I am currently working on an interview-based project called, MY FOOD, which I host on my blog, Tastes Like Home. The aim is to find out how we as Caribbean people identify ourselves by our food. Understandably, the answers are varied, and enlightening. Earlier in the week, I posted a link on Facebook from National Public Radio’s The Splendid Table in which Jennifer Ho, Associate Professor in English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says, “Food plays a crucial role in how I identify as Chinese-Jamaican.” The following day I received an email from a reader asking, “What is a taste of home for you?”
It is funny, when you are so accustomed to being the one asking the questions, it always give you pause when the questions get directed at you. Some would think that I would have a ready answer, but I didn’t at the time, I needed to think. Over the years and at various stages of my life things have shifted, some have rearranged themselves and others get pushed aside, never cast away, but put in somewhere of less prominence. So my favourite foods have changed over time.
However, today I’d have to say that my taste of home is Rice and peas in three very different forms. Rice and peas cooked in thestyle of Bajan Rice and peas, Dhal and rice, and Stewed Peas and rice cooked in the style of Jamaican, Trini and the Eastern Caribbean, are a taste of home.
With the Bajan-style Rice and peas, I have merged the two places I call home—Guyana and Barbados—on one plate. I cook my Rice and peas with fresh coconut milk, and fresh Guyanese thyme just as we would do when making Guyanese Cook-up Rice. And for that specific taste of home I exclusively use pigeon peas, which is the signature peas for Bajan Rice and peas.
Dhal and rice, eaten with only achar is not only for me a taste of home and a part of my heritage, but I find it particularly comforting. I marvel at how an ingredient as simple as split peas gets transformed into a soup that is perfectly spiced with cumin (geera), mustard seeds and garlic. Squirting a little fresh lime juice or stirring in some pureed preserved limes elevates the dhal. Ladled over hot white rice with a dollop of spicy, fiery achar, one cannot help but get intimate with the food by eating with your hands. A spoon or fork cannot do justice to the fine art of mixing the food together.
Stew peas depending on where you are is made either with red kidney beans or red beans. Cooked low and slow with small chucks of salted meat—beef or pork—is not only comforting but it also feeds the soul. There is so much history tied up in that pot of stew. It is about taking the very little you have and creating something that not only nourishes but also stretches to feed many.
But what is it about rice and peas cooked in some form that makes it a taste of home for me? Nostalgia does not really a play a role here for me; I think it is more about what I think these dishes
represent for us as Caribbean people. Each dish is simple, yet complex, so are we. Each dish requires skill and patience; we have that and don’t let me start to count the ways! The creation of these dishes shows resourcefulness, our ability to take the little we have and turn it into something sumptuous, food that nourishes. Being
resourceful is like second nature to us. Rice and peas cooked in any form provides necessary carbohydrates and protein that nourishes. Genius.
What is a taste of home for you?