On Sunday afternoons, the Taylor household always has family dinner. After church with my immediate family and extended, almost every Sunday traditional Jamaican meals have been served. Both my parents are from Jamaica; my brother and I were born and raised in Massachusetts. I am proud to be a first generation American; and, I love my roots in the Caribbean and always wanted to explore them. However, being a first generation American, I have been through feelings of imbalance in my life, especially when it comes to food. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood outside of Boston. I was one of a handful of colored children throughout my elementary education. I just wanted so badly to fit in that I would refuse to bring lunches from home because I was afraid people would laugh or stare at what I was eating. My traditional meals that I loved so much were only to be eaten inside the house. Now that I am in college, I am making some important connections between my heritage and myself. Food and culture play huge roles in everyone’s lives.

I am currently a nutrition and dietetic student at Simmons College. I love learning everything about food, the nutrients within them, and how these can affect different systems in your body. After I started a student internship at Oldways this semester, I began researching numerous amounts of articles about the benefits of whole grains relating to chronic disease. In my research, I often found articles about acculturation and diet. Now, I have to admit that I was not exactly 100% sure of what “acculturation” meant, so I looked up the definition. The online Merriam Webster Dictionary states that acculturation is “cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture”. This concept of acculturation and diet resonated with me in a way I have never thought nutrition education could. While reading these articles, I could pull memories from my past and my family members’ health, and put them in conjunction with some of these findings. Much of these scientific studies identified acculturation at the root of the rising number of chronic diseases in immigrant populations—such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.

I figured that the first step in exploring acculturation and diet would be to start with my family and myself. I’ve loved traditional meals throughout my life; however, I have never really expressed interest in making them myself. Watching my mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles all cook Jamaican meals with ease, I figured in order to cook these delicious meals well, you would have had to have been born and raised in Jamaica. Since I have been away for college, I rarely get to make it to the Sunday dinners. I often miss the flavors and aromas that fill the house every Sunday afternoon. My favorite dish is definitely ackee and saltfish, which is the national meal of Jamaica. This dish is usually served with fried plantain and dumplings for breakfast. But I also love curry. Curry powder is used for a lot of dishes in Jamaica including, curried goat and curried chicken. I chose to use the curry chicken recipe because, as a new cook, I felt more comfortable handling chicken rather than the fish.

This little adventure was a first for my parents and me, as they handed me a shopping list to get all of the ingredients to make a curry chicken dinner:

Jamaican Curry Chicken Dish


4 chicken thighs
1 ½ teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of black pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups brown rice
4 stalks of scallions, chopped finely
Lemon juice or vinegar for washing
1 tablespoon allspice
1 15 oz. cans of kidney beans
2 yellow onions, diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
½ scotch bonnet
½ of a red pepper
½ head of a cabbage
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, minced

When I was very little I remember having to go on two shopping trips, one to the local grocery store and another into the city to get the more traditional items my mother had a hard time finding in the supermarkets. Now, I can head to the local grocery store about 10 minutes away to get all the ingredients I need, except for the scotch bonnets. The local grocery stores have peppers like scotch bonnets, but they are not the real Jamaican peppers. For scotch bonnets, we ventured out to a West Indian store in Mattapan. When I got back home, my father offered to help me with the cooking. I graciously accepted—anything I can do to spend some time with my parents is certainly worth it. This is another beautiful benefit of learning about our family traditions!

Here are the steps we followed while making our curry chicken dish. You can play around with the ingredients to create different variations of this dish. I tried to get exact measurements down, but I will admit that my father eyeballed a couple of the ingredients!

Curry Chicken Directions:
Wash and peel the skin off and trim the fat off the chicken thighs

Wash the chicken thighs with a little bit of the lemon juice or vinegar

Cut the chicken thighs into pieces.

Mix 1 tablespoon of the curry powder with the allspice, ginger, half your scallions, half your thyme, and a pinch of salt with the chicken, and let this marinate for about an hour.

Then caramelize the curry with oil, a little bit m curry powder, a ¼ cup of diced onions, and a spoonful of garlic powder over medium heat for about 5 minutes (the color should darken)

Add the chicken to the caramelized curry and then add a half of a scotch bonnet

Stir and cover the chicken. No need to add water because chicken will simmer in its own juices.

Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes until curry is fully cooked and chicken is fully cooked and tender.

Brown Rice and Beans Directions:
Bring 6 cups of water into a boil, salt, the rest of your scallions (2 stalks worth) and the rest of your thyme

Add in 3 cups of brown rice

Stir and let cook for 20 minutes at low heat

After 20 minutes, add the canned kidney beans                        

Stir and let cook for another 25 minutes

Steamed Cabbage Directions:
Cut a half of a cabbage into quarter inch pieces, place in medium size pot or pan

Add ¼ cup of water

Chop ½ of large red bell pepper in small strips

Steam cabbage and peppers on low heat until they are soft, approx. 15 minutes.


-Nicole Taylor, Oldways Intern and Dietetic Intern, Simmons College

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