Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Rice and Peas
At first, the news that a West Indian restaurant was about to open in our backyard caused a little thrill of excitement, then I remembered that West Indian food depends on ingredients which were available to cheaply feed the slaves on plantations, and - it being hot there - consists of staples like salt fish, jerked beef (stop it, John) and goat curry to keep as long as possible.
I lived with a Jamaican family for a few years in the 1970s, and would often chat to the matron of the house over a glass or two of lethally strong rum, brought back when you could take pints of liquid in glass bottles on planes.
The chats would consist mainly of her pining for the food and weather of her island, and how she had but to step out of the picturesque shack near the blue sea and simply reach up to pull a mango from a huge tree right next to it. She liked her food and it showed.
In those days, there was a West Indian grocer quite close to where we lived, and it was run by a stern ex-pat called Mr Johnson. Not knowing how to prepare a classic West Indian meal, or how to use the strong-smelling spices that filled the dark shop with a rich and exotic miasma, I hardly ever went in there, but when I did I was always greeted by a group of about six or seven old men who seemed to use the place as a meeting-house.
Cans of 'Dunn's River' produce were stacked high on the shelves, and I didn't even know what they were either. I was attracted by one can of liquid simply called 'Nourishment' and was staggered to read the ingredients on the label - it seemed to contain every single mineral and vitamin known to modern science. I asked one of the old men what it was supposed to be used for.
"That's for when you're not up to the job", he explained, and the rest all laughed. I bought a round canon-ball of a cake which weight almost as much as a steel one, and it took me a couple of weeks to finish it.
Not liking Sweet Potato much, or 'Ladies Fingers' at all, I came to the conclusion that the eating of West Indian food in Britain was best left to West Indians, who seem to hanker for it when it is unavailable - a bit like old public schoolboys hanker after steam roly-poly.
Well now there is to be a restaurant dedicated to it, right on our doorstep. It will be exciting to give it a try, but the cost of setting up a huge restaurant and bar in a town like Bath probably means that it will not be cheap, and that in itself means that it will probably fail by Christmas, especially since there are not enough first-generation West Indians left in Bath to frequent it nightly, even if it was inexpensive.
I am hoping that the owners will be proper brown-skinned people with at least some genuine West Indian lineage and not a bunch of white Londoners with more money than sense, but time will tell. Probably a very short amount of time.
Right now, my biggest fear is that these huge extractors they have just installed on the roof outside might well fill our compact but adorable city apartment with both noise and smoke for 20 hours of the day, 7 days of the week.