Jamaica: Still Searching for the Real Jerk

Getting real jerk pork is one of the things I look forward to when I’m in Jamaica.

What’s Jerk?

Jerk is a style of cooking that originated on the island back in the late 1950-60s. Traditionally, spices such as garlic, mace (the outer shell of the nutmeg), thyme, cinnamon, scallion and Scotch Bonnet pepper were mixed together and rubbed into pork that was then slow-cooked in a pit fire of pimento wood. The pimento gave it its signature flavor.

Jerk pork was very popular when I was a child. As I wrote in an earlier post, I remember the Jerk Man going door to door on his bicycle selling jerk pork – it was only pork then.

Perhaps because of the influence of the Rastafarians and the fact that cooking this way is a complicated and time-consuming process, it almost disappeared.

When it returned in the late 1970s, enterprising chefs had figured out how to approximate the flavor that is derived from the pimento wood. As a result, jerk went international. It also became widely and wildly interpreted. (I’ve even seen it served with ketchup!)

Since my arrival roughly three weeks ago, I’m been on a hunt for real jerk. So far, I’ve visited several establishments, each proudly advertising mostly pork and chicken, but only once have I not left disappointed. My biggest dissatisfaction was with Border Jerk, a little spot on the border of Westmoreland and Hanover, my favorite spot – their rendition is now severely compromised.

By far the worst I’ve had was at the Jerk Center in Ocho Rios – the pork didn’t even look cooked.

To their credit, all these places offer bottled pepper for people, like me, who want it hotter but even the pepper has been watered down.

When I complain, my friends tell me to get away from the North Coast and the places where visitors frequent. They are probably right.

I’m pleased to report that I did get some real jerk on Saturday night in a little joint near Runaway Bay in St. Ann. But by the time I found it, near 11 p.m., I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo of it.

In the meantime, my search for real jerk continues. I just hope they don’t start watering down my rum and coke!



4 comments on “Jamaica: Still Searching for the Real Jerk

  1. I’ve had jerk chicken, when I used to eat meat. Good stuff. I can’t say enough about Jamaican food though. I just LOVE it.

  2. I’ve not heard of this, sounds tasty.

    I can’t find any Jamaican eating places in Sydney – usually a mixture of Mexican, Caribbean, & Latin American. There’s one in Melbourne and one in Brisbane, both 1000 kms away.

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