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August 31, 2007

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Jamaican Dhall

I remember many years ago, when I was a child living in Sydenham, Spanish Town, that aroma coming from the home on the next street (Grants Avenue) around the corner. The aroma filled the air with flavors that made my friends and me hungry and curious altogether.

Well you can imagine how confused we were to find out that the food flavor came from the home of the Gunpats, a family of East Indian descent. All the while thinking that it must have come from the kitchen of Mother Sue or Miss Becky’s, two old women who were well known for their cooking abilities.

For all we knew, then, everybody ate everything that was available and made it as everyone else does. However, the East Indians had different ways of making some foods that were exclusively “Indian” when you attempt to describe some of these foods. Although Curry Chicken or goat is not tagged with the “Indian” label, there is no argument that these two dishes are originally East Indian.

Anyway, the Gunpats used to have celebrations that went on for several days sometimes. I do not know the reasons for some of these celebrations, which include serving foods name gulla-gulla, dhal, and roti, just to name a few. Nevertheless, I attended and had a great time eating, drinking and merry- making.

Mr. Gunpat's all night drumming and singing in the old Indian language was funny at times and even border on the strange. We could not understand a lick of what he was singing or even arrest the melodic structure of his songs accompanied by the non-metered rhythm he played from his Tabla drum…I think he was drunk, yah mon.

When Mr. Gunpat passed away, I went to the nine-night celebrations to pay my respect and offer my condolences to the family…it would have been disrespectful not to show up as I was considered a prominent lad in the community, you know.

Well, I had more labeled “Indian” food at the nine-night with some adult beverages, when too.

Since then (late ‘70’s) I have not had any Jamaican Indian food at all until week before last when Sabrina, a staff member, made some Dahl and Roti. Nuff Yah Mon!!!

The only complaint I have is she did not make enough! After all these years of missing the good ole ‘yard style’ Dhal and Roti I was in heaven when she offered me some of the food.

I also asked her to let the cat out of the bag to teach you how to make Dhal; one of my favorite of all “Indian” Jamaican dishes. I know you will enjoy this with any starchy food or just by itself.

I did let mine stay in refrigerator for two days then warm it in the microwave oven and eat it with Roti…you envy me…cool.

Here is Dhal by Sabrina Henry


1/2 lb. split peas,beans,red peas ( combination)-choice of peas here may vary; you may use only one kind or two or the combination that suits your taste)

4 cups water

1 tsp. turmeric powder/saffron powder of curry

4 cloves garlic

1 med. onion, diced

1/2 tsp. ground cumin/geera

2 pimento peppers, finrly chopped (optional)

salt to taste 2 tbsps. oil

1 tsp whole cumin/geera.....( may sub with curry)

Method: *In a pressure cooker, combine peas, water , turmeric, 2 cloves garlic, onion, ground cumin, salt and pimento peppers.

* Pressure cook for 10-15 minutes until peas are tender.

*Add curry to cooked peas

*In a small pot heat oil and fry whole cumin and remaining garlic until black in colour.

*Very carefully, pour oil with burnt cumin and garlic into peas.

* Serve hot with white rice or roti.

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