Green Bananas And Yam
We go on a steep learning curve at Nubian Taste
As a novice in the Caribbean food department, a visit to Nubian Taste on Goldhawk Road was bound to be a steep learning curve. It was also a chance to try something completely new and, unlike Dr Seuss's character in Green Eggs and Ham who has to be convinced to even taste something out of the ordinary, we welcomed the opportunity.
Fish and chicken feature heavily on the menu at Nubian Taste (stewed, fried, steamed, curried) but there are also some more unusual-sounding dishes such as 'Nubian cow foot' and 'escoveitched fish' – a spicy dish apparently brought over to Jamaica by Spanish Jews some 500 years ago.
On the vegetarian menu, there were only three dishes – one of which was fish. And of the three, the only one which was available was – the fish. So, the decision was made for us and, in the absence of any vegetables, we ordered a plate of ackee and saltfish (£12.50) – Jamaica's national dish. Ackee, as I learnt, is a type of fruit related to the lychee and when cooked, it looks like scrambled eggs. This was gorgeously smooth and buttery, melting in the mouth as I ate it. Mixed in with the ackee was flaked saltfish, sauteed onions, tomatoes and scallion. Altogether a very tasty combination. We also opted for some Nubian curried goat (£7.50), which was served with rice and red kidney beans and was declared to be hot and spicy and absolutely delicious.
As a side dish, we ordered a plate of 'hard food' (£4.00), out of curiosity more than anything else. The waitress patiently explained to us that it was a mixture of dumplings, yams and green bananas but we wondered whether the 'hard' bit referred to the texture of the food, the ability to digest it or whether it was simply a mis-translation and was meant to mean something like 'staple food'. Unfortunately, the not-very-attractive description was matched by the not-very-attractive appearance of the ingredients: the yam was off-white, the dumplings somewhere between white and grey and the green bananas, which might have added a bit of colour to the dish, were also grey, as if in sympathy with the other two. The three of them also then conspired to be absolutely tasteless and after dipping a few corners into the curry sauce to liven them up, we soon lost interest.
While we were the only eat-in diners, there was a constant flow of people going in and out of Nubian Taste to collect their takeaway food and the door was never closed for very long. The yellow-painted exterior and interior of the restaurant did a good job at simulating the sun on a cold, grey day and we certainly couldn't have been in a more cheerful environment. But we were also confused: why was a restaurant called 'Nubian Taste' serving up Jamaican food? As far as I am aware, Nubia is a region that straddles the borders of Egypt and Sudan and is nowhere near Jamaica or any part of the Caribbean. Even my best friend Wiki, who usually knows everything, can't seem to enlighten me. The only clues I have been able to find are that Nubia is said to be the homeland of Africa's earliest black culture and that the roots of Rastafarianism may well lie in ancient Egypt. I stand to be corrected.
To drink, we tried sour sop juice, which comes from the tropical sour sop fruit and is meant to have all sorts of amazing cancer-busting properties. Its refreshing taste was somewhere between banana juice and cough medicine, so it wasn't surprising to learn that sour sop is also used as an ingredient in various traditional herbal medicines.
At the end of our meal, which came to a reasonable £26.25, the excellent waitress with the lovely glittery nails seemed quite deflated to see how much of the yam, banana and dumpling dish we had left on our plates. I am not sure if she had cooked it herself, but her disappointment was palpable as she rushed over to get us a plastic container and bag so that we could take the leftovers home with us. We obligingly took the 'hard food' with us but I am sorry to say I do not like green bananas and yam, I do not like them Sam-I-am.
December 18, 2009