While food trends come and go in Dubai, it would seem like 2016 has been the year of Jamaica with two new restaurants importing the good times island vibe to the city. We catch up with both Ting Irie and Miss Lily’s to find out what’s so special about Jamaican cooking.
“Jamaican food is special because of the soulfulness and nostalgia. The frame of reference transports our guests to a sandy beach or a smoke filled yard with jerk chicken cooking,” explains Adam Schop, executive chef at Miss Lily’s.
Ting Irie has gone for the beach shack vibe while Miss Lily’s has found success in New York with its music-focused retro disco decor, but both take their homeland’s cuisine very seriously.
“We have a modern approach to Jamaican food and we incorporate techniques used in fine dining cuisine, as well as flavors from around the world,” explains Craig Wong, executive chef at Ting Irie. The restaurant also has a couple of neat tricks up its Hawaiian shirt sleeve.
“We imported the best rotisserie in the world to slow cook our jerk chicken, it makes a crisp skin with tender juicy meat so we’ve nicknamed it the SpitFiyah.”
Both restaurants recognize you can’t just import a cuisine to a new country without fusing it a little to what’s already there. Both Ting Irie and Miss Lily’s have included Middle Eastern spices, flavors and dishes into their Jamaican menus.
“We have a Ackee Hummus with Charred Onion and Grilled Roti Bread which is an Arabic dish but we utilize Jamaican and West Indian ingredients. When the dish is presented, it has a classic Arabic aesthetic but uses traditional Caribbean ingredients and flavors,” says Schop.
Wong at Ting Irie explains, “ we have a burger inspired by the UAE’s unofficial national dish.... The Chips Oman sandwich! It starts with a caramelized griddle smashed burger patty. We grill fresh white chilli cheese, and top it with crushed Chips Oman and a few extra chips on the side. For any national, this is nostalgia on a plate.”
While the tropical island of Jamaica might feel like a world away from dusty Dubai, the palettes of people are actually pretty similar, reckons Ting Irie.
“The Jamaican and Middle Eastern palate is incredibly similar. Both cultures appreciate spiced meat, rice, and crunchy salads. While Ting Irie’s food is certainly spiced, you’ll enjoy the spice level, our food does not rely on excessive spice.”
But it’s not just about the food you eat at these two restaurants, the vibes, the music and the people all have a lot to do with why so many people have been heading down for a Caribbean dinner experience.
“Ting Irie has the pleasure of bringing over 90 percent of our amazing staff directly from all over Jamaica. We even have a chef from the American Embassy in Jamaica. We are Jamaican culture...from the food, to the drinks, and reggae music; every night is a Kingston street party!”
Meanwhile Schop says: “Miss Lily’s represents the heart and soul of Jamaica. It is from our warm and soulful cooking, our energetic staff, the design of the restaurant featuring iconic Jamaican recording artists’ posters from concerts and imported ingredients coming straight from the motherland.”
From jerk chicken, rice and peas to rich soft oxtail stews, there’s something for everyone on a Jamaican menu, but what should you order if you’re not familiar with the food?
“We’ve always gotten a stellar response to our OG Fried Chicken, Curry Goat, Patty Crust Nachos, and Dat Lamb Tho (spicy soffrito marinated lamb chops, with Jerk hummus),” says Wong.
“Definitely start off with the Salt Cod Fritters and Jerk Grilled Corn and end with the Dark and Stormy Rum Cake,” advises Schop.