Tuesday, March 6, 2018

J is for: Jamaica {Ocho Rios}

On the eve of another Nor'easter (we're supposed to get a foot of snow tonight?!?), it seems fitting that I'm finally getting around to blogging about our trip to Jamaica from a month ago.

Can we just go back to 80-degree temperatures & endless drinks where the hardest decision is debating between pool or beach?


Ok, well, I guess these photos will have to do.


Anyways, the main purpose of the trip was to celebrate Justin's 40th birthday (or Jaharoni's for those who only know him from instagram.) We also just wanted a little warm weather reprieve from the New York winter, and we got that with four days in "Jamaica, mon," where the pace of life is slow and everyone is happy and friendly all the time.

Where we stayed: Moon Palace Jamaica
Moon Palace Jamaica is part of the Palace Resorts portfolio, located in Ocho Rios, about 90 minutes from the Montego Bay airport. Transportation is provided by the hotel, which is an all inclusive property with several pools, beachfront, and no shortage of activities to keep you entertained during your stay.

In full disclosure, I had a free voucher for Moon Palace, which I received as part of my hosting duties for the NYCWFF in 2016 (where I hosted an awesome BBQ event and made these Maple Bourbon Cider Jelly Shots.) I don't normally gravitate towards all-inclusive situations because I enjoy sampling the restaurants in places I visit, but we managed to do a little of both during our stay, which was a nice mix of exploring the local flavor and "I don't want to do anything but lay in the sun and have someone bring me drinks and food."

For example... a lot of this.

And this.

(And no one judging you if you decide to start drinking during the breakfast buffet at 10am.)

What we ate: Jerk Chicken!
I learned how to make Jerk Chicken before we went, so I was excited to compare it to the real thing down in Jamaica. Perhaps my favorite thing we ate at the hotel was the jerk chicken they grilled on the beach every day for lunch. It was served with a flavorful sauce and a side of corn and a freshly cut coconut to wash it all down. We pretty much ate this every day we were there. Aside from that, Moon Palace has the standard all-inclusive offerings. There's a buffet with lots of American favorites and local fare (we ate here for breakfast every day, as well as a couple dinners), a steak/seafood restaurant, a fancier Italian place, and a Hibachi restaurant (think Benihana style.) You can also order food anytime of the day at the various bars and poolside/beachside and even in your room!

While we thoroughly enjoyed the jerk chicken on the beach at Moon Palace, NOTHING compares to the flavors we experienced at Scotchies. The original is in Montego Bay, but there's one a few miles from Moon Palace. (about a 15 minute drive.) Wanting to experience authentic jerk chicken, we arranged for a private taxi to drive us up to Scotchies, wait for us to eat our lunch, and drive us back to the hotel. The taxi will cost more than lunch, but it was totally worth it in our opinion.

Scotchies is an open air restaurant, where they cook a number of different types of meat on a special grill made of both hot coals and green wood (most traditionally from a pimento tree, which produces all-spice berries, an important ingredient in Jamaican cooking.) The meat is cooked directly on the wood, absorbing oils and flavors as it slow cooks for a couple hours, with sheets of aluminum placed on top to help achieve an even char on the butterflied, bone-in chickens.

From there, it is removed from the grill, chopped up and served with a spicy scotch bonnet sauce on the side. We also got a serving of "rice and peas" (rice and beans) and festival bread (which is similar to a hush puppy.) I actually enjoyed the pork just as much (or perhaps more) than the chicken... so be sure to get both if you go!

A word of caution... because they are chopping up the pieces with a large butcher knife, there might be small bone fragments in the meat. I learned this the hard way when I chomped down on one, and cracked a back molar! (So... our $20 lunch actually ended up being a $700 lunch by the time I got it fixed back home.)

Miss T's Kitchen:
As much as we enjoyed the jerk chicken and pork at Scotchie's, probably our favorite meal of the trip was at Miss T's Kitchen where a hand painted sign inside the open-air restaurant sums up Jamaica perfectly: Tek it Easy.

Miss T's is an adorable little restaurant located in the town of Ocho Rios. It's best to map it on your phone, but essentially you will walk down a side street off the main drag in town. You will most definitely think you have gone down the wrong road, but before you get to the end of the street, you will see the entrance on the left.

Once inside, you will enjoy a cheerful and colorful little oasis serving some amazing local dishes and cold drinks. We ordered two of the house specialties: Miss T's Curry Goat and the Oxtail. Both are served in individual cast iron dishes with a side of rice & peas and vegetables. Even if you're one of those people who think "not in a million years would I try goat"... give it a shot. The flavors are insane and the goat is so tender and delicious, you will forget you are eating goat. The oxtail was probably our favorite though, stewed with butter beans, carrots and "spinners" which are little dumplings. The menu also features jerk pork and chicken, so if you don't end up venturing up to Scotchies, I'm sure it's great here (albeit more expensive).

Juici Patties:
If you want to try some Jamaican fast food, you have to get a "patty." As far as I can tell, it's kind of like a giant empanada or hot pocket stuffed with various things. The most common is beef, so it's sort of like a hamburger except instead of a bun, it's a pastry. We got ours with cheese, which was like molten lava, so I recommend letting it cool down a bit before biting in. Best part? They only cost a couple of bucks. There are several chains that offer up this local favorite, but according to my Jamaican expert, Alexis, Juici Patties are the best (and the original.) There is one on the main drag in Ocho Rios, a short walk from the hotel.

Overall, it was a quick but lovely four days to escape the New York winter and celebrate Justin's 40 years on this earth. Thanks again to Moon Palace Jamaica for a wonderful stay!

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