Friday, May 25, 2012

Fiery Jerk Chicken in Jamaica

Jamaica is renowned for its vivid colors, from the alabaster beaches and indigo-hued mountain peaks to rain forests filled with tropical blooms. Old traditions are upheld with pride in the fishing villages and colonial-era towns, from bygone culinary secrets to riotous folkloric festivals and rhythmic dance. But reggae and food – Bob Marley and jerk chicken – remain Jamaica’s lifeblood.

From swanky coastal resorts and handsome colonial towns to neon-lit nightlife, Jamaica offers a variety of historic and cultural attractions.
Lively Negril and Montego Bay, Jamaica’s two main tourist areas, boast a mix of plush bars and rustic reggae-and-rum shacks together with long stretches of soft sands, popular restaurants, and world-class golf. Montego Bay, known colloquially as Mo’ Bay, upholds its reputation as a party town with great gusto with after-dark haunts that run from funky lounge bars and pumping discos to steel-pan gigs on the beach. Sleepy villages hug the 620 miles (1,000 km) of coastline, offering the quieter natural attractions of scenic Treasure Beach, Port Antonio, and Oracabessa.
Fertile farmlands and meadows form a colorful patchwork between mountainous ridges and forested ravines in a setting of palm-flanked azure seas, where fishing boats drag their nets ashore and sell their haul at tables on the sand.
In historic central Kingston, the hypnotic, pulsating rhythm of languid reggae is a laid-back beat in Jamaica’s otherwise fast-paced metropolis. Snack vendors vie for attention over tooting horns, blaring car stereos, and the cries of street hawkers; housewives swap gossip over plates of ackee and saltfish as the aromas of slow-cooked seafood stews, seasoned chicken, and fire-roasted meats hang in the air. No local snack is more commonly sought out than the full-flavored “jerk,” a uniquely Jamaican way of preserving and cooking meats and poultry. Believed to have derived from the ancient hot-stone cooking practices of the indigenous Arawak people, jerk fuses smoky Jamaican pimento with the fiery-hot, blood-red chili peppers originally brought here from South American shores by 16th-century mariners. Salt is added as part of the marinade, and then the meat is roasted much as it was in times gone by, when escaped slaves, known as maroons, spent years living in the Blue Mountains battling attempts at recapture by the British troops. Today, the deep, intense and complex jerk flavor is synonymous with Jamaican kitchens and a true test of culinary prowess. Every home has its own “secret” recipe, handed down through generations.
Pride runs high among jerk cooks in Jamaica – each of whom considers “their” jerk the best.

Rick’s Café sits beside a favorite jumping-off point, and its position on the West End Cliffs of Negril makes it a great place to enjoy sunsets with a cold beer

Best Places to Eat Jerk Chicken

The Pork Pit

You’ll find plenty of food options among the character-packed beach restaurants, bars, and rum-and-seafood shacks of Montego Bay.
But for those who seek the very best in jerk chicken, there is only one place to go – the Pork Pit, near Walter Fletcher Beach. A favorite haunt of beach-goers, who descend on its outdoor tables en masse at noon, the Pork Pit serves a large lunch of melt-in-the-mouth jerk meat (not just pork but poultry and seafood as well), corn cobs, and baked yams at shoestring prices.
Delightfully informal with a seemingly unlimited supply of bottled Red Stripe beer, the Pork Pit favors plastic cutlery and throwaway plates over fancy tableware and simply lets the food speak for itself. Marvel at the guys in neon-yellow Pork Pit T-shirts as they carve up the jerk with gusto onto old iron griddles amid considerable smoke and sizzle.
27 Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay; open 11 AM–11 PM daily; (876) 940 3008

Jerk chicken is usually served with char-grilled corn or tostones (fried green plantains) and rice mixed with beans

In Kingston
Head to the Chelsea Jerk Centre (876 926 6322; inexpensive) on Kingston’s Chelsea Avenue for an urban take on this Jamaican food favorite. Jerk chicken, pork, and seafood come with old-style corn fritters. True jerk aficionados also rave about Our Place (876 927 7886; inexpensive) on Hope Road, where locals trade tales over a sweet-smelling jerk pit with an after-work beer. Unmarked and tucked away among the billboards of the commercial district, this secret hideaway boasts blissful anonymity away from the jostle of the fast-paced city.
Also in Jamaica
The most relaxed place to try piquant jerk ribs is Ocho Rios Jerk Centre (876 974 2549; inexpensive) on Da Costa Drive, Ocho Rios.
This delightfully rustic open-air jerk joint is one of Kingston’s finest. Daily specials are posted on a chalkboard menu. Beers are frosted, the rum is strong, and the exotic array of fresh fruit juices are thirst-quenchingly good.
Around the World
In the UK, British-Jamaican reggae musician, chef, entrepreneur, and record producer Levi Roots brings plenty of spicy passion to his restaurant Papine Jerk Centre (; inexpensive) in Wandsworth, South London. Using lip-smacking, zingy marinades to spice up chicken, fish, and simple cuts of meat, Roots – the man behind “Reggae Reggae Sauce” – creates authentic mouthwatering West Indian cuisine. You can’t miss the restaurant – it’s decked out in the bright Jamaican colors of yellow, red, and green.
Drop in, swap gossip, and eat great-tasting jerk.

Some of the best jerk chicken in Jamaica comes from street sellers at the roadside or in “jerk shacks” around the island

Three Days in Jamaica
Jamaica’s extraordinary natural beauty runs through its mountain, beach, and rain forest regions. Its villages and colonial settlements have enthralling histories, and central Kingston has an irrepressibly vibrant nightlife.
DAY ONE : Stroll around the historic streets of Kingston’s Spanish Town in the relative cool of the morning to marvel at the magnificent homes, plaza, and monuments. After lunch, visit the city’s harbor museum, Port Royal, a memorial to the ancient capital city that was submerged following an earthquake in 1692. Then head to Hope Road to the Bob Marley Museum to revel in his writings.
DAY TWO : Pack a picnic to hike through the bird-filled vegetation and coffee plantations around the Blue Mountains, perpetually cloaked in blue-tinged mists.
DAY THREE : Spend a morning chilling out on ultra-hip Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay to enjoy beautiful white sands and sparkling spring-fed waters. After lunch, explore a rainbow of underwater gardens in Mo’ Bay’s outlying shallow spurs from a glass-bottomed tour boat, a snorkel boat, or in a group dive; an old anchor from a Spanish galleon begs discovery on the marine park’s western side.
Getting to Kingstom Montego Bay International Airport is 2 miles (3 km) north of Kingston and there are shuttle buses into town.

Where to stay in Kingston

Klem’s Homestay (inexpensive) is a charming place to experience typical Jamaican hospitality.
Rockhouse Hotel (moderate) is an affordable boutique hotel set on secluded cliffs in Negril with an infinity pool.
Ritz Carlton Rose Hall (expensive) offers beach-fronted luxury with a golf course, spa, and five restaurants.

Food Markets

Few experiences in Jamaica excite the senses quite like a stroll around the island’s many colorful food markets. Flower stands stacked with a rainbow of scented blooms sit among food stands selling Blue Mountain coffee, freshly cut coconut, and sugary cakes still warm to the touch.
Housewives haggle over breadfruit, pimentos, codfish, plantain, avocados, and callaloo, near red-hot grills that sizzle with skewers of seasoned pork, beef, and chicken wedged between juicy green peppers. Choose from rice and peas, jerk chicken, beef patties, or freshly cooked johnny cakes (fried dough biscuits) or banana fritters in Kingston’s chaotic Coronation Market, Linstead Market in charming St. Catherine, Brownstown Market in St. Anne, or the Savanna-la-mar Market in Westmoreland

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