The chef and entrepreneur talks steamed snapper, jerk chicken and 100% proof Jamaican rum. Read full article by Victoria Stewart at the Evening Standard.
Having grown up in the Jamaican countryside, in the parish of Clarenden, Levi Roots didn’t visit a big city in his homeland until 1984, when he arrived in Kingston at the age of 26. “It was how I’d expected, even though I’d never been there before. That might sound odd but I’d already lived in London by that point, and here in the UK memories of Jamaica was all everyone talked about – as it was all that we had to cling onto,” remembers the chef and entrepreneur. “We were trying to adapt very quickly.”
At school, Roots says no one liked to admit if they were from the countryside “as everything cool was about Kingston and it was the home of reggae and our heroes. So for the diaspora over here, it was all about this great place that you’d hear about – the music being played in the streets [that] concentrated on what was happening in the ghettos of Kingston, where Bob Marley was from, and Jimmy Cliff and so on.” Having developed this vision of the famous city, when Roots eventually visited, he remembers it being “strange – but not unnatural at all – because it was like I was walking into a picture that I already knew.”
For Roots, the aroma of the city plays a big part in his attachment to it, but mostly “it is about the people. Kingston people have a particular way about them which is different from any other part of Jamaica. And understanding Kingston people is understanding what Jamaica is about. I say that, knowing that Jamaica is bigger than Kingston, but because whatever Jamaica has inspired around the world has come from the happenings from this place.” Today, he returns to his favourite city about four times a year to explore recipes and write his books.
Here, he tells us about his favourite places to eat and drink there…
Where do you always go back to eat?
There are several places. But my favourite spot that I think about when I’m on the plane and I can’t wait to visit is right up in the mountains outside the city, which is one of Jamaica’s most beautiful parts. It’s where Blue Mountain coffee is from, and it’s the highest part of the island. There’s a great place called Eits Cafe (17 Mile Post, Newcastle, Saint Andrew, Jamaica), which stands for Europe In The Summer.
It does amazing food and has one of the greatest views you could ever have – it’s teeming with thousands of Doctor Birds which are like humming birds and they’re the national bird of Jamaica. The food you get is Caribbean island food, with an African twist to it.
There is curry goat, and fish dishes which are perhaps Jamaica’s greatest gift – they do a wonderful steamed snapper there with lady’s fingers (okra) and other wonderful things. They have a fantastic herb garden there, so everything smells and tastes really fresh. Then, if you travel on up the hills, you can have a perk up from the best coffee in the world. It’s a brilliant discovery. [. . .]
Where would you go for some jerk chicken?
Jerk chicken is the best-known dish of Jamaica and is everywhere – on the way to the beach, on the street and so on. Halfway Tree neighbourhood is perhaps one of the most well-known places to visit for it, but there are many more – after 6pm is the best time to start looking, and you can smell it from the minute you park your car.
Where is a good place to buy something to eat at home?
You’d have to visit Coronation Market, the main and biggest market of Kingston. Here you can get J.B., the strongest rum in Jamaica, which is actually 100% proof – but you couldn’t get it anywhere else, I hasten to add! It’s a throbbing market that everybody knows, and you could buy whatever you want there.