A taste of Jamaica in Prague
The Prague food scene is becoming increasingly diverse, with more room for cuisines outside of traditional Czech food. While Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indian places continue to pop up, restaurants serving Carribean food, and specifically Jamaican cuisine, remain few and far between.
On four days a week, the farmers market in Jiřího z Poděbrad square bustles with people who shop for their weekly groceries, or stop by for a delicious bite of food. The market is a staple for Prague 3 residents, and provides a communal environment for them to enjoy the beautiful neighbourhood scenery and town square. While you can find traditional Czech bakeries, cheese stands, and butchers, on Wednesday’s you can also find a bright yellow tent selling wonderfully spiced foods, and if you can listen carefully, the sounds of reggae music might lure you over to meet the man behind it all.
Clyde Porter was born in Jamaica, and moved to New York when he was young. From there, he spent time in Germany.
Ten years ago, Porter landed in Prague and decided to make it his home, but cooking up the food from his home country of Jamaica was never in the cards for him, or something he planned on doing. It was an act of service and kindness for people experiencing homelessness in Prague that led him down the path of making food for others.
“I started doing this Jamaican kitchen about three and a half years ago. When I first started, I must say that I really didn’t know how to cook, and we started one Sunday morning by taking some hotdogs to feed the homeless at the train station in Prague. We gave them all away, and then the following week we went back with more, and we’ve been doing that ever since. Every Sunday we used to feed at least 60 homeless people, and then we figured out that we couldn’t leave Prague, because we always had to be there on Sundays. So now, every first Sunday of the month my wife and I feed about 60-70 homeless people. And this is what gave me the inspiration to start the Jamaican Kitchen, because so many people were loving the food, and so that’s how we started doing this.”
From social deeds, to business enterprise, Porter and his yellow tent can be found across Prague, and cities in Czechia.
“When we’re in Prague, we’re here in Jiřího z Poděbrad every Wednesday, and on Saturday’s we’re in Dejvicka, but normally we only do the festivals, and that can be in all the little villages in Czechia, from Prague to two hours away.”
Neither Prague, nor any other cities in Czechia boast a Jamaican community like major cities such as London, so for many Czechs, Jamaican food is something new and out of the ordinary. But while the average Czech may not be used to the palette as that of a Jamaican, Porter's business and cooking has been a massive success in Prague, satisfaction guaranteed.
“Surprisingly, we haven’t had one return on anything that we sell within the three and a half years. As a matter of fact, we think that our food is so good that we started to give guarantees, that if anyone ate from us and came back saying “it wasn’t any good”, we would give you your money back without even asking questions, and we have not had that since we started. Except for one lady about two years ago, she said it was a little bit too spicy, but other than that - nothing.”
While the number of fellow Jamaicans in the city may be few and far between, it doesn’t put a damper on Porter’s spirit or willingness to live out his passions every day.
“Well you know, Jamaicans are pretty much explorers in a way, and me being here, or in New York, or Germany, wherever I live, I just make it my home. So I’m not particularly looking for how many Jamaicans are living here, I just wake up every day and I go with the flow. If I meet one or two Jamaicans, or none, I’m still okay with it.”
In fact, showcasing the intricacies and uniqueness of Jamaican culture is what makes Porter so happy, in a city where people may not know a lot about this Caribbean nation lying thousands of kilometers away. Connecting through food and sharing culture through a delicious and flavourful bite of Jerk Chicken or Curried Lamb is just one way to bridge cultural awareness and for folks to learn more about Jamaica.
“Once you start to explain the culture in Jamaica, our guests start to get an understanding of what they’re really eating. Because it’s not just Jamaican cuisine, you have to go back into history and see who brought this cuisine to Jamaica, because in Jamaica we have Chinese, Spanish, African, Cubans, and Indians, and each one of these nationalities brought their recipes to Jamaica. What Jamaicans did, is put it all together, and that’s why we have such beautiful recipes in Jamaica.”
Interacting with the community through sharing food is just one thing that brings Porter joy, but it’s also talking and connecting with others as well at the weekly markets and festivals, that makes him tick.
“I mean you know, that is my personality anyway, I’m pretty much with people all the time. And, you know, God gave me a big mouth, so I just use it to talk.”
When it comes to sampling Jamaican food for the first time, one might not know what to try. Porter suggests Jerk Chicken, a spicy and well-seasoned dish served up with rice and coleslaw, for newbies to Jamaican cuisine.
“I think they should try the Jerk Chicken, I think this is the one that everyone has heard of, but never had it, so I think if they try it here, they would say “okay, I will always eat this” if I go to Jamaica or anywhere else where they sell Jamaican cuisine.”
Although he loves his yellow tent, Porter has plans to expand his business outside of the weekly farmers markets and festival runs.
“We’re planning to open a small bistro, and then from there you can come and you can find more than what we have here on the street markets. We’ll have many more dishes from Jamaica, and not only the dishes, but the drinks, sauces, and herbs and spices that you’ll be able to buy at our new place when we have it.”
Whether in a tent, or in a shiny new bistro, Porter vows to keep the quality of his food high, making everything from scratch, and still serving his food up, with a smile, all while bringing a little taste of Jamaica, to a very Czech city.
“We do everything by ourselves, the whole Jerk we do by ourselves, we make our own Jerk sauce, our own salad, and we put all this together so when you eat not just the chicken, but everything else, you get that whole Jamaican flavour inside of your mouth. So I guarantee wherever you go, if you see a Jamaican restaurant out of Czechia, you will want to go there.”