Jamaican Breakfast of Champions

A Jamaican breakfast of champions tale…

If you walk into Spud’s Diner in small town rural Eastern Ontario, and order a big breakfast, you can expect eggs how you like ’em, some kind of meat, home fries, and toast with maybe a slice of orange or tomato on the side so you can pretend that the breakfast you’re eating really isn’t sending your cholesterol levels into alien realms.

Sure, and there are other things on the menu – pancakes, waffles, french toast – but eggs are what I think of when I’m going out for breakfast.

027And eggs for breakfast there are aplenty at restaurants in Negril, Jamaica…

…that is, if you aren’t opting for a “traditional” Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish, johnnycakes, callaloo, fried breadfruit and/or plantain, fresh pineapple juice with ginger, and lots and lots of Blue Mountain coffee. Ah, my mouth waters and a story about these delights is brewing…

…but for now, back to eggs.

My husband and I were on a 3 week vacation in Negril last winter and stayed at a boutique hotel which did not have any kind of kitcheny-type equipment in the room – no plates or utensils, no microwave, hot plate or fridge. We did have an ice filled cooler which we stocked with beer and mixes for rum drinks from heaven, but the cooler was not roomy enough or cold enough for things like milk or yogourt. Besides, we had our priorities, and when the choice is between either chilling the beer or chilling the milk, well, what can I say? There is no choice.

Now, sitting on a beach reading all day is intense work, and one must prepare oneself for such a day with a hearty breakfast. And since sitting on a beach reading is what we did most days – those days freckled with periodic and refreshing dunks in the ocean – we sought and enjoyed many a wonderful breakfast at several of the local restaurants on the beach. My favourite breakfast was callaloo omelette and since I knew I wouldn’t be getting callaloo just any old day when we returned to Canada, I ordered one almost every day. My husband was more adventurous than I and had callaloo omelettes every other day. On alternate days, he’d have cheese omelettes.

One morning about half way into our vacation, we discussed the possibility that we were perhaps enjoying too much of a good thing, and opted to give omelettes a rest for the day. We had seen a sign for a cafe and pastry shop at a souvenir mall close to our hotel and decided to give it a try.

“Cafe” conjures for me an image of sitting outside at a little table for two, steaming cups of rich java before us and a selection of sweet and maybe savoury pastries from which to choose.

Note: We had visited Provincetown just the spring before this trip and I had in mind breakfasts at the Portuguese Bakery downtown where every morning there is a huge glass case full of equally delectable pastries and breads. We discovered that a Negril cafe and a Portuguese bakery have very little in common.

Okay, so we get to the cafe and find employees sweeping and setting up tables and chairs. We ask when the cafe opens and are told it opens “at 8:00 or 8:30”. It’s already
after 9:00 a.m. and this cafe is obviously not ready for customers, so we tell the nice people we’re in Negril for a while yet and we’ll come back another day.

“No, no, no, no, no, we’re open, mon, we’re open,” we’re told and are swept – literally – toward a little table for two on the cafe’s outdoor patio (So far, so good.) and are urged to sit down. “Is the coffee ready?” we ask, and are assured that it is.

Since an early morning hit of Jamaican Java has become essential for us, we sit and ask for coffee and it is brought to us expeditiously by Jamaican standards – in about fifteen minutes!

When our waitress delivers the coffee, we tell her we’ll come into the shop to see the pastries and make our choice, only to be told that the pastries have not arrived yet, but they’ll be in soon. Do we want to wait, or do we want to see a menu?

This is our third trip to Jamaica. We have learned that “soon” is an elastic word when spoken on this tropical paradise. It can mean anywhere from “within the next 5 minutes” to “sometime next July”, the former being highly unlikely; the latter may be an exaggeration, but not much of one.

We opt to look at a menu, where we find – wait for it – omelettes.

My visions of sweet fruit-filled pastry are crushed to crumbs, and truth be told, we’re not ready to face an omelette this morning, but omelettes and only omelettes populate the menu (aside from the spot which mentions “assorted pastries”. Sigh).

The waitress is patient and meanders to our table after a while to ask if we’ve decided on our orders. When our responses are slow to materialize, she says that we can have any kind of eggs if we don’t want omelettes. My husband seizes this idea and, since it appears as though eggs are going to be part of our breakfast yet again, asks if the cook knows how to make fried egg sandwiches. Yes, yes, of course, is the answer. He’ll make whatever you want.

We explain a fried egg sandwich – fry an egg; toast 2 pieces of bread; slap it all together with a little ketchup on the side. We’ll each have one. “No problem, mon,” our waitress sagely nods. My husband is adventurous and says that if there is any cheese in the kitchen, perhaps it can make its way onto the sandwich. “I will tell the cook,” the waitress affirms as she saunters to the kitchen.

A second round of coffee and a glass of water later, the cook appears beside us and tells us he wants to make sure he has this order just right, and asks how we’d like the eggs for our fried egg sandwiches cooked. “Just fry them up,” my husband says. “medium to well done. Break the yolk if you have to. Just so it’s not runny.”

“Yah, mon,” the cook calls out, nodding and smiling. “No problem.”

It’s getting really close to 10:00, it’s getting really hot as it does in Negril, and after 2 cups of grab-your-guts coffee, my innards are demanding sustenance. Just as I thought the cook had forgotten about us (Note: Meals in Jamaica often appear just as you think the cook has forgotten about you.), the waitress appears with two plates of breakfast and places them in front of us with a flourish.

Well, there were two pieces of bread alright, but not in sandwich form, just two pieces of barely toasted bread. Placed right beside these two pieces of bread is, you guessed it, an omelette which looks as though it has been cooked and then deep fried for good measure. My husband and I look at each other, but there’s nothing to say. We dig in, enjoying “fried egg sandwiches”, Jamaican Breakfast of champions style.

No problem, mon.

Maybe we’ll aim for pancakes tomorrow.

Comments about your Jamaican breakfast of champions, or any other Jamaican fare are welcome using the comment box below.


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