The Jamaican Sunday Dinner is recognized as a very special tradition that takes place in the Jamaican household and from it, precious memories have been etched in the hearts and minds of the Jamaican people.
Despite the culture or the family structure you belonged to, the dinner table is usually a place where family members spend very close time together and participate in special bonding. A connection where they could engage each other in conversation in a relaxed, homely setting, allowing them to interact openly, laugh and share the happenings of their week passed. Whether your meals were cooked on the stove top indoors or from a coal/wood fire on the outdoors, the dinner table always held that special place and position.
The Jamaican/Caribbean cuisines have been influenced mainly by the African, Irish, Indian, British, Spanish, French and Chinese. Our dishes have a rich variety of spices, cooking techniques, names and even presentation styles that were adapted from these various ethnic groups.
However, the Sunday Dinner was often the big deal. It definitely “takes the cake”. Many years ago, formal clothing was actually worn respectfully to eat at the Sunday Dinner table. Even the best Chinaware and crockery were used to serve and dine on during that special time, especially when there were guests or additional family members came to visit. In addition, even if family member’s schedules didn’t accommodate having dinners together on the weekdays, it was almost always expected that everyone would be present to partake of Sunday Dinners.
Now let us take a look at what goes into the preparation of the Jamaican Sunday Dinner from start to ‘bellyful’. The meats (chicken ,beef,pork,goat to name a few) would be cleaned, seasoned and marinated preferably from overnight and for the special dinner, was almost always required and practiced. Traditionally, the women would handle the cooking but then it depended on the household as well, because in some homes everyone would pitch in and do their part to ensure all the dishes were completed, perhaps perfected.This special dinner consisted of but was not limited to fried/baked /curried chicken, roast beef, curried goat, rice and red or pigeon peas, cooked in fresh coconut milk, fresh garden salads/coleslaw, potato salad, fried plantains and sometimes boiled ground provisions such as yams and green bananas.
It must be noted too that Jamaicans tend to enjoy their meats and meals well seasoned and thoroughly cooked. Popular spices and herbs of choice included pimento, cloves, black pepper, curry powder, garam masala, ginger, scotch bonnet peppers, garlic, thyme, green onions (scallions) and onions, but this list has not been exhausted.
A wonderful aroma would fill the entire house, or even the yard once cooking commenced and everyone would be in eager anticipation of the enticing meal (nyammings) that was being lovingly created; a spread that they would be benefiting from; eating with eyes, heart and mouth. From the utterances of “Dinna ready yet? Mi hungry!” to “Mi belly full ! That was so delicious! ”
If I may interject here and say that many persons who worshipped on Sundays would sometimes pre-prepare their Sunday meals or awake in the early morning so they could cook the dishes before getting dressed for church.
In addition to the sumptuous traditional dishes, Jamaicans also enjoyed making natural juices, using mostly locally grown tropical fruits and vegetables; carrot juice, sorrel, soursop, Juneplum, beetroot and limeade to name a few. These “beverages’ were very cool and refreshing and perfect to drink especially in our very humid tropical climate. Could I dare exclude the mouthwatering desserts of potato, bread or cornmeal puddings and fruit cakes that often culminated a very tasty Sunday dinner, some of which have been expertly baked on an outdoors wood fire. This technique is locally referred to in riddle form as, ” fire a top,fire a bottom, holy ghost in the middle “. The batter filled baking dish was placed on an open fire,covered and another smaller fire or smouldering coals placed on top, sealing in the heat and baking the pudding or cakes.These desserts had a sweet and smoky type flavour to them and often a caramelized topping.
I was also recently reminded of one very special practice of our very dear little island and its people and that is indulging in the “Sunday -Monday” leftovers, which is a popular traditional occurrence. Sunday cooked dinners were said to taste sweeter the next day, but I’ll leave you to be the judge of that.
In concluding, I must say that Sunday Dinners seem to be at a certain level of risk, in terms of their frequency. We have entered into a more modern way of living and interacting, easily distracted and easy to forget the importance of family bonding and passing on of traditions and values. Often the leisure and recreation of family is heavily replaced with technology and other activities. So too is the convenience of purchasing meals on the go or that have been pre-prepared and packaged. However, that should definitely not become a substitute for family members eating together.
Let us continue to give “Sunday Dinners” the recognition and practice it deserves, uphold its honour and keep it alive and healthy. Even more to be kind, humble, thankful and appreciative for the opportunity to partake of this special meal and continue to bless the hands of those that provide and prepare it.
Until next time- One Love, One Heart.