Street Food Vibes: Herma Smith's Pepper Shrimps
Herma Smith at the corner of St James and Church streets where she has been selling shrimp for the last 44 years. (Photo: Aceion Cunningham)

Thursday Food is still wrist-deep in pepper shrimp from the vendors in Montego Bay selling from the corner of St James and Church streets. We are simply amazed by their stories of longevity and dedication to their customers. Herma Smith's story is no different; she has been selling at the location for the last 44 years.

Smith was introduced to the location by two of her aunts who were selling at this same spot for several years earlier.

"I was 14 years-old at the time when I started. I was living with my parents who were plagued with financial problems. Whenever I'm supposed to go to school there's no money, and I just decided to launch out for myself. Two of my aunts used to sell here. Our family is from St Elizabeth; one aunt moved here [Montego Bay] and the other would travel and stay during the week and sell. They brought me here and I've been doing it ever since," Smith explained.

"When we started, we would sell the shrimp that was smaller and softer than those that we have now. We buy them from the fishermen that go out on Black River, as much as 30 or 50 lbs sometimes. Then each morning we would take, like, a 10lbs from the deep-freeze and prepare that for the day," Smith added.

Smith also explained her cooking process and the best way to prepare the shrimp based on its texture.

"I use pepper, pimento and Maggi All-Purpose seasoning on my shrimp because they cannot take a lot of seasoning. You have to use wood fire — can't use gas stove — and the coal pot works best. The shrimp that I have is a hard shell one and it's not easy to cook like the sea shrimp. I have to boil for up to half an hour, when the water boil over, you have to shake it and get the top ones to the bottom, add more water and cook for another 20 minutes. My shrimp is from some of the deepest parts of the Black River and from the sea. That's how I started and I've kept it like that ever since," Smith said.

She went on to speak about sacrifices, hardships, ultimately being able to provide for her children and what keeps her going.

"Every week we would be in front of the judge. Sometimes the judge tired a we, but me know a petty case; if me no have me $3,000, me have me $5,000. The parish council took away our shrimp and I went to Mayor Glendon Harris and explained I need opportunity in order to provide for my children. At the time, my son was at UTech, one daughter at college in Canada and the other daughter in primary school — she went on to graduate from Bethlehem Teachers' College. When it was settled where we didn't have to run from the police anymore, I started to file income tax yearly to give back something to the Government," Smith stated.

"I'm proud of my children and I have made preparation for them 'cause I'm a good fighter. If I wasn't a good fighter, I don't know what would have come of my children, as sometimes when the road hot, police a run you dung and ask if me not leaving the street. If you're not a fighter in Jamaica, you cannot survive, as minimum wages can't put children through university. I have given them good education and I'm not looking to pressure them; I'm making something for myself now," Smith said.

— Text & photos by Aceion Cunningham

Packaged shrimp from Herma Smith for $200.00, $300.00 and $500.00 (Photo: Aceion Cunningham)
Herma Smith makes a pepper shrimp sale. (Photo: Aceion Cunningham)
Shrimp sold for $3,000.00 per lb. (Photo: Aceion Cunningham)
Corner of St James and Church streets in Montego Bay. (Photo: Aceion Cunningham)

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