goat faces bundled to shape goat horns

Goat Head Soup for the Soul

I wonder, a lot, about what diasporic cooking in the next generation(s) will look like.

It’s mostly because I’m a lazy, guilt ridden second gen Jamaican-Canadian that my thoughts get dragged in this direction. I’m in my mid-20’s, I don’t have my own dutch pot or know how to make oxtail. And the oats in my oats porridge still come out hard instead of soft and creamy. So, admittedly, part of this wondering is out of fear. I’m worried that I’m always behind. Right now, we’re dealing with Covid-19 and this thought that usually just drifts in and out of my mind remains due to the consequential peak in people sharing what’s cooking in their kitchens irl.

With nothing much to do and a bottle of mild jerk seasoning to finish before I move back to Toronto, I started experimenting (and created a nasty batch of jerk mushrooms) and reflecting on family and culinary traditions. What will my nieces and nephews children’s dinners look like? If they continue to indulge in bun and cheese and fried fish during Easter, will it be harder to find sizable and affordable fish than it is now? As our families extend, including our relatives who continue to migrate to this stolen imperialist land, will our ties to the food water down?

There is hope for the preservation of Jamaica’s influence on Toronto’s exaggerated “diverse” landscape, but it’s the home cooking I’m talking about. I came across Adrian Forte’s Instagram; he’s a Jamaican born chef and culinary consultant, whose cooking style, according to his introduction on Toronto’s TopChef, is inspired by “the caribbean islands and the continent of Africa [with] classic french techniques.” His instagram posts feature inventive versions of classic Jamaican dishes and his captions delve into the history of slavery and migration behind it; topics I’ve always found interesting but have yet to further engage. This quirk is quite similar to my approach to cooking; I know how to make more non-Jamaican dishes because (when living with a parent) Jamaican food is always there, so I took it for granted. Yet, Forte’s innovation is just a glimpse of the creativity that exists in Jamaican kitchens and the modifications that will develop naturally from the use of substitute ingredients, interacting cultures and our charming eccentricity.

Now, it’s not that I didn’t have an interest in learning how to cook Jamaican food; I picked up a few things here and there from simply being attentive to my father’s out loud explanations. Like not to cut too much fat off meat because it produces flavourful oils. Or cutting the fat off oxtail while it’s frozen is easier. My father wants all his children to learn how to cook. In fact, there’s a bit of a shameful half-hearted teasing when you don’t. But again, the food was always there so I figured there would always be time.

Instead, I focused on dishes that I couldn’t access regularly, like japchae from the restaurants in Koreatown or mirza ghasemi from my time working at a Persian restaurant. Learning to cook these dishes invited new flavours, spices and methods of cooking that, if I’m being honest, my parents would not have been interested in trying. Being reminded that my parents lack time, as adulting does, convinced me that I needed to learn from my father how to make staples like curry goat. Moving out of Toronto galvanized me into trekking to the West end to study my brother’s cornmeal porridge recipe, which I’ve yet to get right.

It’s not just the staples that I’m determined to get down; like rice and peas, jerk pork (which I excel at now thanks to Uncle Renny) and escovitch fish like my mother’s. I want the ones that aren’t well known by the non-Jamaican mainstream — including the ones that I don’t know — like run down, stew peas (which I hate but still consider a necessary recipe, like a story that must be passed down through the bloodline) and goat head soup like my father’s.

I don’t know if it’s his favourite, cause when I call he’s often making some kind of soup, but he values it for the simple fact that it’s nutritious and it was tradition back home. He brings soup to loved ones in need of care and you’ll find him in the kitchen with his lanky arm reaching over the edge of a high soup pot just before the family function. My father’s presence in the kitchen is not something I take for granted and being able to replicate these dishes, when far from relatives and Scarborough, is a coveted skill, especially now that we’re strictly confined to our homes.

It’s a powerful feeling knowing my cooking style and kitchen habits are attributed to each of my family members. And though I have no interest in being a parent, I crave the satisfaction of cooking for a family; being a wifey and fantasy mom who hosts dinner parties and cooks good Jamaican food, cause if it’s anything like my relatives, it will be. I want to debunk the reputation I currently hold as the aunt who only knows how to make lasagna and create a tradition like my father has when he contributes goat head soup to our styrofoam cups. Maybe I won’t be THAT major figure in the familial hierarchy like my father but my point is maintaining tradition, not just for our next generations sake, but also for our ancestral well being. If gumbo summoned community and memories in the Princess and The Frog then I’d like to see goat head soup have a similar prominence in the Jamaican diaspora.

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