Saturday, October 5, 2013

Jamaican Food and Recipes - YUM!!

There’s a lot more to Jamaican cuisine than just Jerk Chicken and Curry Goat.

Top row: Callaloo, oxtail. Bottom row: beef kidney, cow foot

Patties are also a very popular fast food in Jamaica. They’re similar to meat turnovers, with many different fillings. One of the most famous patty shops is called Juici.

Jamaicans like to cook with soup mixes. A very popular one is called Cock Soup. No one in Jamaica seemed to find the name funny, but I did. The slogan “A Me Dis,” is patois for “This is me.”

I like tropical fruits, so I was happy with the wide variety available. I even found a favorite I discovered in Thailand called Jack Fruit, but it was expensive and hard to find.

It’s interesting how they sell motor oil at the fruit stand. I like the star fruit and sour sop, fruits I know from Thailand, Mexico and Dominican Republic. I bought a nice papaya to put in the blender with milk, ice and a little sugar. Papaya milkshakes are so yummy, but the Jamaican family I was staying with had never tried them before.

The national fruit of Jamaica is called Ackee. It’s reputed to have arrived from West Africa along with the slaves. Ackee grows in a tree and looks like you could eat it raw, but don’t try. It’s much better cooked and scrambled with dried codfish.

Here’s cooked Ackee served with boiled plantains, a popular dish for breakfast.

Another favorite is coconut water, right out of the shell. After drinking the juice, I always ask to have the coconut split open so I can spoon out the coconut jelly, as the soft white coconut meat is called in Jamaica.

Just in the last few years, Jamaican farmers have figured out how to grow sorrel all year round. Sorrel is a type of hibiscus which is called “jamaica” in Mexico and is used to make tea. The Jamaicans also make a fermented drink from sorrel, mixed with ginger and rum.

Traveling around the island of Jamaica we got to try different kinds of food. Here's the breakfast cook in the small coastal town of Lucie, not far from Negril.

Breakfast was tasty and hearty, but a lot of different kinds of starches: plantains,
Dumpling, yam, and breadfruit, with a delicious fish stew and calaloo.

At a waterfront restaurant in Port Morant.

We should have ordered only one fish dinner, but we had no idea it was going to be so much food. So I ordered a mixed vegetable plate too, only to discover that the fish dinner comes with mixed veggies also. Notice the “Ting,” a Jamaican soda that many Jamaicans remember from childhood, which is something like Sprite. The large dish of red beans and rice, which Jamaicans call peas and rice, is served with almost every meal.

In Lucie I tried a peanut porridge which tasted way better than it sounds or looks.

Needless to say, no one goes hungry in Jamaica.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kingston, Jamaica

Back in 1997 I had the opportunity to visit Jamaica for two weeks. The first week I taught squash at the Couples Resort in Ocho Rios, in exchange for an all-inclusive stay for my cousin Zack and me. Mostly we hung out at the resort, swimming, sailing, eating, drinking, making friends, and playing squash. We also took a day trip to Dunn’s River Falls. The second week I ventured out on my own to explore the rest of the island. My best memories are the Bob Marley House in Kingston and the town of Port Antonio.

I wasn’t planning on going back to Jamaica, but that was before I met someone from Jamaica. By coincidence, he’s from Port Antonio, my favorite town. He’d already been planning a trip back home to visit family and friends, so I hopped onboard for the ride.

We arrived at Kingston International Airport on October 2, 2013.  I was happy to see this poster about respecting the environment.

The University of the West Indies in Jamaica is one of the premier universities in the Caribbean. Jamaica prides itself on education, star athletes including Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, Bob Marley and reggae music, rum, white sandy beaches, and last but not least, their Olympic bobsled team, featured in the film "Cool Runnings."

Of course, the most famous Jamaican worldwide is Robert Nestor Marley, more commonly known as Bob. The funny thing is, Bob Marley is more popular in other countries. Rastafarians are the minority in Jamaica and dreadlocks are not as common as foreigners believe.

Each year, the Jamaicans celebrate Heroes Day, honoring 7 heroes including one woman, Nanny of the Maroons (center), who fought the British in guerrilla warfare from the Cockpit Mountains. Paul Bogle (left) is supposed to have led a demonstration in Morant Bay, which was classified as a rebellion by the British. Bogle was later convicted and hanged for this demonstration. The international airport is named for Norman Manley (right) who was a later prime minister and cousin of Bustamante and father of Michael Manley, another prime minister.

(left to right): 1. The first Jamaican prime minister after independence in 1962 was Alexander Bustamante. 2. George William Gordon was a Quaker who was executed along with Paul Bogle in Port Morant. 3. Marcus Garvey was blacklisted in American for his early work in civil rights activism in the U.S. and Jamaica. 4. Sam Sharpe, an abolitionist, instigated the 1831 Slave Rebellion and was hung a year later. By 1838, slavery was outlawed in Jamaica, nearly 30 years before Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S.

It’s obvious that the Jamaicans value education. Everywhere you look you see neatly groomed school kids in uniform.

There are also a lot of billboards and ads for alarm systems in Kingston, with photos like this one with scary-looking guards. Overall, I didn’t feel any threat while traveling around Jamaica, although I'm sure there are neighborhoods I shouldn’t go into. We passed by the famous Trench Town where Bob Marley spent part of his life, but we didn't walk around.

As I mentioned, Jamaicans are famous for success in athletics. The two most popular sports are football (called soccer in the U.S.) and cricket, which they learned as a British colony.

Emancipation Park was built in 2002 on the 40th anniversary of Jamaican independence from England.

These huge statues represent the free men and women of Jamaica. It’s hard not to notice how well-endowed the models are.

We also made a trip to the Kingston Zoo.  The review online made the zoo sound really bad, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was quite clean and the animals appeared well cared for.

Altogether we spent a week or more in Kingston, mostly doing family stuff. We spent another week making a big loop through the hills to Port Antonio and back along the coast through Port Morant. And the last week we traveled around the rest of the perimeter of the island, including the beach resorts of Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turkey by Train

I'm crazy about trains. I have been all my life and my daughter Maya was too. Even as a toddler she would get excited and say "Choo Choo, Choo Choo," whenever the Roaring Camp train would pass by our house, and we would run out to wave at the tourists. She was crazy about Thomas the Tank Engine. While most Americans rarely travel by train, little Maya, Daniel and I took the train to DC for her first Christmas. And when she was two years old I got us a month pass on Amtrak so we went up to Seattle, Montana and Pennsylvania by train.

So when I heard that Turkey has trains, I decided I would leave my friends with the rented van, and strike off on my own by train. My new friend Gwenn also likes trains, so she decided to join me. We've been having a great time, first on a 5-hour trip from Kars to Erzurum, where we spent a day. Then we took the 20-hour overnight train to Ankara where we're staying in Phyllis' apartment while she and Marna are still exploring northeastern Turkey. Phyllis wasn't very encouraging about the quality of train travel in Turkey, but Gwenn and I were pleasantly surprised. The train is comfortable, scenic, and very reasonable priced.

View from the train. Notice the Turkish crescent and star on the windows. Very cool.

Hurrying to catch the train

Passing idyllic settings and quaint towns

At first we had the whole train car to ourselves. More passengers boarded as we rode from Kars to Erzurum, but it never even got half full.

More passengers boarding the train.

We passed beautiful old bridges along the way.

Most of the Turkish train stations are painted yellow, my favorite color.

We even got some great views of some castles. This one was at Hasankale. Kale means "castle" in Turkish.

And of course every village had at least one mosque with its towering minarets.
Much of Turkey is agricultural. It reminded me of California's Joaquin Valley.

Turkey's emblem reminds me of Cat Steven's song "The Boy with the Moon and Star on his Head."

There it is again, like seeing red, white and blue all over the US.

The bathrooms on the train were quite clean, but try squatting on a rocking train.

Gwenn took 600 pix on our two train trips.

Okay, so I liked the window etching.

The train follows the Euphrates River for hours and hours. So breathtaking.

I was impressed at the renovation of the train tracks. The ride was really smooth.

The Euphrates again.

More track improvement.

The food in the dining car was great and not expensive.

We had a lentil soup.

And we shared a chicken kebab dinner. Yum!

If you ever travel in Turkey, be sure to do some of your exploring by train!