Get On Island Time With Dorchester's Caribbean Fare
With a bad case of Winter Blues, Elisha Siegel travels to Dorchester to sample from the neighborhood's best West Indian spots.
I’ve been out of the chew and scribble game for a while now. Last time you heard from me it was July and I was hanging out by the beach working on a tan to go with my body-by-pork-belly. Now we’re deep into wintertime darkness and I’m desperate for a little sunshine. Since a Caribbean vacation isn’t in the budget this year, I’ll do what I do best and eat my way through Dorchester’s vibrant Caribbean food scene.
It’s a particularly dreary December day. There’s been steady rain all morning and the sun can’t even. I hop off the red line at Shawmut, a T-stop conspicuously tucked into a residential corner of Dorchester Center. With my Sauconys already soaked through to the socks I navigate out of the rain to Only One Jamaican Restaurant. I roll in after the lunch rush but it’s still jumping with people mostly grabbing food to go. Ordering from behind thick glass, I request the jerk chicken ($8.95) with rice and peas, and cabbage. The restaurant’s out of jerk sauce (insert joke of your choice) but I don’t mind substituting oxtail sauce which provides a sweet complement when poured over dirty rice. The chicken’s fantastic, with a slight char and the kind of spice that makes the sides of your mouth tingle without giving white people heartburn.
I get a hot tip that Taste of Eden has Jamaican beef patties that can’t be missed so I head a couple blocks over to this brightly painted, homey spot. I ask for a single patty ($1.87) and it comes to me warm in a brown paper bag. I sit down at a table by the window and put the beef patty on a napkin. I rip it in two, discovering that there are two layers to the crust. The firm, flakey outer crust and a second doughy, almost undercooked layer which adds an amazing textural wrinkle to this simple dish.
Checking Jamaica off the list I head west to Blue Hill Avenue while metaphorically moving east towards Haiti. The Nu Flav restaurant doesn’t offer much aesthetically but when you see manman in the kitchen cooking all the food herself, you know you’re in for a treat. I don’t look at a menu (I’m not sure there is one). Instead, I ask the chef’s son what’s for lunch. He recommends the bouyon ($8.00), a traditional Creole soup with stewed oxtail, vegetables, green plantains and flour dumplings. The soup comes out steaming hot - perfect for the miserable weather. It’s spicy and tangy with citrus that balances the richness of the fatty oxtail. I’m in heaven here and I could spend the rest of the day hanging out... but there’s one more stop I need to make.
Anybody who knows me knows I love roti and this trip wouldn’t be complete without one. If you’re unfamiliar with roti check out what one whip-smart (and handsome) local food writer had to say about it here. I jump back on the red line up to the JFK/UMass stop and walk a half-mile in a downpour to Singh’s Roti Shop. This takeout spot is so tightly packed with Trinidadian spices and treats that it’s a bit of a shock to realize there’s a fully functioning kitchen here with huge pots of meat and sauces stewing on the stovetop. I don’t waste any time before ordering a goat roti ($9.69) with all the fixings. The flakey flatbread is overstuffed with potatoes, cabbage and tamarind-habanero sauce. For good measure, the owner slips me a doubles ($2) - a sandwich made with curried chickpeas and tamarind sauce served between two pieces of savory fried dough. It’s a sweet and spicy treat which threatens to replace roti as my favorite Caribbean dish.
With meals four and five tucked safely in my stomach I say goodbye to the smells and tastes of the West Indies. We may have a few more long months of the winter blues, but at least we can get a whiff of that glassy ocean blue whenever I feel the islands calling.
Only One Jamaican Restaurant - 160 Norfolk St., Dorchester, 617.822.0444
Taste of Eden Restaurant - 38 Norfolk St., Dorchester, 617.282.0077
Nu Flav Restaurant - 1100 Blue Hill Ave., Dorchester, 617.506.7092, comfortfoodboston.com
Singh’s Roti Shop - 692 Columbia Rd., Dorchester, 617.282.7977, singhsrotishop.net