Jamaican cuisine is a wonderful patchwork, and every dish and ingredient tells a story. From the Redware and Taíno peoples – the island’s earliest known settlers – to Spanish and British colonialists, enslaved African men and women brought to toil on the land, Indians, Chinese and many other peoples who have taken up residence on the island, everyone has left their mark.
But, without a doubt, it was the men and women from Africa, who came unwillingly to the Caribbean island during the transatlantic slave trade, who had the greatest influence on food and culture. of the island. The motto of the island is “of many, one people”. This sentiment also applies to food. For me, it’s one of the finest – and most unique – cuisines in the world.
Growing up, I missed a first-hand connection to my father’s island, but the food he cooked for us forged a connection. As a child, I listened with delight to his stories of childhood in Jamaica. I would try to situate myself in this country but, thousands of miles away, I couldn’t feel more different. Food descriptions have always transported me the best, providing clarity in a way nothing else could.
Mother land includes many familiar Jamaican dishes that we have cooked in my family, as well as some of my own recipes, rooted in island ingredients. After all, food is constantly changing. I like to think these recipes are a good starting point to explore, experiment and enjoy.
Homeland Recipes: A Jamaican Cookbook by Melissa Thompson (£26, Bloomsbury)
Ginger Beer Shrimp
“Shrimp,” as they are known on the island, have been a mainstay of the Jamaican diet since our knowledge of human history began. They were eaten by native Jamaicans; the Taíno reportedly fed Columbus a meal that included them. The sea and rivers remain a source of crustaceans to this day.
My idea for this dish came from Japanese tempura: sweet shrimp coated in a light and crispy batter is a dream combination. While tempura calls for sparkling water, ginger beer is a great alternative.