Jamaicana @ 1-22-27 Nakayamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi

The cultural exports of the Caribbean are relatively popular in Japan and, much to my delight, there are a few establishments dotted around that are dedicated to the region’s culinary, musical and aesthetic offerings. One of these places is Jamaicana in Kobe. Jamaicana is run by a Jamaican bloke called Mr. Winston who does the cooking and entertains the crowds. He is supported by a Japanese lady who I assume to be his wife; she manages the floor and controls the soundsystem. To say the responsibilities are evenly matched would be an understatement.

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Jamaicana @ Chuo-ku, Kobe

To get to Jamaicana, head to Sannomiya Station, then walk up Kitano-zaka in a northerly direction (towards the hills). Cross Yamate Kansen and Jamaicana can be found on the other side of the road, in the middle of the intersection. You’ll know when you’re there as Jamaicana has rigged up an ingenious soundsystem that uses some rather long cables to connect a speaker at groundlevel with a CD player up on the 8th floor. The result? You will probably hear this place before you see it. For us it was the melodious angst of Ini Kamoze that signalled our arrival. Ah sey one! 

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Hours of bijinesu

Take the lift up to the 8th floor and you will be funnelled into a small restaurant that is a cross between the Jamaican tourism board and your grandmother’s living room. It’s undeniably personable, cosy and interesting, as nearly every surface is adorned with a picture or poster or other piece of paraphernalia that tells you a little bit about Jamaica. By the time we left the place was packed with patrons, many of whom appeared to be regulars. It’s not hard to see why.

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A home away from home

If Jamaica is closely associated with reggae, and reggae with Rastafarianism, then it is only natural that a Jamaican restaurant serves vegetarian food. Why? Because well-behaved Rasta’s follow a vegan diet known as ital. The ital diet is one defined by the simple principle that all food should be pure, natural and from the earth in order to increase ones’ life energy (or “Livity”). This means no meat or fish, no dairy, no chemical modifications or artificial additives. In its purest form, even salt, colourings and flavourings are omitted. Thankfully the ital grub at Jamaicana is a little less puritanical, and our food was as flavour-full as it was meat-less.

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Ital meal: the food of kings, Rasta’s… and us

Our vegetarian meals (¥1080) were a delightfully comforting mess of overcooked vegetables (French beans, okra, cauliflower, broccoli, some carrot), and salad smothered with some sort of pink dressing. Whilst it looked a lot like something I would make, it actually tasted rather good thanks to the salty-pepperiness of the veg and the tanginess of the salad dressing. It came with a side dish of the Jamaican staple: rice and peas (kidney beans), cooked in coconut milk with a lot of thyme. Whilst it doesn’t look like much, but it was certainly a warming and tasty plate of food that fit the mood of the place perfectly.

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Fried bread

Accompanying the meal was another Jamaican speciality – some absolutely delicious fried bread. This stuff is made with cornmeal and, accordingly, is quite sweet (so much so that I mistakenly thought it was meant to be eaten at the end of the meal, as a dessert). Nonetheless, despite the method of cooking it was surprisingly non-oily and immensely moreish. Probably a good thing that we were only given one piece each, plus a satsuma for dessert (all gratis). Now that’s the sort of largesse that the world needs more of. Yahh mon!

Jamaicana
1-22-27 Nakayamatedori, Kitano-cho, Dom’s Building, 8F
+81 78-251-6488
Open 11.30-14.00 & 17.30-24.00 Tuesday-Sunday; CLOSED Monday

See also:
Japanzine’s review
Wikipedia’s entry on ital eating

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