Being in L.A., there are few things I miss more about my time in New York than some mind-blowing Crown Heights Caribbean food, and Jamaican food in particular.
It’s no surprise that I’ve taken on the daunting task of finding some quality West Indian food out West, and as a result have had to really think hard about the things that always stood out among my favorites back in BK and brief visit to the island.
These criteria ended up being very clearly defined and have helped me sort quickly through handfuls of online menus and Yelp pages as I hone in on the most promising options in L.A.
That’s a whole other piece for a future post. But in the meantime, it’s my duty to share with you my rules to a bangin’ Jamaican food experience on any coast, and I encourage your own criteria, your debate, hateration, big up, or what have you!
1. Festival bread
You ever go to a Jamaican spot and ask if they have festival and whoever you ask actually looks super depressed to tell you they do not. They know what’s up. Great Jamaican food has a lot of heat, and sugar and fat have always been welcome guests to help cool that fire. Festival is the perfect combo of both, and a must-have for the best-of’s.
2. The jerk
For the obvious pick, the jerk chicken. It’s a staple of the Jamaican restaurant so it’s got a lot of work to do to stand apart. It’s got to be hot, with just enough sweetness and acidity; and super moist. If it’s not the most popular item in the restaurant, it is allowed to be the second (see below). And never too saucy; if it’s dripping like BBQ, it aint worth the mess.
3. The oxtail
Their oxtail should always be jostling with jerk for best item on the menu. Plenty of places will fess up right away that their oxtail is better than their jerk. If oxtail doesn’t even come up, something’s wrong.
4. The rice and peas
Also-rans are satisfied just checking the RnP box, but it is a critical component of any high performing spot. Great rice and peas, should be packed with flavor, fluffy and moist – not rubbery and dry with discrete essence of coconut. And the darker the rice, usually the better it is.
5. Rum punch
Does this unfairly D.Q. many legit and authentic venues right off the bat? Absolutely. And if their food and/or sorrel and/or sea moss is incredible, believe I’ll be singing about it. But to crack the upper echelons of Jamaican restaurants, I’m looking for the full experience, and a punch – even a decent one – is part of that. Whisk me away and I’ll whisk yall in my Top five any day.
So them’s the rules IMHO. What do yall think? Have yall had similar experiences? Let me know!