Taste of the Caribbean: Festivals, a Jamaican Treat Worth Celebrating
There can’t possibly be a more aptly named food than the fried Jamaican favorites pictured here. They’re called Festivals, and as their name implies, eating them yields a joy worthy of celebration.
These “sticks,” as my kids call them, are a common staple in Jamaica, enjoyed as a stand-alone snack, breakfast treat, appetizer or an accompaniment to most any meal. They go especially well with spicy dishes like anything made with Jerk seasoning as Festivals have a magical way of balancing out the fire.
For me, though, they’re way too special to be called common.
The smell of Festivals frying, the first taste of the warm dough hitting my mouth; it all takes me back to past good times traveling through this very special island where so much of what’s great about the Caribbean was born (more on that here).
About two years ago, I was in Montego Bay on business. This was one of those meeting-intensive trips where you spend most of the time in fancy board rooms, leaving precious little time to see and experience what a place is really all about. As the meetings wrapped up on the last day, I got that “uncommon” itch…
It was about 11:30 on a Wednesday night, so I wasn’t expecting to find much. Basically, I just told my taxi driver that I was hungry and asked him to take me someplace where I could get some good local food. From the Holiday Inn where I was staying, we started off to the west, past the airport and toward the Hip Strip.
Now, I’m sure those of you who’ve been likely would not consider the Hip Strip to be our idea of uncommon… and for the most part, you’d be right. The closer we got, the more my heart sank as I tried to conjure in my mind a nice way to tell the driver that cheeseburgers at Margaritaville were not my idea of island food.
To my surprise, though, he whizzed past the main throng of Hip Strip bars and nightclubs, stopping instead at a small collection of roadside stands on Gloucester Avenue right along the waterfront. The smokey haze, bass-thumping dancehall and distinctive spicy scent of jerk spices immediately informed my senses that the driver had, indeed, brought me to the right place.
The Jerk Chicken I had was nice. The ice-cold Red Stripe was too. But, it’s the Festivals that I remember most fondly about that night. They just seemed to tie everything together so nicely. I liked them so much, I treated my driver to an extra order of Jerk just so I could get one of his Festivals. Yup, they were that good. Just writing about it has me wanting to head back there right now!
It looks like I’ll have my chance next month when I’ll probably be back in MoBay again on business. In the meantime, I can settle for making my own Festivals at home (that’s my latest attempt pictured above). You can too, of course. Grace Foods (remember them?) sells a nice Festivals Mix that you can order online here. Or, just follow this simple recipe…
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Add water gradually, along with two teaspoons of oil, stirring as you go until everything is blended. Cover your bowl and let stand for about an hour.
Now, you’ll want to heat your oil. As that’s warming up, get some flour on your hands and start breaking off small pieces of dough. Work the dough in your hands into small balls before rolling them into “fingers” three-to-four inches in length. Drop the fingers carefully into the hot oil and let ’em fry til they’re a nice, golden-brown color. Once cooked, remove the Festivals from the oil, placing them in a bowl lined with paper towels. Serve hot and be transported back to Jamaica.