Third Course: A Fish Between Friends
We journey out of kingston and head southwest toward the fishing village of Hellshire Bay, known for its beach-side food stands and bars. It is an extra stop on our longer journey. Boston Bay, considered to be the true home of jerk, is an inlet on the northeast shore in the parish of Portland, one of 14 such distinct areas of the island. Carey tells me that fish, too -- prepared a myriad of ways -- is yet another integral ingredient in the recipe that is Jamaica. Snapper, blackfin tuna, parrotfish, kingfish and more are roasted, steamed, fried, jerked, curried or pickled in the local escoviche style, using a vinegar-based marinade.
For a taste, we'll stop for lunch at Prendy's. At four years old, Prendy's is a newcomer to the cluster of established food huts in the Hellshire enclave, but it is already a hot spot because proprietor Donnette Prendergast hosts a dance party from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. Today, a weekday, it is quiet, and I walk up to the counter to choose my fish from the fresh catch nestled in ice in a large cooler. I select a red snapper that I can have fried, roasted or steamed. "Fried," I say, as I join the cook in the kitchen, an open area with a long grill over a smoldering pimiento-wood fire. Taking up a long cutlass, the cook scrapes the skin to make sure no scales remain and then makes two slits on either side of the fish, into which he rubs a pinch of salt before tossing it into a vat of boiling oil.
"That's it?" I ask, amazed. In Trinidad, fish is usually washed with lemon juice and marinated in an elaborate sauce called "green seasoning," made of chopped herbs and garlic. "That's it," he says, scooping out my fi sh a few minutes later and handing it over on a plate with a side of bammy, a coconutmilk- soaked cassava cake that looks like a crumpet; and "festivals," a sweetened cornmeal fritter much like Italian zeppole. I slip into my place at a picnic table next to Carey and see he has chosen his fish steamed (which is actually simmered) with potatoes, carrots, okra, scallions, pepper, garlic, salt and a bit of pumpkin puree. It is arranged on a wide platter flanked by the large water crackers that are so popular here in Jamaica. My own fish, crispy outside and succulent within, is soon reduced to a pile of bones, and I eye Carey's plate hungrily. "Taste?" he asks, inclining his eyebrows a bit. "Do you mind?" I'm already picking up my fork. "Nah, man," he responds as I tuck into a bit of fish. It is delicate yet firm, like the friendship we're forming.