A New Kind of Farm-to-Table Experience in Jamaica

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By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor

JAMAICA — It’s trendy right now for Caribbean resorts to talk about serving farm-to-table cuisine and encouraging guests to eating local. But often those same hotels are serving imported strawberries on the breakfast buffet; New Zealand lamb at dinner; and local cuisine only once a week.

Jamaica Inn, however, is putting its mouth where its mangerine (a Jamaican citrus fruit) is, offering guests weekly excursion to the nearby farmers’ market.

Every Friday chef Maurice Henry takes a group of culinarily curious guests five minutes east to a small clutch of stalls where they can see and sample island vegetables, fruit, herbs (no, not that kind!) and spices.

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Joining the tour a few weeks ago turned out to be not only an education (I’d never even heard of mangerines before then!) but also a return to the flavors of my childhood on the island as we tasted the sweet brown flesh of naseberries at their peak and chewed on woody stalks of sugarcane until they were paper-thin.

Coconut water and jelly straight from the green nut was a treat for American guests who’ve only ever seen it in cartons on the supermarket shelf, and the tart apple-like flavor of petite Apple bananas came as a delightful surprise to all of us. And I was thrilled to see again, for the first time in years, jackfruit, a large durian-like fruit with a pungent aroma and distinctive taste. Local lore, admittedly bizarre, says you shouldn’t carry transport it in a car because it’ll cause you to have a flat tire. Who knew?

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As we walked the grounds chef Maurice would explain the traditional uses of each unfamiliar item, at the same time picking produce to take back to the hotel kitchen to be prepared for our private cooking demonstration.

And that’s where the magic really happened, as the culinary master transformed his haul into a lunch of spicy escovitch snapper accompanied with roast breadfruit and the traditional fried cassava cakes called bammy. Although it was billed as just a tasting, we all found it flavorful and deliciously filling.

But I made sure to save room for dessert: some sweet and slippery pegs of fresh jackfruit that our van driver had risked his four tires to bring back.

Jamaica Inn’s farmers’ market tour, cooking demonstration and tasting is $20 per person.