The story of how Jamaican food got to Provincetown


PROVINCETOWN – It’s 9 a.m. and Natessa Brown’s humble Jamaican restaurant, Irie Eats, just sold out the first batch of ackee and saltfish of the day. Often referred to as Jamaica’s national dish, the popular breakfast staple combines ackee lobes – a fruit that looks and tastes deceptively like scrambled egg – with sautéed pepper, onion. and salted cod. The restaurant has only been open for an hour, but it’s already time to do another batch for the second wave. “He’s a big seller,” she said modestly.

In this popular summer destination at the tip of Cape Cod, as in the towns of Cape Town and the Islands, a strong, decades-old Jamaican seasonal population feeds the many restaurants, inns and shops which in turn fuel the tourist economy of the region. region. . They make much of the clam chowder, lobster rolls, fried clams, and – in an interesting example of shared culinary heritage – salt cod, pepper, and linguica dishes from P’s Portuguese past. -town. And while the occasional whisper of tartan beanie or jerk dusting sometimes creeps up on the classic New England menus that define the Provincetown restaurant scene, there wasn’t, until Brown opened Irie Eats in 2014, a legitimate Jamaican restaurant serving Jamaican cuisine.

Brown arrived in Cape Town for the first time since the parish of Westmoreland, the area that is home to Negril, as a teenager in 1999. Initially, she joined her mother who, like most Jamaicans here, landed in Provincetown through the H-2B visa program, which provides foreign workers with seasonal non-farm jobs in resort areas across the country. They both worked in the kitchen of Clem & Ursie’s, a beloved but now closed seafood market and restaurant specializing in the types of hearty seafood dishes with Portuguese accents so dear to the culinary identity of the Outer cap. When the restaurant closed nearly 10 years later, Brown, then a permanent resident of the United States and fearless in Provincetown all year round, spent a few years working for the city doing maintenance and saving money. money. “I knew I wanted to do something for myself,” she says. “I don’t like to borrow money, so I worked a lot.

Terrace at Irie Eats in Provincetown. Luke Pyenson for the Boston Globe

In 2012, Brown became a U.S. citizen and eventually approached the owner of a long-abandoned cabin virtually across the street from former Clem & Ursie’s with the idea of ​​turning it into a restaurant. Soon after, she painted the cabin – which was to be completely refurbished – black, green and yellow. In the years since its opening, Irie Eats has become a magnet for Jamaican workers, tourists and locals. “Everyone supports [the business]”said Brown, adding,” especially the locals. Once you have a business, the locals are always looking out for you.

Inside, shelves offer typical Jamaican groceries: boxes of callaloo and coconut milk, bottles of grapefruit Ting, and chewing gum-sweetened Kola champagne. A large blackboard displays the menu, which includes recognizable Jamaican classics such as jerk chicken, jerk pork, and curried goat cheese, as well as lesser-known specialties such as escovitch fish and brown stew chicken, and dishes from the day turns that include conch soup, pork tails with red peas (kidney beans), or stewed cow’s foot. What unites everything on the menu is Brown’s guiding principle that everything should be homemade, from scratch, every day. She arrives at 4 a.m. to start cooking, and doesn’t leave the restaurant until 10:30 a.m. to go to her other job of supervising housekeeping at a hostel in neighboring North Truro. She’s back at Irie Eats at 3:30 p.m. to prepare dinner service.

Brown’s hard work and dedication shines through in the food. The long-simmered curry goat cheese is rendered a deep golden color by the curry powder laced with turmeric which aromatizes it. Soft and falling from the bones, this is a perfect interpretation of the dish. The jerk chicken is rubbed with a blend of spices reminiscent of thyme and allspice (known as “pimento” in Jamaica) before being grilled outside behind the restaurant and topped with a sauce. hot and sweet barbecue. Besides allowing the sauce to contain carrots and tomatoes, Brown won’t give up much else.

Natessa Brown, owner of Irie Eats.
Natessa Brown, owner of Irie Eats.Luke Pyenson for the Boston Globe / Luke Pyenson

Escovitch Fish (the name comes from Spanish and Portuguese escabeche to medieval Persian) is a succulent whole snapper that has been fried and left to mingle with spicy pickled onions, peppers and Scotch bonnet peppers. Brown Stew Chicken gets its namesake color from a molasses-like Jamaican condiment known as “browning,” which is on sale at restaurants. It comes, like all main dishes, with moist rice and peas infused with coconut milk.

Outside, a few painted picnic tables are the restaurant’s only seating, and patrons rest here even after they finish their meals. When the restaurant first opened, “it was a blessing,” says a man named Wayne. He has worked seasonally in hotel maintenance for the past seven years. “Spending time here and eating great food reminds me of my home,” he says.

In Jamaica, the term “irie” refers to an overall feeling of positivity and good vibes. In this corner of Cape Town, surrounded by honest cuisine, a welcoming community and a laid-back atmosphere, the name couldn’t be more apt.

Irie eats, 70 Shank Painter Road, Provincetown, 508-487-0470.

Luke Pyenson can be contacted at [email protected]

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