Jerking it All Over Town – Jamaican eats
Jamaican eats in this part of the world are as elusive as social order in Surrey or a white guy in Richmond. In fact, other than the rare dastardly Toronto expat, the locals here seem to know nothing of Jamaican food other than there’s something called ,”Jerk”. However, most have no actual knowledge of what exactly jerk is or where it can be obtained. Thus it remains largely enigmatic and intangible like “truth”, “justice”, “love”, amicable service in a Chinese restaurant, or a Burger King employee who has written a thesis. An all-knowing sorcerer like Lo Pan is not ignorant of such matters and will throw some Marley on the stereo, light up a fat spliff and elucidate “Jerk” to all you straight laced Vancouverites busy clambering to the newest vegan coffee shop to discuss the TV shows about cupcakes and celebrity karaoke.
Ignoring the more upscale fushiony joints (Calabash, The Reef) likely to be recommended by such laughable Canadian charlatans as Snow or Sean Paul, Lo Pan set out to discover Jerk from some true Jamaicans. A phone call to that dirty cheater Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson, and to that beyond- lame, never-was comedian, Doug E. Doug , yielded 3 findings: The Lion’s Den, Riddim n Spice, and Jamaican Pizza Jerk. These sounded promising indeed.
Let the quest for some good Jerk commence!!!
The Lion’s Den is a strangely endearing little nook featuring a big, burly, furry, roaring creature ……….
…………………………………………………………………………….the owner, Ken. There is also a giant stuffed lion. Ken is a true Jamaican complete with his obsequious Japanese wife/ fellow owner. They are a wacky odd couple not too unlike Lemon and Mathau. Not sure which one would be which.
Anyways, another Jamaican specialty long known to Lo Pan is the Jamaican meat patty. Sadly, up to this point the only version Lo Pan had tried was a sad, flaccid version served from a 7-11 microwave at 4am on a lonely stretch of highway. The beef patty here was flavorful, not greasy, and far from flaccid. Texturally the filling was a little taco bell-ish in that it was mushy rather than meaty. Lo Pan’s powers of detection deduce that this was not house made but it was cheap and ample and Lo Pan did quite enjoy it overall.
Jerk chicken is traditionally grilled over wood, yielding beautiful black grill char: a sight that would inspire Lo Pan to jerk it indeed. The Jerk chicken at the Lion’s den arrived very wet and pale: A sight not quite inspiring Lo Pan to start jerking it right then and there.A bite of the jerk slapped Lo Pan with a good wallop of flavor. The spiciness slightly underwhelming at first, crept up much like Lo Pan crept up on miss Kidman to eventually result in some hot, delicious, juicy love. Fresh onions, bell peppers and fiery scotch bonnet peppers were very prominent giving a brighter, fruiter heat as opposed to a dry chili heat. The baked chicken was fall apart tender and overall good but still leaving Lo Pan with a little desire for some more charred colour and flavor: Think a young Halle Berry.
The Oxtail was also sampled and fell a little short of the mark. It was a bit watery and the flavours weren’t quite pleasing or developed enough. The rice and peas also tasted microwaved and were predictably dry and less than stellar.
Prices are super cheap, so considering you can have a wet young Nicole Kidman for only 7 bucks this is a worthy meal if you stick with the jerk.
Riddim n Spice is up next. This is a place that can only be described as a hole-in-the-wall. Lo Pan and Mao Yin love nothing more than a good hole-in-the-wall so we were instantly jovial as we entered and we were “holla-ed at” by a stout black head peering out from the kitchen window. Lo Pan, not quite hip enough wasn’t completely sure if he should “holla back” so to speak. The obligatory Marley was on both the walls and stereo and veggie patties were soon consumed. The patties were about on par with the Lion’s Den’s in that they were good enough to satisfy.
The jerk at Riddim n Spice is also oven baked but it had a nice dark gloss more in line with Halle than Nicole so Lo Pan was quite enticed indeed. The chicken was juicy and sweet with an almost teriyaki-like quality. Having a huge nostalgic love for teriyaki, Lo Pan enjoyed this chicken thoroughly. The skin was not crisp but sticky and yummy. Spice-wise, some would find it lacking but the death hot sauce could certainly provide the remedy for that.
Mao Yin had the chicken curry and enjoyed it a lot. Definitely not hot or as complex as an Indian curry, it was rich and better than most Caribbean curries we’ve tried. The rice and peas were much better here than The Lion’s Den and again prices were super cheap.
Lo Pan approves! Ben Johnson approves! Snow and Sean Paul were nowhere to be found! Lo Pan need not say more.
Completing Lopan’s trilogy of Jerkery is, Jamaican Pizza Jerk.Lo Pan was feeling a bit munchy from a freshly sucked-back spliff and in such a state he wants his pizza meaty, cheesy and sloppy. Needless to say he did not partake in the pizza but decided to jerk it once again. This jerk was again oven baked but was definitely the blackest of the bunch. Picture Naomi Campbell in her hay day. Indeed the chicken had a great charred flavor but of course conversely was a little drier than the previous versions. There was a lot of requisite jerk spice and it was indeed worthy.
Where Jamaican Pizza Jerk excelled above the others, was in the side salad, rice and beans. The salad had an awesome tangy dressing and great fresh crunch. The rice had a coconut flavor which Lo Pan enjoyed but Mao Yin is a rice purist and prefers hers straight up. The weakest part of the meal was the veggie patty which was so-so. Service was slow but the host was the genuine article and quite the cook. The menu was also the most interesting of the bunch including daily specials like goat curry, cow’s foot, and brown stewed chicken. Definitely recommended for some quality inspiration to jerk it.
So there you have it loyal readers. A trio of jerkable jerks to wet your feet in the Carribean waters with. Next time one of your Vancouver hipster, vegan co-workers wants to hit up JJ Bean for lunch, I say “to hell with him” and send him to the hell where skinny jeans are burned in massive bonfires and all the sinners are force fed blazingly spicy hot jerk until they cry agony for all eternity. And all the while you watch it all from your cozy hole-in-the-wall with a happily full belly and purple hazy brain.