Colonisation in reverse Two Sisters Take UK — Part 1

Colonisation in reverse

Two Sisters Take UK — Part 1

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Michelle (left) and Suzanne take a break from the hustle and bustle of the market to strike a pose.

“What a joyful news, Miss Mattie, me feel like me heart gwine burst,

Jamaica people colonising England in reverse.

By the hundred, by the thousand, from country and from town, by the shipload, by the plane load, Jamaica is England bound.

Dem a pour outa Jamaica, everybody future plan,

Is fi get a ‘big-time’ job and settle in the mother land.”

Colonisation in Reverse, Louise Bennett

No self-respecting Jamaican can say that they do not know the work of Miss Lou; one of our absolutely favourite poems from her body of work is Colonisation in Reverse. When we realised that we would be heading off to England to promote our UK-published cookbook Caribbean Potluck, we immediately determined that it was absolutely essential that we explore the phenomenon of Jamaicans migrating to England in the 1950s and 1960s, which is so aptly expressed in this Miss Lou classic! And naturally, we were keen to explore the one avenue where evidence of ‘reverse colonisation’ in the cultural landscape is most prevalent — the world of Jamaican cuisine in both the mainstream and regional food scene of the UK; in particular, London.

Our search for modern expressions of Caribbean food and culture led us, straight off the bat, to the Jamaica Patty Company, our first stop on this foodie exploration of the UK. Jamaica Patty Company is a gourmet patty shop selling bespoke patties, conceptualised and run by social maven and power broker Theresa Roberts. Growing up in Jamaica ,Theresa knew more than most, that every Jamaican, from ‘schoolers’ to businessmen, crave a piping-hot patty when they need a quick grab-and-go lunch. But Theresa also knew that this tasty quick meal would appeal to all, so she decided to locate her store right in the heart of London, in the vibrant and bustling Covent Garden. Jamaica Patty Company has managed to do justice to the flaky Jamaican patty that we know and love, capturing the very essence of a good patty: that balance of just the right amount of spice and the perfect ratio of crust to meat. The patty options here are broad and range from beef to chicken, vegetable, and even ackee and salt fish; throw in some freshly made sour sop juice and a scoop of Devon house ice cream and you will feel like you’ve never left yard.

After gorging on patties we decided to explore a more modern interpretation of Jamaican “grab and go”; this journey led us to Borough Market. Now we all know that Jamaicans hold the tradition of market very close to their heart… there’s nothing like the hustle and bustle of a great market with a wide variety of fresh locally grown produce and unique treats that are only available in the market, on market day. Borough Market, with its enduring history in London’s culinary landscape, brought us to a new level of awareness and provided a new meaning for the concept of a food “market”. We were simply astounded by the array of fresh produce, artisanal products, pastries, pies, cheeses, and preserves as well as food stalls producing fresh ‘a la carte’ grab-and-go meals. Noted author and chef Patrick Williams, who puts a UK twist on traditional Caribbean dishes, realised the need to be in a bustling location and consciously decided to locate his stand, aptly named Soul Food, in Borough Market. It was a wise decision; the traffic is vibrant, the energy is pounding and the pace of life in this thriving market makes for great business. Patrick hails from a classically trained background, having worked in many illustrious restaurants and hotels all over Europe and the UK, before finally determining that this was where he wanted to place some roots. In the early 90s we purchased his book and were inspired by his modern take on Caribbean food; a true pioneer in the culinary field, Patrick’s cookbook The Caribbean Cook was one of the first internationally published works featuring a modern interpretation of Caribbean cuisine. Patrick puts his own twist on traditional English favourites with the addition of some well-known Jamaican staples like plantain and Scotch bonnet sauce. Despite his modern approach to the cuisine, we quickly realised, as we took a walk down memory lane, that Patrick still loves his good old rustic Jamaican food. With stalwarts like bully beef, coconut drops and gungu rice and peas with pig’s tail being touted as some of his childhood and current favourites, we immediately knew that Patrick has never strayed too far from his roots…

After a visit to Soul Food and Borough Market, we decided to pop in to a long-established, unfaltering face on the culinary scene in London, Cotton’s. Located at groovy Exmouth Market in Camden, Cotton’s is a popular Caribbean restaurant, bar and comedy club that specialises in refined Jamaican food in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Chef/owner Andrew McIntosh is classically trained but believes in rustic and simple family-style cooking, something that we are equally aligned with. Our conversation with him ran deep as we discussed the history of the Jamaican and Caribbean community in the UK and the elusive process of retaining our culture. According to Andrew, we are in danger of losing access to an authentic expression of our culture and our origins, as traditionally Caribbean neighbourhoods like Brixton, the axis for all things Caribbean, are becoming gentrified and being taken over by the mainstream. The conversation was great, but our meal was sublime. An incredible array of grilled meats, vegetables and starches including fresh Jamaican sweet potato, breadfruit and plantain, to lamb, chicken, pork, lobster, prawns and ribs all garnished with a glorious herb oil, was accompanied by sinfully delicious and dangerous rum punch. This kind of food in this kind of setting is what we dreamt of; it caressed all our senses, making us feel right at home as we delved deep into the nuances of Caribbean culture in the UK. At our first bite we realised that we were never very far from home as true Jamaican warmth and hospitality was evident in every taste. Andrew emphasised the fact that we need to make greater efforts to keep the UK/Jamaica connection strong so that future generations don’t completely lose touch with our roots and have the opportunity to experience authentic expressions of Jamaican culture. We were inspired, and departed determined to play our part in maintaining that connection.

Tune in next week when we continue to explore the many Jamaican connections in London Town… who knows, we may even finally get to visit a real life patty factory! Join us Sunday, 5:30 on TVJ for another sumptuous episode of Two Sisters and a Meal.