Jamaican Me Hungry, Part I: Kingston Blues

Categories: Travel Hog

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Cities don't get much uglier or more depressing than Kingston. That was probably my first thought as we got off of the public bus we'd taken from the airport and stepped smack dab in the middle of an anarchic downtown scene. "We" consists of my wife and I and our five Macedonian guests: Lidija; her sons Gorazd (14) and Evgenij (18); their cousin Goce (24); and Efgheni's girlfriend Sandra (18). Macedonia, for the geography-challenged, is in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
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The Macedonians, left to right:Lidija, Gorazd, Goce, Sandra, Evgenij
It was as though the seven of us had dropped from the skies and landed in this hustling -- and I do mean hustling -- bustling swirl of tough inner-city. I'm not certain who looked more surprised -- us or everyone around us. There is not a significant black population in Macedonia, which is a nice way of saying just about none. We were clearly the only white folks in this Kingston neighborhood. As I say: Lots of surprised faces. And, on our side, a couple of worried expressions could be discerned. I had to remind the group that I was from Brooklyn, the reputation of which apparently doesn't carry the same cachet in Eastern Europe. Thank Jah it was still daytime.
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Beautiful downtown Kingston

After about 20 minutes we finally secured two cabs and headed out to "New Kingston", where we were staying for the night. Here, in the "good neighborhood", we were essentially prisoners behind a tall, locked, iron fence. A security guard stood watch. We'd learn later that a tourist couple were murdered just outside the fence a week before. Kingston probably has some good record shops and fried chicken and stuff, but it's a shame that an entire city is deemed unsafe to walk at night (btw, I've been to poverty-stricken cities and towns in my time, so it's not like I'm comparing Kingston to Paris). It's time for the citizens there to get up, stand up, etc. Until they do, Jamaicans everywhere should be embarrassed.

We took cabs to the Hot Pot Restaurant for dinner, recommended to us by a friend of a friend who met us there. More disappointment, as at this hour there were only three things on the menu: pig's tail, oxtail, and brown sauce chicken. A dumpling served on each plate was excellent, the Red Stripe cold, the three main courses lukewarm in temperature and appeal.
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Oxtail at the Hot Pot
 Now my wife and I are known to make great sacrifices towards satisfying a particular food craving. We once embarked on a 30-mile bicycle ride, much of it uphill, in the southeast region of France, because we'd heard there was a notable donut shop in one of the towns (or beignets, if you insist). That we reached the location only to be told it had gone out of business isn't the point. It's that while I was sitting at the Hot Pot it occurred to me that I'd do just about anything for a beef patty at that moment -- anything short of taking a bullet to my head, that is. So patties were out of the question. And we were out of Kingston, for good, the next morning. Too bad, cause the kids are Marley/reggae freaks and were really looking forward to seeing the Marley museum, Trenchtown, etc. I had to settle for beef patties, chicken patties (both nicely spiced) and surprisingly good red pea soup at one of the Juici Patties chains that we passed on the road the next day.
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A Juici patty
Monday: Out of Kingston and into food.

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