Roast Fish & Bread Fruit – An SJ Posting

May 27th, 2015 § 3 comments

Grilling a cut up Bell’s Chicken in my Brooklyn backyard I was drawn into reverie about another of My Most Important Food Memories: Around ten years ago I was way up in the hills of St. Ann parish in Jamaica searching for old records. At a little bar I met a older Indian-Jamaican who told me to come up to his house as he said he had records. We drove together up the winding hills to his home. He pointed me to a crawl space under his house and said the records were there. Now I have a general aversion to low spaces and the insects that teem in those dark regions, and in the tropical environment of Jamaica those insects proliferate even more and going under that house was like being thrown into the Insect House at Turtleback Zoo — Enormous roaches, spiders large enough to speak, crazy millipedes with pincers; in any case I persevered and dragged out 4 trunks of moldering 45s. In between the Patti Page vinyl, the horrific mold spores (which later gave me a rash lasting 4 weeks), the records so destroyed by insect and rat urine, I managed to find five records that I wanted. Negotiation time. It went badly. The old man demanded $200 each for songs barely worth $5 and when I wouldn’t agree…He just got mad. Yelled at me for wasting his time. I apologized and apologized and finally went to a little street side shed and got two cold beers for us to assuage any hurt feelings. Well…in the quiet moments as we sipped our beer and smoked a slow cigarette, the old man asked if I was hungry. And yes…I was starving. Jamaicans tend to eat a big breakfast and last on that all day, but I am not a breakfast man, so driving in that country I often found myself starving. The old man announced that ever since his wife died he refused to cook inside. “Everything taste better on the fire!” He then popped up and his formerly elderly frame belied a new energy and he simply bounded up a breadfruit tree and cut two fine specimens down. He gathered together some dried twigs and logs and quickly had a blaze going. He went inside and grabbed a rudimentary grate, some salt cod, margarine and a ratchet knife. He cut the fish and breadfruit into rough chunks and dropped them on the flames. The smell was heavenly — pimento wood, roasting flesh and the open, clean air of St. Ann’s. After a bit he removed the grate and heaped margarine onto the charred salt cod and breadfruit. I gathered up bit of both and devoured it — smokey, little bit gritty, salty, fishy, buttery, rough yet totally comforting and unbelievably perfect for the moment. We were silent — me and the old man — breathing the air, chewing, savoring the flavors and licking our black ash fingers. He broke the silence: “Dem nah eat this food in Kingston. This a pure Countryman thing,” He cackled, “Dem curry or fry everything in Kingston!!” He held up a particularly burnt piece of breadfruit dripping with margarine: “This a the real Jamaica!” and popped it in his mouth. And me? I had to agree.

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