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Caribbean cuisine is a melting pot, straight from the hearts and kitchens of the islands (not just Jamaica, but the West Indies, Cuba and Puerto Rico, to name a few); no-frills comfort food that nourishes the soul as much as the belly.

But no-frills doesn’t mean bland or boring—oh no. The Caribbean is home to fiery jerk seasoning, scorching calypso sauce, salty cod and refreshing fruits, all of which are incorporated into a culinary blend that delights the taste buds.

One of the first places in Metro to bring us a taste of this food was Starlite Cuisine and Catering, a cheery hole-in-the-wall tucked below Gottingen.

Stepping into Starlite is like entering a Jamaican mother’s kitchen, with divine smells, brightly painted walls and art all over. There are a few well-worn tables, and seats at a counter looking up through the street level windows, which flood the room with light.

Behind the service counter I glimpse ordinary cupboards, fridge and sink, no high-tech equipment here. Everything looks pretty old, but very, very clean.

I’m greeted by a friendly woman with a big smile and a lilting voice—she’s not working here, she’s another customer who’s waiting for her lunch. But that’s the kind of place it is, warm and welcoming.

There’s no ackee (and salt cod, the national dish of Jamaica) available today, but we’re happy to try curried goat, oxtails and jerk chicken. All come with black beans and rice, and vegetables, and all are fairly large portions.

I would have liked to try a roti (filled wheat wrapper), because I’ve a friend who never stops talking about them, but they’re not available today either.

The rice and black beans are nicely seasoned, but not so much as to compete with the meat. Vegetables are corn, peas and beans with chopped lettuce, all the better to provide a foil for the rest of the items on the plate.

The tender goat is in a rich, medium-hot curry. You have to watch out for bones when you eat it; like most meat in Caribbean nations, it’s cooked on the bone. Nothing is wasted, and cooking on the bone gets the most meat as well as flavour.

Jerk chicken is not as hot as I’ve enjoyed, in fact, it’s a surprisingly mild version—a good version for timid taste buds to get the flavour of this famous dish without the heat.

The oxtails are my favourite. Oxtails are actually not from ox anymore, but generally beef (sometimes veal). They’re the tail of the animal; this dish is full of bones but extremely tasty. Very tough, oxtails require braising for long periods to tenderize, and it’s this lengthy braising process that extracts so much flavour.

Starlite knows oxtails.

Although the jerk chicken is not as well seasoned as I’ve had, it’s still enjoyable. I love the goat and oxtails, and I’ll be back to try the roti.

Later, I open the leftover container and the smells of curry and jerk assail my nostrils. I inhale deeply, and for a moment I’m transported to a warm, sunny island with a laid back approach to life. All I need is a rum punch and some ice cubes.

Starlite Cuisine and Catering5467 Cornwallis Street425-8051Mon-Fri 11:30am-6:30pm

Get away from it all with Liz Feltham on the web: www.foodcritic.ca

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