Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hit the road for good food in Jamaica

You'll find some of the best food on the island of Jamaica at the side of the road.

Just look for the phrase "jerk centre," an informal, open-air eating place where chicken and pork are rubbed with a spicy mix, then smoked over wood and charcoal before being chopped into bite-size pieces. Yam, sweet potato, bread fruit and other side dishes usually are available.

Last week, on the way back from a tour of reggae great Bob Marley's birthplace and tomb, our driver stopped at the Ultimate Jerk Centre in Discovery Bay, on the island's north coast. I bought a half-pound of jerk pork for $500 Jamaican dollars (about $5.85 U.S.). My wife bought two pounds of jerk pork for herself and her large family.

I asked the cashier about the pork we had ordered and she said it was raised locally. She even described the animal's diet.

I ate my food back in the room at the RIU Montego Bay Hotel and washed it down with two bottles of Red Stripe beer, the air conditioner going full tilt, the ceiling fan spinning and the door open wide to my beachfront balcony. The meat was moist, smokey and delicious, with just a little fat or bone to contend with.

Scotchie's is the jerk centre near Montego Bay where I first tried jerk chicken in 2001, declaring it "the best chicken in the world." I even stopped there on the way to the airport for a last meal of jerk chicken on the plane. Last week, my wife and me had jerk pork and steamed fish and noticed how Scotchie's had grown into a place with a full bar and lots of seating under thatched shelters.

The pork was great. The snapper fillet had been wrapped in aluminum foil with sliced okra, onion and tomato before steaming. The fish was juicy and perfectly cooked. We shared a sweet potato and drank Red Stripe.

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