Jamaica Makes Me Feel Alright

I waited 13 years for my trip to Jamaica.  Within a month of meeting Neil and finding out that his family was from Jamaica, I told him we needed to go to Jamaica together.  I finally got my wish last October.  We took a 3 hour nonstop flight over on a cool fall day and arrived on a 80 degree, humidity filled day in Montego Bay.

Mangoes, pineapple, rum punch, jerk chicken, and beef patties were already on my mind.  2 hours, a beef patty, a red stripe, and a bumpy car ride later we arrived at the Riu Hotel in Negril.  It was my first experience with an all-inclusive place.  I am not usually an all-inclusive traveler.  I like to experience by immersion.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a good hotel as much as the next person, but I pay for my food and eat it all, from street food to upscale shi-shi places.  My awesome brother-in-law was getting married at Riu, thus we were there.

Our first couple of days were filled with pre-wedding festivities so we didn’t have much time to explore outside of the compound.  After the wedding, because I have a father-in-law who loves to party, we had a second, large party in Neil’s grandma’s backyard.  I should preface this by telling you that until this day which was about 3-4 days into the trip, I had yet to have homemade Jamaican food.  Our journey over Grandma’s house was quite the adventure.  We drove past a few towns, along the coast with the sharp blue water beckoning our van, and past many small homes and a few large homes.  The whole car ride there, I kept having flashes of driving through India.  Driving through the real Jamaica was what I had been waiting for since our plane touched down in Montego Bay.  We stopped to get mangoes.  We stopped to look at Neil’s Uncle’s possible house.  We laughed.  Mostly, we sweated it out.  It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to Grandma’s house.  Upon arrival into Pepper (the tiny town that Neil’s grandma lived in), we promptly sprayed our legs with bug spray and walked around the house.  Everything about this property including free roaming chickens, goats, cows, made me long for my motherland.

Five minutes into our reunion/introductions, a monsoon-like storm poured down cooling us off and drenching me with memories of playing in the floods caused by monsoon season in India.  Once I spotted my father-in-law, I grabbed my chance to ask for a pre-lunch sampling plate.  He immediately took me over and introduced me to all the “chefs” who smiled at me in spite of the intense heat that was their outdoor kitchen.  We started our meal with a small bowl of piping hot goat soup which again reminded me of my mom’s goat leg soup that she made whenever I was sick.  The broth is a comforting blend of spice and meat.  Next, we dinned buffet style.  The buffet had escovitched fish, jerk pork, curried goat, rice and peas, and fresh pineapple.  We sat under a large tarp with the rain pouring down, a small radio filling the air with reggae, and a plate to educate me about my husband’s heritage.

While every ingredient on my plate filled my heart with  love, one item tattooed my soul:  the jerk pork.  The jerk pork was cut into small square pieces which made it ever easy to over estimate my portion size.  The flavoring was like nothing that called itself jerk that I have ever had.  It was a tight blend of spices, herbs, and sugar.  The meat, a tender melt-in-your-mouth texture, spoke to me each time I walked passed it on the buffet table.  After eating way too much, the sun surfaced drying the grounds once again.  My eyes toured the yard filled with laughter, beer, food, music and rested on my husband of three months.  I was reminded of my fears of marrying a non-Indian, of the arguments I had with family about marrying a non-Indian, of the distance I feel sometimes when I am speaking Telugu around my family—none of it felt real.  Our palates came from such a similar dish.  It was finally clear to me that all those fears weren’t real at all, actually.  This moment sitting in the middle of the country too full to move around was the truth about our relationship.

Here’s a shot from our long drive.

Here’s a blog that has some amazing Jamaican Recipes: http://caroleeskitchen.blogspot.com/

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