Su­mayya Us­mani vis­its Haiti

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

STROLLING past the chameleon premises on a busy cor­ner of Ed­in­burgh’s Toll­cross, I see that they have an­other new pro­pri­etor. I’ve lost count of the busi­nesses that have come and gone here – Ital­ian, Iraqi, In­dian, Sri Lankan – and now it’s Ja­maican, or at least Caribbean, in the form of Trench­town So­cial. Big and bold, its win­dow sig­nage prom­ises “Rid­dims”, “Rum”, and “Jerk!”. One big ex­pan­sive sign asks: “Wah gwan?” (what’s go­ing on) in Ja­maican pa­tois. There’s a con­fi­dence about this place, as if it’s here to stay.

I walk in­side to check out the menu. In­ter­nally it’s been trans­formed. There’s a bar now, and the whole place has been made over like a weath­ered rum shack on some heav­enly Caribbean beach, a touch of Death In Par­adise, spiced up with graf­fiti that Banksy might ap­prove of: gi­ant im­ages of Bob Mar­ley, and the strut­ting cock­erel from Cock­spur rum. It’s blast­ing out dance­hall: Kon­shens’s Bruk Off, if I’m not mis­taken. I’m wel­comed by two very cool guys who might even be Ja­maican, as op­posed to play­ing at be­ing Ja­maican, and within se­conds, my nos­trils start twitch­ing. This place smells so damn good, of freshly roast and ground spices. Be­cause I re­cently made my own Ja­maican curry pow­der from scratch, I’m pick­ing out sim­i­larly earthy notes, of dried ginger, mus­tard seed, fenu­greek, all­spice. It’s over­laid with the un­mis­tak­able aroma of in­tox­i­cat­ingly ad­dic­tive Scotch bon­net chill­ies. My mouth wa­ters. I re­turn that evening.

I rel­ish the way Caribbean cooks sea­son up a fish with wet spice pastes – they make Euro­pean treat­ments of fish seem bor­ing – but even so, I’m won­der­ing whether the red snap­per, which is un­likely to be fresh, is a wise choice, but the risk pays off. It’s amaz­ing how we can still taste the thick, fresh-tast­ing fil­let un­der this ex­plo­sion of thyme and yel­low Scotch bon­net in­side the parch­ment and foil pack­age. When the chilli heat builds up, we turn to the juicy slices of fresh mango and cres­cent moons of fresh co­conut, or the aro­matic rice, and the minty, still pi­quant, but over­all cool­ing, pineap­ple and lime “chow” that ac­com­pany it.

The jerked pork belly takes me right back to the jerk I tasted at the world renowned jerk pits of Bos­ton Bay, in Jamaica: that melt-in-the-mouth spici­ness, that lin­ger­ing aroma of charred wood. Its vine­garedged, am­ber-hued sauce and slip­pery pink pick­led onion cuts the rich­ness of the siz­zled fat, and soak into the sweet potato mash. Emol­lient, crunchy coleslaw dot­ted with seeds (nigella, per­haps?) mel­lows the pro­ceed­ings. Trinida­dian green sea­son­ing, a gin­gery co­rian­der sauce, fresh­ens it up. It amounts to an­other plate and a half of won­der­ful­ness.

Curry goat – here an­gli­cised to “goat curry” – is more of the gen­uine ar­ti­cle. The meat is gelati­nous enough to re­main suc­cu­lent even though its lean flesh is ten­der. Its turmer­ictinged sauce has a lusty mas­cu­line qual­ity that suf­fuses the cus­tom­ary chopped pota­toes in it. We soak ev­ery last bit of gravy up with “rice and peas” (long grain rice and red kid­ney beans cooked in co­conut milk with thyme, spring onions, pep­per­corns, and gar­lic).

Of course, we most cer­tainly don’t need to eat the “fes­ti­val”, Jamaica’s fa­mous corn­meal dumplings, but we have to check them out. They’re dense and stick to the teeth, with greasy, crunchy out­sides, ex­actly how they should be. And as an an­ti­dote to this fried carb, a sta­ple in Caribbean cook­ing, we de­mol­ish a salad with av­o­cado, rib­bons of raw car­rot and squash, mango, golden beet­root and crunchy gem, dressed with fresh lime and or­ange. Caribbean food is def­i­nitely stick-to-the-ribs stuff, but leav­ened by the “ital” (vi­tal) think­ing of the Rasta­far­ian plant food diet, Jamaica’s con­tri­bu­tion to “clean eat­ing” long be­fore that term be­came fash­ion­able.

If you’re a wimp with chilli, Trench­town So­cial’s un­com­pro­mis­ingly au­then­tic heat might tax you, but I rec­om­mend that you go into train­ing; it’s worth the ef­fort be­cause this food is the real thing. The playlist is bang­ing – dance­hall, Afrobeats, Hip Hop – and the rum cock­tails are guar­an­teed to kick start the pro­ceed­ings. As they say in “Ja”, Trench­town So­cial is now serv­ing “big tings”; you’d be ad­vised to get along there.

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