Mix one Jamaican with some bush basics and you will invariably get a stew or brew; be it ital* soup, porridge or a bush tea. Pick the best bits and Jamaican cuisine is instinctively Rasta: fresh, often raw, unprocessed ingredients, ranging from the freshest fruit and veg to the sweetest locally caught fish. Even the split metal drum barbecues by the roadside offer a simple seductive jerked chicken or pork; scents of smoky pimento are as much a part of the local palate as a few rum-drenched locals grinding their stuff to what Marley, Cliff, Toots, Island et al turned into an island staple.
Once out of the gates of the wonderland resort Goldeneye and onto the streets of Oracabessa, local Jamaican life voiced, noised and shifted itself around me. I was headed for breakfast with my brother (now an almost fully integrated local) and his girlfriend: plantain two ways, unsweetened pineapple juice and slices of fresh watermelon. Walking with me in the middle of the road barefoot was a middle-aged Jamaican woman, air tapping out the rhythm of her walk with a bunch of leaves (for breakfast?). Past the newly opened rum bar shouting primary colours, a few skinny cats, dogs and chickens and I was at little bro’s shack-chic bungalow, the yard still littered with paper lanterns from last night’s dinner.
Plantain porridge is a Caribbean twist on a Scottish classic and just as easy, and any starchy fruit or veg will do. You need one plantain, preferably green as it is more robust; for UK non-London-ites, one unripe plantain can easily be swapped for two unripe bananas. Chop the banana/plantain into chunky, thumb-length pieces and slip into a blender with 1000ml water. Whizz and pour into a saucepan, letting it bubble slowly until the mix thickens, normally about 10 minutes. Grate in nutmeg (or ‘nutNeg’ as the Jamaicans call it), throw in some brown sugar to taste and anything else that tickles your taste (cinnamon, vanilla …).
While the porridge is thickening, start preparing the other plantain/banana dish. Take one ripe plantain or two small ripe bananas and chop obliquely into slices about 1cm think. Heat some coconut oil or other suitable frying oil in a shallow pan (5-ish mm deep) and let the pieces sizzle until they began to brown at the edges then turn and fry until golden on both sides.
Serve with unsweetened pineapple juice (the flesh blended with water) and some fresh fruit, a cup of Blue Mountain coffee if you can get it and the experience is truly native and one that can be easily replicated. A healthy, simple, carb ‘whack’ that will last for most of the morning. Yeah man.
*Ital is a Rastafarian term which derives from the English word ‘vital’ and on its most basic level advocates a diet of natural ingredients excluding anything processed and in its most extreme form, consists entirely of raw foods.