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TRAVEL: COOK'S TOUR OF JAMAICA; Top chef goes back to his roots to check out Caribbean cuisine.

Byline: BY PATRICK MULCHRONE

WHILE the Banana Boat Song is Harry Belafonte's best-known song, Jamaica Farewell, the plaintive cry to the isle of his birth, is almost as popular.

The handsome movie star sings "sad to say, I'm on my way" and ends "I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town".

Another line is "ackee, rice, saltfish are nice, and the rum is fine, any time o' year".

This was a culinary tug at the heartstrings for Jamaicans who had grown up on those Caribbean staples, varieties of which are now being explored and devoured by visitors to this Island In The Sun (another Belafonte hit).

Add jerk chicken, call a loo (which is like spinach) and cassava root vegetables, all spiced up with a little scotch bonnet pepper, and you're really cooking Caribbean style.

For this jewel in a gin-clear sea is not all sun, sand and self-contained resorts.

It is an island with a heart, thumping these days to the heavy pulse of reggae, but also beating out a spicy, robust and tasty tune in kitchens from Kingston town to Montego Bay.

More and more sun-seekers are breaking away from their all-inclusive hotels at coastal resorts to join mutineers from cruiseliners to see for themselves what's cooking in the melting pot that is Jamaican cuisine.

The recipe..

I JOINED Patrick Williams, one of London's top Anglo-Jamaican chefs, on a tour of what the is land has to offer beyond the sand dunes and the harbour walls.

Patrick took time off from his successful Terrace In The Fields restaurant in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields for an all-too-rare visit to his family homeland - and to discover that even in the few years he's been away, tastes have changed.

We ate everything from a Sunday lunch buffet at the exclusive Strawberry Hill Hotel and Spa, owned by Bob Marley's manager Chris Blackwell, to the takeaway fare at Juici Pattis, Jamaica's homegrown equivalent of yer average burger bar.

But this place sells breakfast of ackee and saltfish for about a pound, or beef, chicken, lobster and shrimp pasties, for a fraction of that sum.

Jamaican cooking isborn of influences as rich as the history of the island itself, from the indigenous Tainos indians and the Caribs, to the Ashanti, Dutch, English, Indian, Portuguese and Irish settlers who followed them. They all brought dishes from their own larders, eventually blending them into the cuisine that decorates the groaning West Indian dining table of today.

The ingredients..

CASSAVA and sweet potatoes were already being used by the Tainos when Columbus arrived, but they have Captain Bligh to thank for breadfruit from the South Sea Islands. Ackee is an unusual and delicate fruit, cooked and eaten as a savoury vegetable.

A truly Jamaican signature dish is jerk chicken or pork. The meat is highly seasoned, preferably overnight, then slowly cooked over a fire pit of wood - preferably aroma-packed pimento wood.

Jerk joint sareto

Jamaica what KFC places are to America, but with so much more authentic taste packed into their fare.

Rundown is another wonderfully Jamaican cuisine, slow-cooking savoury dishes with coconut milk and spices.

And Escoveitch is a tangy sauce used usually with fish, prepared by pickling onion, chocho (christophene), carrot, hot pepper, thyme, garlic and pimento in a jar of vinegar.

Toptip: Jamaican company Walkerswood, whosepremises near Ocho Rios we toured, sell a range of ready-mixed seasonings and sauces in the UK.

Method..

AFTER a day on the beach or a memorable visit to the Bob Marley Museum (USEUR8/pounds 4 a head), check out the cuisine at any of Kingston's top hotels. We stayed at the Jamaica Pegasus, but also breakfasted at the near by Courtleigh Hotel and lunched at the historic Terra Nova, where chef Patrick cooked us snapper fish and shrimps in a beer batter.

You can also take in a tour of the Blue Mountain Coffee Company's Craighton Estate.

There, for USEUR15/pounds 7.50 you get an evocative history of the industry on the island, sitting on the property's delightful bougainvillea-fringed verandah and a tour of the plantation.

Or pop into the Appleton Estate in the Nassau Valley in St Elizabeth, where they have made Jamaica rum since 1749.

There you can enjoy a journey through the history of the drink and - more importantly - sample the product.

Tours cost USEUR15/pounds 7.50 or EUR30/pounds 15 with lunch-make reservations.

Back in Kingston, we headed for supper at the Redbones Blues Cafe in Braemar Avenue and one of the foodie highlights of the trip, even without its musical side order of jazz this particular night.

I tried a callalooo strudel to start-filo pastryfilled with sauteed spinach, onion, red pepper and cream cheese in a mornay sauce.

Sounded strange, tasted wonderful. Just 10 bucks/five quid. To follow, I had locally caught Mahi Mahi fish (USEUR28/pounds 14), cooked simply but beautifully.

The preferred drink in Jamaica is Red Stripe lager, but wines from France and the New World are available everywhere.

One of the most strangest yet most popular dining experiences in the Jamaican capital is a trip to the Courtyard Market Place in Constant Spring Road.

At the end of a small, anonymous trading estate, this food court offers Caribbean fare in continental style. We ate at Neville Anderson's Cafe Aubergine, where local fish and meat are prepared French or Italian style.

Over the way, there were Japanese and Indian restaurants, among the cascading water features.

It's not very Jamaican, but hey, in this most laidback country - whatever floats your boat.

GETTING THERE

VIRGIN Atlantic flies twice weekly from London Gatwick to Kingston. Fares start from pounds 615.50, including taxes To book, visit www.virgin atlantic.com or phone 08705 747747.

A deluxe room at The Pegasus Jamaica starts from pounds 74 per night. Taxes are extra. To book, visit www.jamaicapegasus.com or phone 00 1 876 926 3690.

For more info, see www.visitjamaica.com

CAPTION(S):

COFFEE BREAK: Blue Mountain; SUCCESS ON A PLATE: London chef Patrick Williams on a backdrop of Negril Beach; FRUITY: Ackee
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 5, 2008
Words:1015
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