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Jamaica: Gratto Bread

Jamaica: Gratto Bread

Jamaicans love bread, it’s a staple of our diet, and we have several types. Our hardo bread (hard dough) goes with everything from condensed milk to bully beef, and creamy Anchor butter. The soft, buttery coco bread seems even tastier when it’s enveloping a hot and highly spiced patty.

Peg bread does well with a mug of tea; duck bread is a must at Christmas time, and bammy (cassava bread) and gratto bread aren’t complete unless they’re accompanied by fried fish – especially sprat with the gratto.

When my aunt visited us a few Christmases ago, she brought a list of the foods she had to have while she was home. It included otaheiti apples, gratto bread and fried sprat.

Jamaica: Gratto Bread

Freshly baked gratto bread

I hadn’t seen gratto bread in many years and when my aunt mentioned it, I thought immediately of my childhood and my grandmother who would buy gratto from a bread van that passed by her house with breads and other freshly baked goods a few times a week. But I wasn’t sure where I’d find gratto so I checked with my neighbor.

You’ll have to go to a bakery (rather than the supermarket), she said. It took us a few days and a few bakeries before we found one that sold gratto bread. (One of my aunt’s friends brought her otaheiti apples from her garden but we didn’t find sprat until the evening before we drove her to her next destination.)

What’s Gratto Bread?

The word gratto (sometimes gatto), according to the Dictionary of Jamaican English (Cassidy and LePage), is from the French, gateau. I haven’t been able to find out more about the French connection or the origins of this bread, which the dictionary says “is rolled out flat, folded over, then folded again to produce four layers which are then boiled (or usually) baked.” It seems only a few bakeries still make it.

When the gratto finally arrived, it didn’t look familiar and no matter how much I searched my brain, I couldn’t retrieve an image of the one my grandmother used to buy. This was square, the size and shape of a small sheet cake. There were holes on the edges and in the center, likely to vent it while it baked.

It didn’t look familiar to my aunt either. The gratto bread she remembers had a cornmeal filling. Goes to show that even on an island the size of Jamaica, foods can vary between regions. Despite not recognizing the gratto bread, my aunt was so excited to try it, I barely had time to take a photo before she cut a piece off.

It tasted slightly sweet but the texture was similar to the dense, hardo bread that we normally eat. Although it didn’t have the cornmeal filling that she remembered and she didn’t fried sprat to go with it, my aunt enjoyed her gratto bread and I felt very happy that she was able to cross that off her list.

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Negril’s Rick’s Cafe Turns 40 Years, Folks!

Rick's Cafe Turns 40 Years, Folks!

I was rushing towards Times Square around 5:20 p.m. a few weeks ago when I noticed the unmistakable colors of the Jamaican flag high atop one of the buildings in the heart of the square.

I slowed my pace and looked. Sure enough, it was the flag. It was emblazoned on the finely chiseled body of a man, his arms outstretched as he prepared to take a dive, his movements magnified frame by slow motion frame. I was still fixated on his body when I it registered: the Rick’s Café logo.

Before I knew it, before I remembered that I had my digital camera in my bag, the ad was gone, replaced by another not so memorable one. Darn!

I did the next best thing: I took out my phone and sent a text to everyone in my address book. “Rick’s Café is 40, they have an ad in Times Square!!”

Yes, folks, Rick’s Café, voted the Best Beach Bar by the Travel Channel, is 40 years old. Forty? I was surprised. When did that happen? Wasn’t it just the other day? Time sure flies, I thought.

I still remember the first time I heard about it. I was in a taxi on my way to JFK to catch an Air Jamaica flight home. The driver asked where I was going and when I told him, he asked if I’d ever been to Rick’s Cafe. I hadn’t, even though it’s located in Westmoreland, close to where I was headed.

Rick’s Cafe was founded in April 1974 when Negril, then mostly a fishing village with few amenities hadn’t even started dreaming of tourism – at least, not on the scale it is now.

I can’t remember the first time I visited but after that, it became a regular place to hang out and watch the sunset, a place to take friends who were visiting. Seriously, if you’re in to watching the sun as it slowly paints everything in its path orange, purple, red, gold, blues as it moves behind the horizon, drink in hand, then Rick’s Cafe is the place for you. (That finely chiseled body, I mentioned earlier, yeah, Rick’s known for that too. They’re usually several more like him and they’re like the icing on the cake.)

Rick's Cafe Turns 40 Years, Folks!

Rick’s Cafe ad, Times Square

The next day, I told all my Jamaicans friends at work to go check out the ad and I looked for it every day after that, camera and phone at the ready, but I didn’t see it. I was disappointed. Did I imagine it?

I returned for several more days, no luck. Honestly, I kinda gave up. Then one morning, as I was passing through at 8:30, which is late for me, I glanced up halfheartedly, and caught the last frame of the ad. Big smile brightened my face. Okay, I though, it’s still playing. And it seems to rotate on the hour at the half hour.

But just to be sure, I made a plan: I’d pass through Times Square at 5:30 to see if I’d catch it. Sure enough, I did. I left work late, the following evening not even thinking about the ad and saw it again. This time, it was at 6:30.

A few days later, I ran into Paul, one of the people I had told about the ad, in Times Square. He was in the right place – at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway — but he was looking away from the ad.

I set him straight and we waited together. Several ads cycled through then without fanfare, the Rick’s Café ad appeared. Paul was still holding his cell phone staring at the ad instead of taking a photo – it happened to me too. I shouted at him, “Paul, tek di picture!”

That night, I sent out an email to my friends. We were going to Hell’s Kitchen for dinner the following evening. Let’s meet in Times Square, I said, so we can catch the ad together. Despite the rain, I hustled to the spot we had agreed on but they didn’t make it. Their loss, but I’ll try again. (Seeing it is such a joy, it’s like watching Usain (Bolt) or any of our athletes win. It fills me with tremendous pride, a pride we all share. It’s a Jamaican thing, an island thing. You understand?)

I have no idea how long the Rick’s Cafe ad is running but if you’re ever in Times Square and would like to see it, head for 43rd and Broadway. If you stand at the northeast corner and look up at the billboard above Europa, you’ll see it. It seems to run every hour on the half hour. At least that’s when I’ve seen it.

Happy Birthday, Rick’s Café! You’re aging gracefully and still managing to maintain your wild side. Here’s to another 40 years of providing us the best vantage point to enjoy the most spectacular sunsets in Negril.

Rick’s Cafe is located on West End Road in Negril, Jamaica. 876-957-0380

Yummy Yellow Yam

Yummy Yellow Yam

Traveling through Jamaica’s rural areas is something I look forward with as much anticipation and excitement as a child waiting for a birthday or Christmas. It’s always a treat because I never know what I’ll see.

Several months ago, I was driving with three of my neighbors from Clarendon on the south central coast back to Montego Bay on the north west coast. Our trip took us through parts of Trelawny, St. Ann and Manchester – all well-known for different types of produce.

This particular Friday afternoon was bathed in the warm, golden glow of the setting sun as, at almost every turn, we saw farmers bringing their produce on donkeys and in small carts from the fields to the side of the road. Pickup trucks would take it the rest of the way to market.

Yummy Yellow Yam

Bringing yams from the field

There were mounds of yellow yams, mostly. But there were also otaheiti apples, Scotch Bonnet peppers, scallion, and thyme.

Most times we’d slow down just long enough for someone to stick their head out the window and ask, “How much a pound is the yellow yam?” or “Do you have any sweet peppers?”

Usually, price dictated whether we’d stop but when we saw this man with his son, something about him made us decide to buy. As soon as we found a good spot to park, all four of us jumped out of the car and ran across the road to choose a piece of yellow yam.

Yummy Yellow Yam

Yams for the market

They were weighing and sorting the freshly dug yam, the soil stubbornly clinging to each piece. They looked so delicious, it was difficult to know which to choose. So we let him decide.

Jamaica grows about eighteen varieties of yams, including yellow yam, St. Vincent, white, Lucy, and Negro. Yellow yam is by far the most popular. Trelawny, the parish we were in when we stopped to buy, accounts for up to 60% of the yams grown in Jamaica and almost half of what is exported — mostly to supply the growing demand in West Indian communities in the UK, US and Canada. (I was surprised to discover that Amazon sells yellow yam. Roundleaf Yellow Yam imported from Jamaica (5 lb))

Yam adds potassium, protein, vitamins and folic acid to the diet and because it is packed with soluble fiber, it is suitable even for young children. Yams are also great for people with diabetes as it slows down the release of sugar into the cells.

Yams are denser in texture than the potato and can be eaten boiled (and mashed with butter, my favorite) or roasted. One of the things I look forward to on road trips is buying roasted yellow yam and saltfish from roadside vendors.

Most Jamaicans love yellow yam and have it at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is even the title of a popular folk song, When wi roas di yellow yam. Take a listen here.

When Olympic champion, Usain Bolt, won gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, his father was reported as saying his speed was due to his diet, specifically the yellow yam. Not surprising as Bolt is from yam country, Trelawny.

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Expedia Brings Concierge Service to Montego Bay

Expedia Concierge Service

I don’t remember using Expedia, the online booking agency, to buy airline tickets though I’ve used it to compare prices. This time they had the best price on a nonstop ticket to Montego Bay. That clinched it.

A few days after I’d completed my purchase, I received an email from Expedia introducing my personal Jamaica concierge. Although I didn’t need the complimentary concierge service, which is provided by an Expedia Local Expert®, I was intrigued.

Expedia Concierge ServiceWhen I called the toll-free number in the email, Dania, Expedia’s Concierge’s distinctive Jamaican voice greeted me. Dania explained that she could assist me to book a transfer to my hotel and pre-book any activities I was interested in but since I didn’t need her expertise, I chatted with her instead.

Expedia, she explained, had partnered with Jamaica Tours, a local company, to launch the service, which started last August. According to its website, Expedia Concierge Service is provided by “knowledgeable” local experts in several locations including Hawaii, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Orlando and New York.

Jamaica Tours Limited, a 50 year old company, is the island’s largest ground tour operator and destination management company.

Although I didn’t need Expedia’s Concierge Service this time, I’m happy to learn that they offers it. There’s a lot of information about local attractions online, for example, but when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it’s helpful and reassuring to have someone who knows the scene help you find what you need so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.

Have you used a concierge service during your travels?