You know how it is when you ask a local, “Where should I eat?” and they always direct you to what they consider to be the best restaurant in town and it never is? It’s just expensive and formal and the place where maybe the locals go when they’re celebrating an anniversary or something, but it’s not really where you’d go to get real food, what I call the food of the people. And on this, my last day in Jamaica, I don’t want fancy food; I want the food of the people.
So what I do is ask Lincoln where he goes to eat. “You don’t want to go there,” he says, laughing.
“It’s just not where tourists go,” he says. “In fact, tourists don’t even know it exists.”
Perfect, I tell him. Let’s go.
So much against his better judgment, Lincoln takes me to a little fishing village near the airport called White House. “Everyone from MoBay come here for fresh fish,” he tells me as he parks the Town Car in a dusty, dirty lot beneath the shade of a sprawling avocado tree.
There are several places we might go in White House, Lincoln says, but they’re all pretty much the same. These are the very modest homes of fishermen. Early in the morning, the men go out in small boats and catch what they can, bringing it back to their wives and daughters who cook it up for locals in tiny eight- or ten-table cafes on the bottom floor of their homes.
Lincoln says Rosie’s is good and sometimes he likes to go to Baba Joe’s or Sucko’s. “But I guess my favorite is Evelyn’s,” he says, so that’s where we go.
We walk through Evelyn Ramcharan’s home, right through the kitchen and living room where her granddaughter is playing with a headless doll, and out to the patio with its broken concrete floor painted dark green, and sit on broken plastic chairs at a wooden table that is less than ten feet from the turquoise-colored Caribbean. While we’re looking at the menu, which is just a handwritten sheet of paper, the young couple next to us, having already ordered, strip off their outerwear revealing swimsuits and hop in the sea for a swim while they wait for their lunch.
Lincoln orders the steamed fish and I get the local lobster. Now there is absolutely nothing special about Evelyn’s—except the food. Which is simple but extraordinary. Lincoln’s steamed red snapper is topped with fresh yellow peppers, onions, and big chunks of bright green okra.
“You see?” Lincoln says, pointing at his plate. “What I tell you at the market? You order steam fish and not get okra, it’s not steam fish.”
My lobster, dressed up with lightly sautéed peppers and onions, tastes cleanly of the sea and the sweet butter it was sautéed in. Some homemade coleslaw, a side of rice and peas (“peas” being red kidney beans), and two frosty Red Stripes—it’s the best meal I’ve had on the island and costs less that $20.
After lunch, we stop at a roadside stand where two little girls, no more than 10, are selling watermelons, small pineapples, and bags of peeled and sliced sugar cane, straight from the field. After a meal, Lincoln says, you chew a bit of sugar cane. “To aid in digestion and cleanse the mouth.”
“I thought that was what rum was for,” I say.
He laughs. That works too, he says. He drives slowly through the verdant countryside past little makeshift stands where children sell clumps of quinep, luscious sweetsop, jellies, mangos, jars of honey, salted fish, and even fresh lobster. Food of the people.
I guess we should head back to the resort, he says.
I am most reluctant to end our afternoon and my trip. “I don’t suppose you know anyplace around here where we might get a Q and jelly,” I say.
Lincoln chuckles and nods his head. “Just might,” he says. “Just might.”
And that’s just what we do.