If dynamites come in small packages, Jamaica would blow Australia away with its explosive flavours. There are under 1,000 Jamaicans living Down Under. Compared to a current population size of 25 million, it is a minuscule representation of Jamaicans. But Jamaica isn't just about food. Jamaicans immerse themselves in community. The Jamaican Association of Australia (JAA) represents that community and helps facilitate a sense of belonging in every state.
“We've got two kinds of Jamaican Australians,” Anna Chambers, vice-president of the Jamaican Association of Australia, explains. The first is the kind that came to Australia and has remained here for over 30 years. They paved the way for others to settle into the country and are characterised by their gentle charm and wise words. The second kind of Jamaican is the one who has just arrived, “mostly for love”, she opines.
They are most likely to assimilate quickly into Australian culture, and some even shy away from their Jamaican roots. Regardless of how they come, the community is steady. The owner of an online catering company herself, Chambers understands the loneliness of being in a new country without the support of people who look like her.
A social worker by profession, Chambers and her family first moved from Jamaica to Darwin, Australia's Northern Territory, for her work in 2012. Frustrated by zero Jamaican cuisine and culture, she and her chef husband Wayne started an online catering company, Jamaican Delight. It wasn't long before orders came in. A year later, she found herself living in their current city of Sydney, where they still carry on their business. “For us, it's about the whole Jamaican ambience,” she points out.
Together with JAA, Anna and Wayne create events people in Sydney can attend. Wherever a Jamaican is, there's reggae music, food, fun and spirit. That's the intention of these events. Among many reasons, the Chamberses believe that bringing Jamaicans together is a crucial way to help community members share stories, process events and celebrate achievements. Food is the centrepiece for that talking point, and Wayne is the perfect person to provide the kind of dishes Jamaicans can walk with down memory lane. Their winter oxtail soup is one such.
“Our dish looks like a stew. Its brown base with chunks of oxtail and broad beans is hearty,” Chambers says. Their meat is marinated for anything between 24 to 48 hours and slow-cooked for a few hours. The result is a finger-licking explosion. Those who eat this dish will taste the jelly-like meat texture mixed with pimento, thyme and, of course, Scotch bonnet pepper! Here in Australia, the way to know that you've passed the Jamaican authenticity test is whether older Jamaicans buy the food.
Authenticity breeds trust. Trust is what Anna and Wayne Chambers have through their food and their work through JAA. So if you're Jamaican and you plan on coming Down Under, welcome home. Someone is waiting here for you.
— Bridgett Leslie is an internal auditor by day and 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.