Torontonians Indulge in Caribbean Cuisine at JerkFest
This past weekend, Toronto, Canada, played host to JerkFest, celebrating the world-renowned marinade and cooking method along with reggae music.
After a week of amazing results posted by Jamaica at the Olympic track and field events and marking the Caribbean nation’s 50th anniversary of independence, Toronto’s 160,000 person-strong Jamaican diaspora had lots to celebrate and Jerk food enthusiasts were thrilled to join in on the fun.
While Jerk is mainly associated with chicken, JerkFest showed this Carribean cuisine neophyte its diversity.
I eased into the JerkFest eat-fest by starting off with a plate of Jerk chicken. It was very smoky courtesy of a charcoal barbeque, tender from the three-day marinade and incredibly moist. It was a great way to get familiar Jerk’s complex flavors.
Moving on to Jerk pork, the Jerk marinade tasted almost completely different than the chicken, providing a mild and mellow Jerk seasoning. It definitely did a justice to the pig sacrificed for our Jerk pleasure.
I was getting my Jerk groove on and chose a more unusual meat to see how the Jerk seasonings would play with France’s favorite dish: frog legs. In my opinion, this was the most delicious of all the Jerk options. The Jerk seasonings were very spicy and nutmeg was really dominant. It was a completely different flavor as the legs weren’t slow cooked like the pork or chicken. Instead, the legs were quickly barbequed and the flavor was much more powerful than the chicken or pork.
Now after all this protein, I was in search of some starches and they first came in the form of rice and beans. The mild flavors made for a great compliment to Jerk’s complex spices.
I finished everything off with a few festivals, a sweet and savory fried dough knot (definitely not a donut). They were crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside and a nice end to my introduction to Jamaican and Jerk cuisine.
After speaking to many of the family-run Jerk chefs cooking it was interesting to learn that many of the Jerk marinade recipes were passed down from generation to generation. Each Jerk store had its own recipe and the flavor variety was a highlight from the day.
Obviously, the family recipes were carefully guarded but I managed to crack at least some of the ingredients including all spice, onions, thyme and lots of pepper mashed together to make the fragrant and famous marinade.
Jamaican hospitality was on full display, regardless of the torrential rain, and made my trip to JerkFest a great (and delicious) one.
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Photography by Alana Phillips