Home Cooking in a Jamaican Villa
Nothing is as sweet as leaving a wailing blizzard behind and stepping out of the plane into the warm, sweet air of Jamaica. But what made my most recent stay even sweeter is that we rented a villa up in the Blue Mountains behind Port Antonio on the eastern part of the island. And this fabulous little house, called Tranquility Villa, came not only with fabulous views and its own private pool, but, best of all, with its own resident cook and caretaker. We were in heaven.
A week before we arrived, a grocery list was sent. “We would like to pre-stock Tranquility Villa for your arrival,” they said. Yes indeed, we answered, and asked for Blue Mountain coffee, Ting (a grapefruit-based Jamaican soft drink), ginger beer, mangos, papayas, plantains, eggs, and local bread, all to be purchased ahead of time. We ordered brown stew chicken with carrots and fried plantains for our first dinner. After that, our cook, Beverly, would consult with us about what we might want for dinner and breakfast. On a daily basis, she went to the markets for us and kept track of the receipts (later we would reimburse her).
Like so many Jamaicans, Beverly is a fabulous home cook. One night she made a fragrant oxtail stew, another evening crunchy coconut shrimp. We had brown stew fish and jerk chicken, baby bok choy with scallions, callaloo (local greens) and yams, avocados with local tomatoes, and one of my island favorites, a crusty baked macaroni and cheese.
Every day, over our perfectly cooked breakfast omelettes, fragrant with scallions and thyme, we would consult with Beverly about what we might want for that night’s dinner. Then, as we whiled away the days, often eating lunch out at various local beaches, alongside rivers, or in restaurants, she shopped and cooked, serving us pre-dinner drinks on the patio while we watched the glorious sunsets over the mountains. She lit the candles on the patio, served us with a smile, then cleared the table and washed the dishes, and all we had to do was polish off her luscious desserts such as coconut cake or lemon meringue pie.
On one of our last days with her, Beverly accompanied us to the local markets, helping me navigate the best stands for allspice berries, coconut oil, and jerk rubs, all of which I stocked up on to take home.
What did we owe by the end of the week? In our case, the bill was several hundred dollars. In general, you can expect the household staff’s gratuity to be somewhere around 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the weekly rental.
We used VillasinJamaica.com to plan the trip. Our niece, who once rented a large beach house near Ocho Rios with a bunch of her girlfriends, used JamaicaVillas.com. You might try RentalEscapes.com/Jamaica or JamaicanVillaRental.com. You can also visit the Official Web site of the Jamaica Tourist board at VisitJamaica.com.
Any way you go, you will be warmly welcomed to come in from the cold.