Jamaican Food Festival captivates local palates in Xian, China

Escoveitch fish (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

Nakia McDonald makes history in Xian, northwest China. Once the terminus of the Silk Road and home to emperors and poets, the historic town is where McDonald, a poet herself, teaches English. Since 2020, the resident of the small town of Victoria also hosts the only Jamaican food festival in the dynastic region. Her trip to China started with food.

“I have already been a teacher in Jamaica for five years. One day I was at KFC having lunch with my friend. Someone I knew came in and started telling me about another friend living and teaching in China who was looking for more people. That was it, McDonald’s smile fills her face. The new beginning came with a bittersweet goodbye to her ailing father, whose last words to her were “If you don’t see me again, take care.” Make sure nothing happens to you.

McDonald’s honors his memory by continuing their culinary traditions in his new home.

Father and daughter loved to cook together. McDonald’s often showcased his talents at religious events and food festivals in St. Catherine’s Parish. “My dad loved ackee and salt fish with fried dumplings,” she recalls.

For the past two years, the Jamaica Food Festival has been held in Victoria at a Chinese cafe where her father’s favorite dish is featured. It is a state requirement to find a Chinese sponsor. That in itself is a victory. The food festival gives expats and local Chinese residents a taste of Jamaica through popular dishes like jerk chicken, escoveitch fish, rice and peas and rabbit curry.

Rabbit curry is a crowd pleaser. Xian has a meat-based culture with the use of heavy aromatic spices. In contrast, Jamaica offers a Caribbean punch with a base of spicy flavors. The leaner, drier, gamer meat is first roasted in chilli seeds, Scotch bonnet chilli and yellow curry powder, then slowly cooked. The result is a hearty dish with tender-tasting meat.

In 2021, just under 70 people made the restaurant look like a shoebox. “People kept asking me if they could come to my restaurant,” she laughs. Even shoeboxes need room for a Jamaican DJ. A West Indian carnival unfolded as much on the guests’ plates as on the dance floor. McDonald’s is known as the “chocolate professor” who introduces Jamaica to the locals. Upon her arrival in the city, the new author had mixed reactions.

“I asked a kid to cover his nose because he’d never seen a black person, and I said, ‘Please take your hand off your nose, young man.’ This boy ended up getting attached to me. People are afraid of what they don’t know and don’t understand. That’s why I appreciate my role as a teacher.

She published a book of poetry, black face, because of experiences like this. “I found it necessary to share what real black faces look like. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding race and class. There is a lot of beauty in being part of change.

China is changing and Jamaicans can be proud that Nakia McDonald is charting a new culinary direction for the people of Xian.

To contact McDonald’s, please visit instagram @nakia_wordamouth account

— Bridgett Leslie is an internal auditor by day and a media correspondent by night. She is passionate about Caribbean flavors and the community around this culinary cuisine. She is currently completing her undergraduate studies in gastronomy at Le Cordon Bleu.

Poet Nakia McDonald (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

Rice and peas (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

Jamaican spice stir-fry (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

Jerk chicken (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

Expats at the Jamaica Food Festival in 2021 (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

Expats at the Jamaica Food Festival in 2021 (Photos: @nakia_wordamouth)

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