Rooting for the Flava

Rooting for the Flava
Cover of 'Original Flava',

The diasporic tastebud can be so much more demanding of authenticity than the folks back ‘home’, it concentrates the flavours—sorry, that’s ‘flava’, to underscore the Jamaican roots—and the very culinary vocabulary, literal and figurative

Manidipa Mandal
May 08 , 2020
03 Min Read

So it is that the McAnuff brothers from South London make a point of having grown up in a Caribbean kitchen which has led to a book of recipes ‘From Home’, which is definitely not an English space. That mandate makes the nice ackee, rice, saltfish, the goat curry and jerk chicken inevitable classics, though admittedly the teaching comes a lot from travelling in Jamaica, to see and cook with family purportedly. There’s personal nostalgia by the ladlefuls too, for this is a culinary reclaiming and not merely a roster of recipes: Shaun’s Easter memories of Grandma’s carrot juice and fried fish, the sorrel and Guinness punch filling up the fridge at Christmas, shopping for goat meat on the bone and soaking ‘peas’ (Jamaican for red kidney beans, our own rajma), and Craig’s frequent forays into the patois (‘big up di wifey’ and ‘If you want good tings ya nose affi’ run’). 

Nanny Mitchell is introduced, the first off the boat, to put her seal of approval on the project—she is the real born-in-Jamaica fount of flava, and the reminder of being so much more distinct from the Cockney in times when signs said ‘No Blacks or Irish allowed’ and several families shared not just a bathroom but the kitchen with strangers, dropping 10p in the gas to make Saturday soup. Auntie Eloise turns up a lot as well. There’s glimpses of Jamaica today, like a look in the schoolroom. 

But diasporic experience also changes home flavours another way: home becomes a larger space. Where actually living in India, you distinguish your table by your own regional and cultural dishes, the diasporic Indian often embraces more of pan-Indian traditions than that parochial narrow menu. Similarly, the McAnuffs assimilate Rastafarian culture, adding a chapter on Ital vegan dishes (and more recently, plating up a whole vegan cookbook too). The diaspora also aren’t immune to an injection from their contemporary cultural space: witness the Brit–Caribbean breakfast bowl. 

Will you, the Indian reader be able to bring the original flava home, though? More than you might suspect, given the Indian influence on Caribbean cooking (callaloo is only taro and sometimes amaranth leaves, and you remember the Gungo peas?); but not entirely with authenticity, for Harry Belafonte is the closest you might come to actual ackee and saltfish while proper pimento and Scotch bonnets cost a pretty penny in a posh mall-markethall (though you can sub in Kashmiri chilli powder and Naga chillies). Your tandoor won’t smoke the jerk anything just right. Also, er, the beef patties and oxtail soup will need to be kept under wraps (or at least put a lid on talking about it). But some of it is truly going to be new and easy and stirring (one way or another): the mackerel rundown served with a green banana, the Nuff Tings, peanut porridge, Ital juice for breakfast; the rib-tickling honey mac ‘n’ cheese and the green banana potato salad and the crustless callaloo quiche; the Doubles that are Jamaica’s own chana-kulcha; the curry crab and dumplings for lunch (so different and so same- same to Singapore’s mantou and chilli crab); the Rasta plaintain beanburger for the Veganuary convert; the curry ‘mutton’ pie and BBQ rum for a party; the mannish water and even the Pepper Pot Soup with paya maybe instead of chicken feet or pig tails. Wash ‘em down with stout shake and sorrel. Chase it with toto and coconut drops or gizzada pastry. And yes, learn a good dollop of the lingo. Everyting is irie mon


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