By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
With a name like Jacky Chan's Superbowl, what diners would expect is ramen. And in fact Jacky turns out quite a super bowl of this soup; unlike the cheap, packaged, supermarket ramens that got most of us through our impoverished student days, the broth tastes like real stock instead of reconstituted powder, and it's packed to the brim with almost al dente curlicue noodles, a multitude of vegetables (fresh shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots), large poultry-stuffed wontons, and a choice of shrimp or -- my strong recommendation -- big, tender bites of lime/honey/hoisin-basted Jacky's Mom's honey-roasted chicken.
But Jacky's Ra mein is from China via Jamaica, an island whose food has been influenced by many immigrant groups who followed (and wiped out) the original Arawak Indians, and the tiny, mostly take-out eatery's menu reflects all these nations.
St. Elizabeth's escovitch, for instance, is a vinegar-marinated preparation brought to Jamaica during Spain's sixteenth-century rule by Spanish Sephardic Jews. And Jacky's version, using a whole snapper rather than pieces, is most impressive: The fish is deep-fried and then covered with an exotically spiced tangy sauce loaded with onions and sweet peppers.
Patties, Jamaica's favorite lunch snack (the equivalent of a burger here), came to Jamaica with English rule in the mid-1600s -- but, as Jacky's large meat/potato-stuffed pastries attest, the heat level has been kicked up numerous notches from that of Brit meat pies.
Curries came with the East Indian indentured laborers who (along with Chinese workers) replaced slave laborers after emancipation, with goat and chicken being the most common curries. At Jacky's, though, noncarnivores are well-served with a seafood curry in a complex sauce tasting of turmeric, cardamom, cumin, possibly cinnamon, and too many other spices to identify. And Chinese influence can be tasted in numerous dishes, a standout being the scrumptious sweet-and-sour sauce accompanying lightly herb-batter-coated Bumbo's jumbo deep-fried shrimp.
African influence is everywhere in Jamaica and at Jacky's, starting with what is considered Jamaica's unofficial national dish, ackee and saltfish; ackee originally came from Ghana. This creamy fruit actually is deadly poisonous except at a precise point in its growing cycle, but Jacky's won't kill ya. However, the salt level in this dish might; longer soaking and/or more changes of soaking water would definitely benefit the preserved fish. Salting also is slightly overenthusiastic in one of three Rastafarian dishes, Ital Irie stew -- odd, since Ital (pronounced "EYE-tal") food, Rasta's vegetarian cuisine, is normally saltless. Still, the multibean stew is extremely tasty, well worth a blood-pressure surge.
Finally -- naturally -- there is jerk, Jamaica's most famous food, and the Superbowl's jerk sauce truly is super. This hot, but not too hot, Scotch-bonnet-pepper potion comes coating scrumptiously sinful fatty pork and chicken, plus more unusual beef and shrimp. For those bored with bland Thanksgiving food, Jacky's jerk would make a terrific turkey substitute; in fact since jerk's (and Jamaica's) signature spice also is the signature spice of pumpkin pie, pimento -- called allspice elsewhere in the world -- you can thankfully skip the boring traditional holiday dessert, too, and go for a slice of Jacky's "Jammin'" rum-and-raisin cake.