|Oh Mama! Kidney beans cooked in a coconut and jerk seasoning sauce, with red cabbage, carrot and red pepper. Yum!|
Jamaican restaurant helps to keep things relaxed and tasty in Helsinki.
PHOTOGRAHPHER Valérie and I find our way to Jamaican Mamas on a brilliant spring afternoon. The sun is blazing down and highlights all the Rastafarian colours of the little café that founder and proprietor Mama Hazel has established on Hameentie. Occupying the corner of an Asian store, the café/restaurant has just enough tables and comfy chairs to give it a spacious ambience but still keep the cosy vibes going.
Greeting us with a hug, we’re invited to help ourselves to the buffet as we wait for our vegetarian lunches. But before we’re able to even orientate ourselves we’re brought two ice-cold mango-ginger ales, homemade and full of fresh flavours. The Caribbean starters buffet features a modest but tasty array of treats, a big bowl of pasta salad, mango and melon, traditional dumplings and fried plantains as well as an array of sauces and oils if you like. The dumplings are a revelation, light and crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside yet completely greaseless. The plantains, made from a green variety of banana which have been sliced lengthwise and fried till golden brown are also excellent, and it’s a struggle not to stuff ourselves silly.
Our vegetarian mains arrive and it’s a side of fluffy white rice alongside kidney beans cooked in a coconut and jerk seasoning sauce, with red cabbage, carrot and red pepper. On first glance it looks rather unassuming for a restaurant dish but upon tasting, we’re both blown away. The heat from the floral scotch bonnet peppers is there, but is balanced nicely by the traditional flavours of the islands – cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and just enough salt. The sweetness of the coconut milk balances everything out and the fried plantains that are served with the meal give a little body to the dish. We both wipe our plates clean, and Valérie, who had declared that she didn’t like plantains at the start of our meal, marvels at how delicious they were – and how delicious everything was.
Mama be praised
Praising Mama Hazel for the excellent meal, she is modest yet delighted that we enjoyed everything. “I love feeding people,” she states, “which is how this whole café started.” Starting with a reggae-dancehall music school, Hazel used to occasionally cater parties and special occasions. But as word spread of her delicious island dishes, she found herself cooking more and more. So what are the specialities from Jamaica that customers really enjoy? Jerk chicken, cooked over coals is a customer favourite, as is ackee and saltfish. Ackee, which is actually part of a fruit, is cooked with salted cod and this is served alongside dumplings, fried or boiled plantains. Another customer favourite is Hazel’s goat curry, made from tender goat meat, simmered on the bone for many hours with spices until tender. We’re told that it sells out rather quickly, even if goat is a rather exotic menu item here in Finland. Jamaican patties, which are pastries filled with meat and spices are also on the menu and are very popular among patrons.
Jamaican Mamas is open six days a week and the famous goat curry and ackee and saltfish is available as part of the weekend menu on Fridays and Saturdays. Bookings are recommended, especially if you’re keen to sample the goat curry. We leave Mama Hazel with a full belly but also a warm feeling of having eaten a great meal that was cooked with love and great vibes by someone who really enjoyed having us there.
I only wonder would it be too soon to go back tomorrow?
Text Tania Nathan, images Valérie Brun.