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A Challenge to Eat Caribbean

Virginia Burke's new book tantalises with authentic Jamaican cooking

 

Reviewed by Franka Philip

It rained all day in London today and such rotten weather calls for comfort food and staying under the duvet with a good book. I could talk about the heavenly seafood broth I cooked today but I'll stick to my plan and review what I've read.


Eat
Caribbean by Virginia Burke was a good way to get some sunshine by osmosis. This is one of the best books on Caribbean cookery I've seen in a while. It's well written with loads of fantastic photos and recipes that work.


Actually, I'd be surprised if Eat
Caribbean wasn't this good, because the author has a wealth of experience in the food industry. Virginia Burke is the managing director of marketing for Walkerswood Caribbean Foods (known for their jerk seasoning) and director of the Bamboula Caribbean Restaurant in London.

 

One of this book's strong points is that it doesn't fetishise or trivialise Caribbean food. In fact, it demystifies the cuisine and makes it very accessible to the non-Caribbean reader.


This means anyone living in a big city with a significant
Caribbean or African community can find most of the ingredients quite easily. It's not uncommon to find ground provisions and tropical fruit in major supermarkets these days.


Eat
Caribbean has a decidedly Jamaican slant, which isn't surprising since Burke is Jamaican. To her credit, she makes it clear in the introduction that Jamaican food is what she knows best. So there's a chapter on Jerk food, which is probably par for the course as for most non-Caribbeans, jerk chicken is their only experience of Caribbean food.


Some of the better known classic Caribbean recipes included are Saltfish Accra, Pepperpot Soup, Pelau, Ackee and Saltfish and Curried Goat.


I think the most interesting recipes are those from
Cuba and Guadeloupe and I'm looking forward to trying Cuban Oxtail with Rioja and Guadeloupean Curried Goat.
However, there are a few things I don't like about Eat
Caribbean, one of them is the book's layout. You have to wade through 40 pages of introductory stuff before getting to the recipes. I'd have preferred to read about Caribbean lifestyle and markets at various points during the book instead of all at the beginning.


Also, Eat
Caribbean doesn't really survey the region very well. There's one dish from the Bahamas, but none from countries like Barbados, Guyana or Dominica. Is it that Burke felt the food from those countries was a bit too exotic?


By extension, I would think the strong emphasis on Jamaican dishes could turn off a lot of
Caribbean readers who don't see any of their dishes included.


Despite this, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Eat
Caribbean because there are a lot of interesting recipes in there and none of them are particularly difficult. I also think Virginia Burke sets a new benchmark for writers of Caribbean cookbooks in the future and I feel this is Burke's real accomplishment.


Eat
Caribbean: The Best of Caribbean Cookery by Virginia Burke (Pub: Simon and Schuster).

 

Philip is a journalist with the BBC in London. She blogs as cancookmustcook.

 

Eating, Caribbean Style

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