Jamaican Culinary Trail in Australia's Food Capital
Jamaicans Down UnderThursday, August 19, 2021
with Bridgett Leslie
Since 2016 the Jamaican Music and Food Festival (JMFF) has been Melbourne's showground for culinary adventure and culture. The renowned Jamaican DJ Stick Mareebo's brainchild brings together music and food lovers under Australian skies, attracting a little under 7,000 people at the 2019 event. Next to Stick is part owner and fellow Jamaican DJ Zare Demus.
“The festival is a presentation of culture,” Zare explains. Vendors are chosen for authentic flavours. But the festival is also a way to address common Australian misconceptions about Jamaicans. According to the Spanish Town native, Australians believe that a Jamaican party has to be in a dingy place, that it must be rustic, and that there is no dress code. They also think that Jamaican food is spicy.
“Not so!” the 44-year-old protests. “Clubs in Jamaica are top-tier, there is a dress code, and the food is full of flavour. It's not spicy.” When festival-goers visit for the next event, on December 4, 2021, they can expect to be taken on a quick culinary trail through parts of Jamaica.
With vendors serving ital dishes, the Rasta route will be the first stop for vegetarians. There's music to match the plate, too. “Rasta is synonymous with reggae,” Zare says. Rastafarians believe that their bodies are temples that should be undefiled by western cultures of excess or greed.
“Ital means clean. There's also something for culinary adventure lovers. Foodies can expect to make a few stops along the way for a taste of everything from jerk chicken to rice and peas and chicken wings basted in an original hot sauce so hot, it's genuinely Jamaican.
“Expect rundown,” Zare says.The coconut milk reduction is a rich, spiced, adaptable stew usually cooked down with onions, tomatoes and scallions. Back when the slave trade still existed, people could not afford meat. The alternative was this silky sauce that can be eaten with just about anything. For these dishes, expect to hear the sounds of the latest Jamaican music blasting through custom-built speakers. The audio engineer-turned-publicist-turned-DJ knows how to keep the crowd dancing. These festival atmospheres remind him of the ones he used to enjoy back home.
When he moved from Spanish Town to Kingston, Zare remembers shopping malls with parking lots turning into dance floors. A traveller in search of adventure, he first left Jamaica for Canada. He met his Australian wife there, and they eventually settled in Melbourne. The Australia Reggae Radio station owner understands the need for cultural familiarity. It's why the festival is important to him.
Since making his very first cassettes for neighbours, where he did more talking than playing music, Zare has come a long way to offer Aussies the authentic Jamaican culture. Tickets for the festival are out now. Book your front-row experience at Australia's largest Jamaican music festival. You won't be jerked around.
For more information on JMFF, please visit the festival website at www.jmff.com.au
To find out more about Zare Demus, please visit his social media page.
— 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.