In this week’s guest post, we join Kaci Hamilton of Write Around the World on a fun food spin of her beloved Jamaica. Born and raised on the island, Kaci takes us away from Jamaica’s gated resorts and hotel compounds that most visitors never (dare to) leave. Instead, we skip the vacationing hordes for a fresh insider’s look at where to eat the island’s real-deal seafood, including the best grilled oysters.
FOOD TOUR OF JAMAICA
It’s taken me some time, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I love food. And like Julia Child, I’m good at eating it. I love cooking it, I love shopping for it, I love the experience of sitting around a table, wine glass in hand, empty plates, head-spinning (or belly-busting) conversation going on and feeling that general, satiated, feel-good, post-meal high. Living in Jamaica, I get to indulge my love constantly, with the hodgepodge of cultures that make up our cuisine, and so my inspiration came immediately. I thought seafood. And I thought road less travelled.
The new (ok, maybe not so new) hotspot for fish and seafood is Port Royal, the infamous pirate and buccaneer port of call in Kingston. Locals venture the 30-minute drive to devour fried and steamed fish, fish soup, and conch. I, however, decided to stop at a spot 15 minutes into that drive, in Harbour View, at a collection of tarpaulin-and-wood tents, to visit my local fisherman friend, Gilly, and pop my oyster cherry.
Considering that I love food, it may seem surprising that I have never tried oysters. I am ashamed to admit the look and supposed texture completely turned me off. Yes, I was being completely judgmental. But I had heard that Gilly makes a mean grilled oyster and it was now or never.
Harbour View is perhaps just as known among locals for seafood, but the set-up is much more rustic and bare-bones than most places. Scavenging dogs can be seen running with Styrofoam boxes in their mouths, stalls with two of everything — from cranberry juice to cigarettes — stand ready to sell one of them, and a tiny television set blasts images from the bootleg DVD it’s showing. Hitched on the side of the road, right next to a roundabout, it seems an unlikely spot for lots of cars to pull up and chill. But it works: the vendors are out almost every night, and the people come.
I dragged my friend Barbara along (camerawoman extraordinaire) and by the time we were done, we had slurped our way through four dozen of those little things. Gilly had two different kinds of sauce, one sweet, the other spicy, made with thyme, pimento, carrots, scotch bonnet, vinegar and water. Barbara favoured the sweet, I, the spicy. Literally, we couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t believe I had run away from this tender, yummy scrumptiousness all this time. Granted, these weren’t raw but if oysters could taste this good, I needed to pay attention.
In true Top Chef fashion, I have to describe just what came together in such magical symphony on my tongue. The tender, juicy texture of the oysters, coupled with the supple smoky aroma from the grill, further enhanced by the tart, yet sweet piquant sauce: it was a triumvirate of culinary pleasure. There was velvet, and savory and a delicious burn. I think Padma and Tom would be proud.
The vendors at Harbour View have been at their current location for the past 15 years, Gilly for about 12 of those. After my four dozen oysters, I met one of Gilly’s long-time customers, who was downing oyster after raw oyster from a pile in front him. It turns out he was Gilly’s long-time customer for a reason. Actually there were six, and all of them boys. Nearby, I overhear some guys joking about long lasting sex and Viagra-esque side effects as a result of dining by Gilly’s. Next to me Barbara is looking dreamy with a mischievous grin on her face. I guess the fourth ingredient in grilled oysters has to be all the jokes about the aphrodisiac tendencies.
On my last batch, I tried a pale-pink hot sauce, and it was the kind that makes your lips burn when you exhale and the backs of your eyes tear up. I took care of it with an ice-cold Red Stripe. We settled our bill, a total of JM$940 — about US$10 — for three Red Stripes and four dozen bites of heaven. Can’t say fairer than that.
And, now, to see Kaci in action on her Thursday night food outing, check out this video.