It is the story of David and Goliath. In a country where the population is over one billion people, 600 Jamaicans seem negligible. Yet, just like how David threw down a giant in Biblical days, schoolteacher Romalee Rowe is doing the same with her catering business, Roma’s Kitchen. Since 2019, she’s been living and working in the Sichuan province, where Chinese cooking is all about spicy, oily and peppery.
Born and raised in Newhall, Manchester, the braided beauty exudes Jamaican charm. She is as cheerful as she is thankful. Rowe is thankful for living safely through the pandemic in the country where the novel coronavirus was first detected. This period gave her a new purpose for her culinary passions. “I grew up cooking with both my parents. My father used to work in a restaurant. He was always teaching me. He was the ‘Jamaican Roots’ man.”
The family used coal pots to cook their meals, an old tradition that Rowe values. But even tradition can be tampered with. This is why her catering company and YouTube account with over 6,000 subscribers, Roma’s Kitchen, serves traditional Jamaican dishes with a Chinese twist. Like Oxtail with Steamed Buns and Ackee and Salt Fish Spring Rolls.
When Rowe first came to China, she fell in love with the delicious warm flavours of steamed dumplings. With the pandemic forcing the world into lockdown, she experimented with flavours — intense Jamaican flavours against the delicacy of Chinese ones. Oxtail Stew with Steamed Buns is a local favourite. The stew consistency is heavy enough to soak up the textures of the bun — no spoon needed with this recipe. Rowe’s ackee and salt fish spring rolls are a recent favourite amongst expats and locals alike. She found a way to plate up the national dish whilst honouring a culture steeped in Tao te Ching philosophy and honour culture. In Sichuan, she is continuously honoured for being Jamaican.
She smiles as she recounts her introduction to China. “I never saw people so happy to see me. Some cars even bumped into each other because a black foreigner was in their city. People wanted me to sign my name on papers.”
Rowe makes a habit out of culinary observance of local flavours around Sichuan. One dish that is made both in China and Jamaica is bammy. Bammy is an ancient Arawak dish made out of cassava and salt then soaked in coconut milk in Jamaica. The Chinese call the dish Kueh. Another dish she serves Jamaican-style is sweet and sour chicken. This quintessential dish is a famous symbol of culinary immigration. Rowe is not afraid to challenge the traditions of its flavours with Jamaican ones. Whilst the Chinese love to add prickly ash and roots to their dish after cooking their meat, she marinates hers with orange juice, Scotch bonnet pepper and pimento seeds.
Generosity is at the heart of Caribbean culture. Rowe is using the income she makes from her catering business to help Jamaican children finish high school. The popular YouTuber is also working on putting together her seasoning line, reflecting her culinary experiences.
To contact Romalee, please visit her Instagram page: @romaskitchen_ or visit her Youtube page https://www.youtube.com/c/ROMASKITCHEN96
— Bridgett Leslie is an internal auditor by day and a media correspondent by night. She is passionate about Caribbean flavours and the community around this culinary cuisine. She is currently finishing her undergraduate studies in gastronomy at Le Cordon Bleu.