Real Jamaican Food
When it comes to food and drink, Bangkok is one of the most diverse and exciting Asian cities. There are a myriad of exceptional restaurants, eateries, and food stalls catering everything from vibrant Thai street food to elaborate tasting menus created by some of the worlds most talented chefs, this city really is a melting pot of international gastronomy. However, one world cuisine I feel Bangkok has been sorely lacking is Caribbean food, particularly Jamaican. Well, that’s all just changed with the arrival of Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant.
When it comes to Jamaican cuisine most of us can name a handful of dishes perhaps just one, and most probably that’s Jerk Chicken. However, there’s so much more to Jamaican food, it has one of the most diverse food cultures on the planet: making it a culinary paradise. Jamaican food reflects the country’s rich culinary heritage with its unique blend of cultures, races, and religions dating far back to the sixteenth century. Jamaican cuisine is a mixture of cooking techniques, flavours and spices influenced by those people who have inhabited the island. From the European colonialist and the West Africans brought there by the trans-Atlantic slave trade to Chinese and Indian laborers, all bringing their cuisines and different cooking techniques with them. Another heavy influence are the crops that were introduced into the island from tropical Southeast Asia.
Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant
Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant is a brand spanking new restaurant in Sathorn’s Soi Si Bamphen which just happens to be on the same Soi as one of Bangkok’s institutions, the legendary dive bar Wong’s Place. Frying Pan specialise in authentic Jamaican food that focuses on big flavours, with plenty of Caribbean spices. The ground floor restaurant has a nice relaxing outdoor covered area where you can while the time away playing dominoes as you sip on a frosty, ice cold beverage whilst listening to some scintillating Jamaican dub, reggae and ska tunes. The inside dining room is spacious and well lit, it also has a separate private dining area available. The room is decorated with bottles of Jamaican rum, wine and also wooden shack signs with Patwa or Patois phrases like ‘Wah Gwaan’ which is a casual Jamaican greeting and ‘Blood Fiah’ meaning Holy S#@t!
Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant is run by a retired US Army veteran Andrew McKoy, who had amassed a staggering 21 years of service and now proprietor of Frying Pan. Andrew spoke with us about his past, his love for his native country’s cuisine and coming to Bangkok. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, home to reggae legends Black Uhuru, Bob Marley and the Wailers and one of Jamaica’s most renowned record labels and recording studios Studio One. McKoy moved with his Family from Kingston to Miami, Florida in 1992 studying and competing in College Athletics in the local university. While studying he worked in his mother’s Miami restaurant which is where he learnt to cook classic Jamaican fare such as curry goat, fried dumplings, and ackee and saltfish. During his service in the US army, Andrew would cook to relax in his free time always going back to the comfort food from the island of Jamaica.
Visiting Thailand for the first time in December 2018, McKoy saw an opportunity in the market for good, home style Jamaican cooking, vowing to return to set up shop and would have returned earlier but well, we all know what last year was like. One time on a phone call to his mother back in Miami, he told her that he had decided to open a restaurant in Bangkok. She had exclaimed “Why do you want to work so hard; you’ve just retired?” going on to say “I know you are not one to sit around and do nothing, that you would want to keep busy.” Having got mum’s blessing, Andrew arrived in Bangkok early 2021 and opening the doors of Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant on the 13th of April.
Taste of the Caribbean
Our first dish is a common staple on the island of Jamaica, as well as throughout the Caribbean which is typically eaten for dinner. This dish is simply named for the dark brown colour of the gravy, its name Brown Stew Chicken. The deeply flavourful, traditional Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken begins with the caramelising of a brown sugar base, which is thought of as a West African cooking style brought over to the Caribbean. Together with the browning, as the caramel foundation is called, tomato, allspice, fresh thyme, ginger, onion and fiery Scotch bonnet peppers are added to create an astonishing depth of flavour to the stew. As the dish is placed before us the first thing that greets you is the enticing aroma of all those aromatic spices that have slowly melded together during the slow cooking process, building layer upon layer of flavour.
At Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant, the chicken stew is served with another of the island’s mainstays, rice and peas. This is a dish of white rice, cooked with peas (kidney bean) and infused with coconut milk and Caribbean spice like pimento seeds, thyme, scallions and garlic, and a better accompaniment for the stew you couldn’t find. Taking some of the chicken which falls right of the bone and dipping it into the pot of gravy, my first impression is of a rich, spicy sauce, followed by the chicken which has absorbed all those wonderful herbs and spices. The Scotch bonnet peppers give a lovely amount of heat which builds nicely but is in no way overpowering. The rice and peas help soak up all that delicious gravy which pairs so well with the dish’s own flavours.
Akee and Saltfish
Andrew told us that there was no way he was going to open Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant if Akee and Saltfish wasn’t on the menu. “You can’t have a Jamaican restaurant, without our national dish and that’s that” exclaimed McKoy. This much adored dish is usually eaten as breakfast or as a brunch but can be eaten at any time. The dish is typically eaten with fried dumplings for breakfast and boiled dumplings with the evening meal. First things first, let’s address what you’re all thinking, what on earth is akee? Ackee is actually a savory fruit with a tough, red outer casing which forms a seed pod when unripe, and has a similar look to that of a rose apple. However, when the fruit ripens, the casing opens up to reveal a petal-like form containing three or four yellow segments topped with a single black seed. Now, if incorrectly prepared, fresh ackee can potentially be poisonous, the fruit arillus are only delicious when ripe, prepared, and cooked properly. Native to West Africa, ackee came to Jamaica along with enslaved Africans, who used its seed as a talisman. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, which the islanders consider to be a delicacy.
What makes this dish surprising is how well two very different ingredients combine to create a meal that is both delicate and bold. Ackee has a soft scrambled egg-like even custardy texture, it has a very mild, savory flavor that is similar to soft fresh goat cheese with a slightly nutty, bitter undertone. The delicate nutty taste, subtle enough to absorb the flavours of what it has been cooked with. At Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant, this means chunks of fresh, flakey cod with the addition of Scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, thyme, green peppers, onions, and scallion, along with a side of some fried dumplings. The fried dumplings were definitely among my favourite dishes at Frying Pan, these flour dumplings are pan fried to light golden colour. The dumplings develop a wonderful golden crust, leaving a soft, buttery, crumbly interior. The fried dumplings put me in mind of an American biscuit or an English scone in terms of flavour. They add a whole new element to the overall dish, served warm they pair so well with the nutty akee and lightly pan-fried cod and all those delicious spices.
This is a dish that has its origins firmly rooted in Europe, Spain was the first European nation to arrive on the island. Jamaica being first colonised and subjugated by the Spanish in the 16th century who brought traditionally dishes with them, including the Jewish dish of escovitch fish. Jamaican Escovitch is fried fish (red snapper), that is then soaked in a tangy vinegar sauce which is poured over the fish just after cooking. The escovitch fish was nicely presented, the whole red snapper topped with vibrant pickled vegetables like carrot, onion, bell peppers as well as some fresh herbs. The fish itself was well-cooked, giving the skin a nice and crisp texture while leaving the flesh succulent and flakey. This was a great dish the interesting sauce adds a lovely sharp, tangy flavour that works perfectly with the fried snapper and that lovely fruity spiciness from the Scotch bonnets.
We can’t talk about Jamaican cuisine without mentioning (well sampling really, the world renowned ‘Jerk’. There are two schools of thought on how Jerking was developed, one is that the Maroons, descendants of enslaved Africans who had escaped into the island’s interior when the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish in the mid 1600’s. The second is that it was created by the Amerindians in Jamaica from the Arawak and Taino tribes who intermingled with the Maroons. Jerk refers to a style of cooking in which frequently either chicken or pork are coated in a marinade of a hot spicy mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. The marinade includes pimento seeds, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper as well as onion, fresh thyme and garlic. Also using the same browning as the stew chicken, taking brown sugar and caramelising it, almost burning it for a well-rounded depth of flavour then seasoned with some good old salt and pepper.
At Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant, they take pork belly which is immersed in that blend of beautiful spices for one to two days, allowing those flavours to merge together and penetrate the pork. The belly is the perfect cut for this style of cooking, with its layers of succulent meat and delicious, delectableness of grilled pork fat, this results in the exotically spicy and succulent, uniquely Jamaican, jerk pork. The jerk pork is served with rice and peas with its slight pink colour from the kidney beans, rich with spices and coconut milk that work so well as a combination, you can really see why its so ubiquitous within Jamaican cuisine.
Oxtails and Chicken Curry
The Oxtails at Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant are cooked the old school way, that means using a pressure cooker. For those of you who are unfamiliar, oxtails refer to the tail of a cow that has been skinned and cut into sections. Each section is comprised of the tailbone which has some marrow in the center with gelatinous meat that works great for soups, stocks, and braises. It’s a tougher cut of meat that needs a good while to ensure that the meat falls off the bone and that delicious marrow can be slurped out. The oxtails are braised with butter beans in a deep flavourful gravy spiced up with that familiar medley of garlic, onion, allspice, thyme, paprika, Scotch bonnet pepper, curry powder, and that complex browning sauce. The addition of carrots and butter beans adds some more sweetness and textures to the dish.
We also were lucky enough to try some of the Jamaican Curry Chicken. Just like other traditional spice blends, curry is highly subject and varies from region to region based on local flavours. The curry that you would get in a Japanese restaurant differs from that of British Madras style curry. Similarly, there are differences between Jamaican curry powder and an Indian style curry powder despite the fact that they have significant similarities. The biggest difference is that Jamaican curry powder is actually Jamaican. It is heavier on the turmeric than its Indian counterpart as well as having other spices like allspice berries alongside coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, anise seeds and fenugreek Seeds. This dish is defiantly on my must eat again list, this dish was soul satisfyingly familiar and strikingly different with each bite, the chicken has taken on all those flavours from the toasted spice blend that’s ridiculously moreish this is best severed with plain rice so it can soak up all the curry sauce.
Whilst you’re enjoy the authentic Jamaican culinary delights, you can just sit and relax with some original island vibes. Remember those legendary reggae artists I mentioned earlier, such Black Uhuru, Lee Perry, Bob Marley and the Wailers? Well, that’s just some of the classic Dub, Reggae, Ska, and Rocksteady music that will be playing in the background. That’s not all, now for those of you that know, they also serve up some of Jamaica’s most loved rum, Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum. For those of you that don’t, Wray & Nephew has for nearly 200 years been the original rum of the Jamaican people and intrinsic part of Jamaican culture. So, don’t let the wet season get you down, show some love and drop by Frying Pan Jamaican Restaurant to get some of those beach vibes in down town Bangkok.
Connect with them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fryingpanbangkok
More food from the Caribbean reviewed by Bangkok East TV.