Chi-town is Jam Town

August 7, 2012 • 2:50 pm

by Greg Mayer

Yesterday was the Golden Jubilee of Jamaican independence. Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake presented the nation with an Olympic birthday present, finishing one-two in the 100 meters, with Bolt’s dominating, record-setting performance solidifying his reputation as one of the great Olympians of all time. Jubilee celebrations were held not only in Jamaica, but in outposts of the Jamaican diaspora around the globe. Chicago was no exception, and events have been, and will be occurring, throughout the summer and into the fall.

Washington Park, Chicago, July 22, 2012

I was able to attend one of the celebrations, the Golden Jubilee Picnic, Football Cup, and Cricket Match on July 22 in Washington Park. While Jamaica is a sporting nation, and especially so now, I know what WEIT readers really want to see: the food! It was fabulous. A combination of Jamaican home-cooking and catering provided a day long feast of Jamaican specialties (see this earlier WEIT post for more on Jamaican food). Here’s fried grouper with seasoned rice.

Fried grouper and seasoned rice.

The grouper is “finger food”– you have to use your fingers or mouth to separate the meat from the bone (fish have lots of ribs!). The seasoned rice is a meal and a history lesson in itself. The main ingredient is, of course rice, and the herbs are quite visible in this serving. But there is also mixed in to it portions of the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish. Ackee is the fruit of a tree brought to Jamaica from tropical West Africa, as were most of its people by the Atlantic slave trade. Improperly ripened or prepared, it’s poisonous. Properly prepared, the yellow flesh is delicious, with the consistency and appearance of scrambled eggs, and served in Jamaica as a vegetable. You can see a bit of ackee on the left of the serving pictured. Saltfish is traditionally salted cod from Canada, harkening back to the days of empire when British planters imported the abundantly available and transportable fish during the period of slavery in Jamaica. You can see the wisps of fish throughout the rice. Both the ackee and saltfish are now highly esteemed by people throughout Jamaica, and deservedly so.

My favorite, and another Jamaican classic, was jerk chicken. The chicken in the tray below I didn’t actually try, because I had filled up on chicken from a different tray.

Jerk chicken.

The chicken I had was from Jamaica Jerk Villa, and was superb, and the extra sauce was deliciously flavored and spicy. The chicken was cut in the cleavered Jamaican style, but, perhaps in a concession to American tastes, was all white meat. I highly recommend a visit to one of their locations for those in the Chicagoland are.

Jamaica Jerk Villa

There was also rice and peas, jerk ribs, Red Stripe, and brats (the Wisconsin contribution!). Not all Jamaican food is spicy, and I enjoyed sweet corn bread and the distinctive hard dough bread (which is dense, not hard, and came from a specialty Caribbean bakery in Chicago, the Caribbean American Bakery).

Hard dough and corn bread

The day was also full of West Indian music– reggae, soca, dancehall, calypso, etc.– provided from the music tent.

The music tent, Washington Park, Chicago, 22 July 2012

The sporting event in which I participated was a one-day, three-team round robin tournament for the Golden Jubilee Football Cup, in which my team, Everham United F.C. of Racine, Wisconsin, had been invited to compete. The other teams were Jamstar F.C. and West Indies Jets S.C., both of Chicago’s National Soccer League. (A fourth team, from Michigan, did not show,  so we were assured of the bronze!)

Everham United F.C., Racine, Wisconsin

In the first two games, Jamstar handily beat both us (10-1) and the Jets (7-1), clinching the Cup. The last match was for second place and was closely fought. Halfway through the second half we led 3-2, but superior skill on their part, and exhaustion on our part, finally prevailed, with the Jets winning 6-3. The Jamaican Consul presented the Cup to Jamstar.

The Jamaican Consul presents the Jubilee Cup to Jamstar F.C.

The other sports were cricket (it was like baseball in the round, with two batters; I thought of an old 10 CC song– this is a cover)

Cricket batsman. Note the ball he is juggling with his bat.

and that other Jamaican favorite, dominos.

Domino players.

Thanks to Chicago Concerned Jamaicans for inviting us, and to them, the Consul, Jamtsar, the Jets, and all the attendees for hosting us at such an irie fete. Happy Birthday Jamaica!

27 thoughts on “Chi-town is Jam Town

  1. I calculate that Bolt ran his 100m at an average of 37.383 km/h. I was wondering if a faster average could be achieved with a running start by, say, measuring the last 100 m of a 110m or 120m race? Or would adding 10m or 20m remove all the advantage of leaving off the initial acceleration?

    1. The answer is that a running start is faster: see the split times in the 4*100m relay.

      Jamaica’s world record time of 37.04 secs represents an average time of 9.26 secs per runner. As the first runnner will have a standing start [i]and[/i] be running round a bend, his time will be in the region of 10.3. The other runners, with flying starts are often sub-9 seconds.

  2. @JAC

    If you’re passing through Evanston, give Claire’s Korner on the corner of Douglas and Emerson a try. I’ll admit, it’s the only Jamaican restaurant I’ve been to, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it is quite delicious.

    1. This is a guest post by Greg Mayer [Prof Dept. of Biological Sciences UW-P]. He’s top right in the team photo & I assume he’s still team captain ~ don’t know what position though.

      1. Our captain is in the back row, third from the left (note his captain’s arm band). I play defense, usually outside right.


  3. “Ackee is the fruit of a tree brought to Jamaica from tropical West Africa . . . Saltfish is traditionally salted cod from Canada . . . .”

    ” . . .
    Down at the market you can hear
    Ladies cry out while on their heads they bear,
    Ackee rice, salt fish are nice
    And the rum is fine any time of year, but I’m,

    Sad to say, I’m on my way,
    Won’t be back for many a day,
    My heart is down, my head is turning around,
    I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town.”

    The verse relevant to the posted topic, from “Jamaica Farewell,” a monster hit by Harry Belafonte in 1956, and a quality song with both internal and external rhyme. And, Kingston Town, the inspiration for the name of the folk group, The Kingston Trio.

    1. As I remember, there were three calypso hits that year, “Jamaica Farewell”, “Banana Boat Song” (almost better remembered in the Stan Freeberg parody) and “Maryanne”.

      It was said at the time that the calypso craze was artificial, a brief and abortive attempt to break the hold of rock ‘n’ roll on the record-buying public.

      By “rock ‘n’ roll” was meant the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets (“Rock Around the Clock”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll”) early Elvis (“Jailhouse Rock” “All Shook Up”) and The Platters (“The Great Pretender”). The really loud, distorted stuff was a few years later.

      (The last ballad before the r’n’r wave broke, the last to be heard for a long time, was Debbie Reynolds’ “Tammy”.)

      From that day to this I didn’t know what Ackee rice was.

  4. Isn’t Jamaica the most regressive Christian nation on the planet with the most ignorant and illiterate population and extreme violence against gay people?

    It is basically a christian Afghanistan without the mountains.

    1. It would have to work hard to beat Uganda – see the film “Call me Kuchu” about the life and death of the only Out gay activist in the country, David Kato.

      Anyone else notice the religious gestures of the Olympic athletes from such countries – asking the Creator of the Universe to suspend the laws of nature so that they can run faster than others? They remind me of the reported behaviour of pigeons in Skinner boxes that have been programmed to distribute food randomly.

      1. Have read in the paper of Usain Bolt’s high-minded reflection to the effect of being on his way to becoming a “legend.”

        What magnanimity and grace. One bows in his direction.

        What will he be doing twenty years from now?

        What are his academic skills? Can he do a several-step algebra problem involving his oeuvre – speed, distance and time?

        1. I find it disheartening that so many “academics” feel the need to ridicule “athletes” for being good at athletics. As if being athletic somehow precludes being able to think well. Despite all the evidence to the contrary i.e., numerous examples of “smart” athletes, and the numerous examples of “dumb” academics.

          Or as if difficult athletic achievements are somehow not worthy, make no contribution to society. It should be evident to any rational thinking person that at the very least having the discipline and mental focus necessary to train to the point where a difficult athletic achievement is possible is highly valuable to the individual and to the society that individual is part of.

    2. Jamaica is a multi-party parliamentary liberal democracy (has been since independence) with full legal equality for women, a literate (85+%) population, home to a major university (UWI), a major producer and influence on English-speaking, nay global, music, and for its size, disproportionately successful in athletics; and the beautiful Blue Mountains look down upon the capital, Kingston. All countries have their problems, but it would be hard to think of two countries less alike than Jamaica and Afghanistan (especially if one has the Taliban-ruled version in mind).



      Jamaica’s literacy rate is not so hot, according to this chart, but they’re definitely not among the worst. It’s a poor country compared to oil-rich Trinidad, etc. and education is not free for all as it is in Cuba which tops the entire list. But there is huge desire for children to go to school. Many who have had the means or help to pursue their studies have gone on to schools like Harvard, MIT, Oxford, etc. and many are doctors, lawyers, scientists, profs, CEOs, high financiers, and so on, and even atheists. 🙂

  5. “Jerk” anything is a favorite of mine. Glad to see it finally get some space on your site after all the other amazing grilled meats we’ve seen.

  6. Did they fly the Jamaican flag on municipal flag poles?

    I was talking to my mother, who lives in a small PA suburb, and apparently there was a local political dustup about flying the Bangladesh flag during their independence celebration. They rejected the request (they can fly the flag, just not on the municipal flag poles), which I agree with, but I wondered if other towns/cities do agree to this type of request.

    1. I didn’t see any on municipal flagpoles, but I’m not sure I saw any municipal flagpoles (they’re up in Daley Plaza).


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