anticipation of our guests!

And of course who could forget dessert! This beautiful cake was made with love.


Mango Wine

A Carleva Bay specialty, each year we cultivate so many mangos from our garden that we’re able to produce small batches of our own wine. Here we are toasting to another successful year of wine and company!

As you may have noticed … we just came back from a jog and a swim and are now relaxing and drinking wine in the villa courtyard.

The fruits of our labour!

Huge smiles all around!

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