Girl on Bim Day 2 | The rain in Barbados falls mainly on. . . Barbados

pneumonia medicine probably tastes like mauby.

After sleeping the sleep of the jetlagged the day before, I’m up before seven this morning ready and rearing to go. And go I do. Today, I venture into the city: Bridgetown.

Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados, in more ways than just geographically. It’s the shopping and cultural centre as well; everything happens here. And almost every things that happens in Bridgetown seems to happen along Broad Street. I go window shopping in the vast, rambling departments of Cave Shepherd and I learn one very important fact: things are not cheap here.

It rains.

We run into the nearest Chefette and kill two birds with one stone. Chefette is a uniquely Bajan restaurant, sort of a cross between KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut but somehow not quite achieving the same excellence of flavour it would have if it had devoted its energies to just one fare. But the food still tastes good, with the exception of one drink option they can only offer in Barbados: mauby.

image not mine.
deceptively yummy-looking.

Mauby is a flavour of soda (also sold as a syrup, and – I would like to think – a paint stripper) derived from the bark of the Mauby tree. It is black and fizzy much like Coca-Cola, but there the resemblance ends. Mauby is as bitter as a jilted bride, with a burn at the back of your throat reminiscent of really bad tequila. It is no Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

We go back home.

Later in the evening is a small Christmas party, held at the nearby Home for the Physically Challenged. It’s my first time singing carols with a group of people who aren’t in a church, let alone with a group of people who are so enthusiastic (if somewhat dysarthric) in their renditions.

The exposure to Bajan culture and customs is much less overt here where we are just a group of people, some more challenged than others but still people, congregating to celebrate the season. The lines between J’can and Bajan blur enough for me to slip under them and fit right in, serving plates of fresh-from-Chefette Christmas fare and smiling with everyone I see.

We aren’t so different, you know.

My love/hate relationship with (Jamaican) food

Mannish water + roast breadfruit. Multitasking like a Jamaican.

Every conversation I have about food always ends up with my friends giving me looks that are a cross between deep consternation and serious concern. Given the way Jamaicans (and indeed, most humans) feel about their food, this probably can’t be helped. But sometimes I wish it would go a little differently.

“Robyn you don’t eat real food!” they’ll argue hotly.

“I do too!” I’ll shoot back.

“Popcorn is not real food,” will be their witty comeback.

I will scoff and argue that of course I don’t only eat popcorn. I’m not a bird for goodness’ sake. Which of course begs the question,

“What else do you eat then?”

in an entirely too demanding fashion for my tastes.

“I eat pasta and potatoes (mashed, preferably) and spaghetti and yam and bananas and dumplings (I love boiled dumplings).”

And they’ll start to waver in their conviction that I eat like a desperate model, which is when I throw in:

“But I don’t like the way people cook food.”

“What?” Their faces are a kind of cross between bewilderment and frustration. No one can ever quite figure out what’s going on in my head, least of all me.

“I like the way Mummy cooks, and Grandma sometimes…”

At which point one friend will usually demand, “What’s so special about their cooking?” which, come on, doesn’t even merit a reply.

And the other friend will impatiently inform me that I’m about to start boarding on campus, so I should probably start trying to prepare my own food. Which of course merits a scoff. My idea of cooking is making fabulous no-effort hors d’ouevres. And chocolate cake in a microwave. I fully intend to go over to everyone’s place for a meal at least every day I’m on hall.

Really though, I’m not as insanely picky about food as you might (and my friends certainly) think. My best friend actually says I eat a lot (and she wants my body) and this girl’s known me nearly half my life. I think the difference is just the way people approach food here.

(It will be helpful in the following discussion if you remember that I’ve lived in Jamaica all my life and have only been abroad once).

Jamaicans love food. Jamaicans love strong food. Rich, hearty meals are kind of a staple. Rice? Whole heap a dat. Chicken? Two breast, please. Nuff nuff gravy. Vegetables? Wha dat? is pretty much the average serving you find here. Rice and peas are our staple (even though from primary school, everybody hearing how ackee and saltfish is our national dish. Nutten nuh go so. Ask smaddy what dem get for dinner Sunday night? Rice and peas and chicken. What dem eat for lunch? Rice and peas and chicken. We only eat ackee and saltfish on Independence Day when ackee in season). It’s a distinctly Caribbean thing. But I. Don’t. Like. It.

In fact, it’s taken me years to figure out that I’m not a compulsive anorexic, I just don’t like that kind of food, and it’s taken me even longer to figure out that there’s food out there I do like. Namely, any carbohydrate that isn’t rice. Any meat that isn’t chicken (or at least chicken cooked in an unusual way). And lots and lots of vegetables. Since there isn’t much call for that kind of fare here (and I can’t imagine people buying much of that, much less cooking it) I usually go without. Or go with much less that everyone else eats because (surprise, surprise) I hate wasting food.

All my mother’s (and grandmother’s and aunt’s) speeches about starving children in Africa (this cannot just be a Jamaican thing) has instilled in me a horror of throwing food away. I infinitely prefer giving leftovers to my dogs that just chucking them in the bin, but I’m not always around the dogs when I have leftovers. Which has resulted in my habit of taking less food so that it’s easier to finish.

See? I’m not starving myself; I’m thinking about the children in Africa. (And my boyfriend, who eats twice as much as I do anyway).


Mobay Food: The Soup Kitchen

Hungry yet?

In what is hopefully only the start of a series of ‘Why Montego Bay is Awesome’, I’ll be reviewing the restaurant on 8 Barnett St.: The Soup Kitchen.

The Soup Kitchen might daylight as a simple hardware store, but between the hours of noon and 5pm every Tuesday to Thursday (and noon to 8pm on Fridays), this unassuming restaurant is dishing up delicacies like Spaghetti & Chicken Cacciatore and Chicken Alfredo (affectionately dubbed Chicken Jamfredo) with penne pasta.

TL;DR reasonable prices, continental variety and good-sized servings = one great restaurant

Barely more than a year old, The Soup Kitchen already has a dedicated cache of patrons with companies and individuals ordering lunch on a daily basis. Did I mention they deliver? The restaurant also gets more than its fair share of walk-ins, catering to a crowd that is hungry for more than the tired fare of foods deep fried in grease and fat. It really is a higher culinary experience.

With a menu as varied as its clientèle, The Soup Kitchen serves its trademark Bar-B-Fried Chicken alongside cultural favourites like curried goat, escoveitched fish and brown stewed chicken. All meals served with choice of white rice or rice and peas. The Soup Kitchen offers a full dining complement with appetizers like mannish water and desserts like bread-and-butter pudding (and if you’ve never had it, trust me, you’re missing out). Even the beverage options are enticing – who can resist natural juice flavours like otaheite apple, cucumber and an expertly blended cucumber-fruit-punch mix?

So is it gauche to mention prices? I’m not sure what the social etiquette is for restaurant reviews. But price shouldn’t count when it comes to good food, right? Wrong. At least, I care a lot about prices when I’m being advertised to.

Soup Kitchen prices generally range from $350 to $700 JMD (with the more expensive stuff, like shrimp, being offered less often). They’ve also begun to offer a smaller lunch deal for $250. The regular sized lunch is pretty impressive too (I can’t finish it at one sitting, but then again I eat like a bird).

If you are ever in Montego Bay and if there are any Montegonians reading my blog, you don’t have to despair about finding proper food. The Soup Kitchen’s got you covered. :)