I had the great pleasure of getting an exclusive listen to the new Good Day Cork documentary called Kitchen Stories. This documentary explores the kitchen stories of 5 people who have made Cork their home. It delve into their stories with food and how it’s been altered by their new lives in Ireland. As a Canadian expat in Ireland myself, it got me thinking about my own kitchen story. No matter your religion, nationality, or ethnicity, I believe food is something that unites us - it can trigger a memory and evoke a feeling; it can transport you.
Growing up, I was oblivious to the critical role that food played in our house, and had no idea how it would come to shape me. My mother would spend hours every Sunday preparing her famous Sunday dinner, and would get up at the crack of dawn 3 out of 5 days a week to prepare dinner for that night. My lunches weren’t the “typical lunch,” they were homemade jerk chicken, curry goat, or, if my mom didn’t have time that day, a delicious Jamaican beef or chicken patty. As a child, I used to beg to have something “normal” for school lunch, like a sandwich or microwaveable prepackaged meal, but that was simply out of the question…I never got my sandwich.
As my siblings and I got older, we started spending less time at home and more time out with our friends. But this didn’t slow my mom down in the kitchen - our dinners would still be waiting for us in the fridge when we got home, and there was always more than enough to share with friends. The kitchen was a part of my mom’s identity - she didn’t cook as a chore, she did it out of love. Even though we were a family of 4, she cooked for 10. If you’ve ever had dinner at my mother’s house, you would never leave empty-handed - she would send you off with a Tupperware full of food.
Inevitably, my kitchen story changed when I packed my bags and moved 3,400km away to Ireland. I was no longer able to stop by my mom’s after work for dinner, and there wouldn’t be surprise meals in my fridge on the weekends. Suddenly I was desperately missing all the meals that I had grown up on. I wanted akee and salt fish, or rice and peas with jerk chicken and fritters. I didn’t want that “normal” sandwich anymore. A significant part of my Jamaican roots was deeply embedded in food, and that was gone - I felt lost and disconnected.
As a Canadian-Jamaican in Ireland, when first arriving here, in terms of food, I felt lost - there were no Caribbean shops or restaurants for me to get a taste of home…the closest thing Google could locate was in London. I was overtaken with panic as I realized I had been too busy doing everything else to spend time with my mother in the kitchen - I had taken her for granted. I didn’t know how to make any of my mom's or grandmother’s recipes.
But I refused to let that get in my way.
The day that I decided to make my mom’s famous Jamaican curry chicken with rice and peas is a day I’ll never forget. After an extensive Google search, I was able to find the nearest Asian grocer. Since the spices are very similar, I headed over and picked up everything I needed. When I got home, I Facetimed my mom and asked for the recipe, and she looked at me confused and said “What recipe? You just make it…” Suddenly it hit me, in all my years I had never seen my mother or grandmother use a recipe…they just made it. So, instead, I asked her to walk me through the steps, and she did, happily. I will say that I was far from opening my own Jamaican restaurant…but I was on my way.
Since that day in Dublin, a lot has happened, I’ve moved to the amazing Cork city and become a mom. And now, my kitchen story has evolved yet again, it’s grown into an exciting fusion of Irish & Jamaican, and has become even more important to me - I can’t wait to give my children the amazing memories and connections to food I had growing up.
To many more dinners and meals shared with friends and family.
To listen to the heartfelt, funny, and warm docuseries check out Good Day Cork, perfect listen while cooking a meal yourself!
Nadine & the Simpl family.