A gastronomic tour to Portland
Red Stripe, the popular Jamaican beer brand, along with the Being Jamaican tour company, coordinated a gastronomic tour to the parish of Portland as part of an unveiling of Boston Jerk Centre’s new look. The trip was an engaging one that exposed its adventurers – made up of Red Stripe staff, its public relations team, media personalities, brand ambassadors, and influencers – to the history of the hillside thoroughfares, the communities traversed along the way, and the people who have contributed to Jamaica’s rich culinary culture.
Everywhere the bus stopped on its way was a new experience. Whether it was the cool hills by Castleton Gardens food stop or the diverse offerings at Boston Bay in Portland, to the hidden beach getaway in Norwich that’s not so much of a secret anymore, but is still part of a mystery of the parish, just a few minutes away.
BREAKFAST IN CASTLETON
The first stop was for breakfast in Castleton. “A single cup of porridge on an empty stomach is the secret to a long and healthy life,” so says Roland ‘Daniel’ Carr, who along with his partner owns and operates Del’s Delights in Castleton Gardens. “Normally, porridge finish by 8 a.m. and chicken starts on the fire to get ready for the noon lunch rush,” he said. It’s the first visible stall as cars turn the corner by Castleton Gardens. For the persons hunting for a savoury breakfast or brunch, Daniel also makes the effort to “chef up” traditional Jamaican cuisine, such as ackee and saltfish; steamed callaloo, served with pressed green plantains, flaky fried dumplings, and roasted breadfruit, as well as crispy fritters.
“We used to have hotdog, but we realise people want to taste the country flavours rather than grab a hotdog. Chicken and chips at lunchtime is a big seller, though,” Daniel shared. “Castleton is one community people should stop, and even the gardens remain a big attraction because of the rivers that meet here and the nature.”
Just a few footsteps away from Del’s Delight is Stephanie’s Soup Shop, which sells hot, steamy, seasoned crayfish soup, or red peas boiled to perfection with chicken foot and corn.
When the breezy days turn into cold nights, when the flu seems to be coming on or just “fi buss gas” as Stephanie, whose shop is at the centre of the Castleton Gardens food stop, told Food, “there is nothing like a hot cup of soup, full of flavour – pumpkin, janga (or crayfish) and red peas chicken foot does it best.” The Saturday tradition of cooking soup inspired her to open a soup shop, but she realises no matter the time of the day, drivers-by are always looking to warm their stomachs with one or more, or a mix, of her hearty soups.
BY THE BAY
The drive to Portland takes about two hours. The first thing visitors note about Portland is the white-sand beaches, lush mountain range, and rivers that calmly meet the sea, but there is one other attraction – the Boston Jerk Centre, which was recently refreshed by Red Stripe. There’s more than one stall providing jerked and grilled meats, from chicken and pork, to seafood, such as fish, shrimp, and lobster. Mickey’s Jerk Centre, one of the oldest shops – celebrating 40 years since it has been established – is the first to welcome everyone inside. The smell of jerk seasoning fills the air, but the smoke is manageable.
“Jerk and Portland are synonymous; jerk is very important because it adds value to our history and our tourism. No matter what time of day or night, people need food, [so] along with family, we continue to pay respect to Mickey, who is my uncle, and contribute our time and cooking skills to satisfying the appetites of those who pass through the parish,” said Osmund ‘Junior’ Wilson.
“The bestseller is the jerk pork and [pork] sausage. These are a must-have here at Mickey’s Jerk Centre,” he continued.
While pork sausage is a big seller, chicken sausage is gaining popularity, especially among the non-pork eaters, and Bumpy is right across the street with some on his mobile jerk cart, ready for anyone who wants to try it.
“The reason people choose chicken sausage is because it’s made different from the pork kind, too. Count on me to make chicken sausage with pure chicken that is removed from the bone, then rolled in foil with seasoned vegetables and smoked on the grill,” Bumpy shared. For 15 out of the 20 years that he has been doing jerk in Boston Bay, he has experimented and sold chicken sausage.
Little David’s Jerk Centre stands out painted blue, unlike all the other shops done in red and white. There is also a smoothie shack by the bay that utilises the names of popular Portland spaces, like the Blue Lagoon, for different mixtures.
According to Red Stripe Junior Brand Manager Arnaldo Martin, “Our brand always wants to be part of the initiative driving Jamaican culture. Boston is an iconic place; it represents a place of togetherness, friends, and family, enjoying food. And we love that and the cultural element, and we wanted to amplify it and be part of that.”
He added, “When a man is doing jerk, you can always be sure that a bottle of beer – Red Stripe – is being sprayed on the meats. It’s part of the tradition to bring flavours together, just as it brings people together.”
ONE STOP DRIVER
A contrast to the insights into Portland attractions is Oshea’s 876 Kitchen, which began its operations in February this year. Here, chef and owner Oshane Williams combines his love of cooking, Jamaican produce, and a passion for feeding hearts and souls to create an intimate setting where people can connect over food.
You can set up a private picnic on the beach and he will prepare a menu that speaks to you. The two-course menu is worth booking. A bonus to what seemed like a mere culinary tour, Oshea’s 876 Kitchen allowed the foodies to dive into specially prepared seafood dishes, featuring grilled lobster, curried conch, and escoveitch and steamed fish served, with a wide variety of sides. It was the final stop, and although everyone agreed that they had their fill; so much so that all that could be done after eating was play a round of dominoes or lay on the sand until the sunset.