Why buy it?
The hot, vibrant and rich foods of the Caribbean are fast making their way to Australia, hitching a ride on the current wave of Latin fare and dishes from America’s Deep South. In the UK, by contrast, Caribbean cuisine has a long tradition thanks to a large migrant population from the country’s former colonies, including Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana, where author Jonathan Phang’s family lived for generations before his parents settled in London prior to his birth.
Fashion enthusiasts may recognise Phang’s name from around the traps; he’s a judge on Britain’s and Ireland’s Next Top Model. Don’t let that undermine his food credentials; he also hosts the eponymous Jonathan Phang’s Caribbean Cookbook for the Travel Channel and he writes about the food of his childhood with engaging conviction.
Phang’s foreword takes the reader back to his great great grandfather’s era, highlighting the melting pot of cultures – East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, African, European and indigenous Amerindian – that form the Caribbean’s unique tapestry, and recounts his family’s move to the UK. Between chapters are more stories of family and friends. While less interesting than the preface, they will appeal to food memoir enthusiasts. Recipe intros could also do with less nostalgia if you’re after more background information on the region’s food; however, the selection of dishes is broad and draws from across the Caribbean belt. All in all, an easy introduction to this soon-to-be hit cuisine.
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These are home-style recipes, with straightforward methods and techniques. What readers may struggle is with ingredients – a few oils, chillies and chilli sauces are not widely available in Australia. However, you should be able to source them from specialist bricks-and-mortar or online stores, or receive suggestions for substitutions.
Jerk chicken – ’cause it’s the quintessential Caribbean dish. Phang also puts up a compelling case for garlic pork, Portuguese-inspired fare and the national dish of his homeland, Guyana. The garlic-laden dish is traditionally served on Christmas morning “with a nip of gin to cut through its richness”.
Most surprising dish
If you’ve never travelled through the Caribbean, you may be shocked to learn that mac ‘n’ cheese graces many tables. Typically served as a side to grilled fish or roasts and on its own with salad, it's a dish whose taste and body seem at odds with the tropical heat; yet, like many ostensibly incongruous Caribbean dishes, it works. Phang includes two recipes for this regional favourite.
They are words that will resonate with almost every food lover, particularly those of mixed heritage: “In my twenties, just as my mother had before me, I began to cook to reminisce and to heal. The ritual of cooking became a profound expression of who I am. It also enabled me to have a deeper understanding of my rich culinary heritage.”
Cookbook-memoir lovers; ahead-of-the trends cooks; soon-to-be (or returned) visitors of the Caribbean; spice and fried food aficionados.
Cook the book
Discover what Caribbean cuisine is all about with these four easy recipes.
The Pepperpot Club: A Celebration of Caribbean Cuisine, Jonathan Phang (Hardie Grant, $49.95, hbk).
Don't miss Jonathan Phang's Gourmet Express, starts Thursday 8 May at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.