Taste of Jamaica in KuwaitThursday, September 09, 2021
Former United States Army food service sergeant and second-generation Jamaican Ayana Ashanti is the proud owner of the only Jamaican restaurant in desert country Kuwait: Taste of Jamaica. Situated in Mangaf, south of Kuwait City, the restaurant is located in her guesthouse, offering an experience of Caribbean cuisine and hospitality.
Nestled in the Gulf region, the tiny oil-rich nation has a different culinary personality from Jamaica's, offering a fusion of Indian, Persian, Mediterranean and Najdi cuisines steeped in ancient tradition.
Ashanti offers curious locals and hungry expats a taste of her family's culinary traditions within this Middle Eastern setting.
Ashanti and her family moved from Spanish Town to New York when she was eight years old. Her childhood kitchen became a culinary classroom under the tutelage of her father. “Dad taught me how to prepare whatever he knew. He would tell me to be original. It's like taking an old song and remixing it.” There is a familiarity to the song without becoming stale. So too with her dishes, like Ashanti's brown stew chicken with string beans and oxtail with cabbage, rice and peas.
Tradition is honoured in the cooking method used in brown stew chicken. The aromatic blend of pepper, thyme, ginger and garlic is only part of the flavour journey. Marinated chicken in juicy brown stew gravy is the other. It reminds Ashanti of the comfort of home as she serves her country as a government consultant in new surroundings.
Embracing time-honoured local custom is important to her. “Food in Kuwait is the number one social activity here. If we can't speak the same language, we can eat to understand the culture.” But this is not the only thing Ashanti loves about Kuwait.
The hot summers and short cool winters are a refreshing reminder of her days in Jamaica and why her iced tea drink sells so well. Fresh food ingredients are another friendly reminder of Spanish Town, where farmers' markets are the norm. “Kuwaitis love fresh ingredients, and they love to try new things,” Ashanti says as she reminisces about how pre-pandemic crowds filled her first coffee shop before she relocated the business a few months ago.
Expats, too, congregated around the culinary delights of Taste of Jamaica. A small representation of Caribbean expats from around the city supports Ashanti together with other nationalities, which turns her business in some ways into a community centre, with her menu being the central talking point.
Jamaicans have always believed that if they provide the opportunity for community, people will come. And with Taste of Jamaica, Ashanti proves that they do. Whilst the pandemic has forced her to pivot to online delivery, she is eager to see her guests enjoy themselves again. For now, the flavours of Jamaica are still available for a nation to enjoy. To be a trailblazer in places where others are yet to tread is just the Jamaican way. It's the Sergeant Ayana Ashanti way.
For more details on Taste of Jamaica, please visit the social media Instagram account @taste_of_jam_ayana
— 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.