Sell yuh sinting nuh! A day at the Brown’s Town Market

 

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“Money mi a look fuh, come buy mi sinting nuh!” “Come bruk mi ducks my gal!” “Right inna yuh bag!” “Suga pine, suga pine mi a sell!”

Before I even set foot inside of the market, I’m greeted by higglers’ shouts as they proclaim their wares, the sight of carts piled high with vibrant produce and a variety of fragrant smells as they waft through the air (could be nice cooked food, ripe fruits or urine – depending on the time of day). I have yet to walk away from the market without a new story.

The Browns Town Market is one of the largest open-air markets on the island. Fridays and Saturdays are the major market days, though the market is open 6 days out of the week. With vendors coming from all over the island to sell items ranging from fruits to shoes, it always attracts a crowd.

Miss Marcia, the cook at my school, sells at the market on weekends
Miss Marcia, the cook at my school, sells at the market on weekends

Inna di country, grocery stores don’t generally sell produce. Imagine going to Trader Joe’s for all of your non-perishables and then buying all of your lettuce, tomatoes and bananas at a farmers’ market.

Because of climate change, growing seasons have become longer for certain crops, but the availability of certain items still largely depends on what’s in season.

These staple items are repeated at nearly every stand
These staple items are repeated at nearly every stand
This sweet woman kept helping me hunt down harder-to-find items
This sweet woman kept helping me hunt down harder-to-find items

See some things you recognize? Much of what’s available in Jamaica is also available in the US. In fact, much of the produce sold in the market is actually imported from the US – things like tomatoes and cucumbers, despite ease of local cultivation, are not grown in large enough quantities to meet demand.

This heavy dependence on imports is a frequently discussed topic in Jamaican media, and the various ministries that pertain to Agriculture have pledged to help promote and incentivize more local cultivation.

Surrounded by Sunday dinner essentials like red peas, onion, lettuce and tomato
Surrounded by Sunday dinner essentials like red peas, onion, lettuce and tomato
One of my old neighbors
This is one of my old neighbors. Check out the giant jackfruit behind her!

The vendors, also called sellers or higglers, are predominantly women. Most often, the people selling the produce are not the same ones who farm it.

This woman travels from St. Mary to sell bananas and plantains
This woman travels from St. Mary to sell bananas and plantains
Green bananas are usually boiled and eaten with savory breakfast
Green bananas are usually boiled and eaten with savory breakfast
"You have to get my friend in the picture, too."
“You have to get my friend in the picture, too.”
Dry coconuts, pawpaw (papaya), ripe plantain and green banana
Dry coconuts, pawpaw (papaya), ripe plantain and green banana
This man gave me a free pawpaw!
This man gave me a free pawpaw!

I spoke with many vendors who traveled from St. Mary, about two hours’ distance from Brown’s Town, to sell bananas and coconuts. The banana industry in Jamaica is not as large as it once was, but St. Mary is still largely considered the banana parish and the versatile fruit is still one of the major exports in the country.

Ground Food

Ground food is – you’ve got it – food that grows under the ground. The Jamaican plate is usually comprised of a meat + a starch with a smallish serving of vegetables. When ordering food from a cook shop, you’re given the option of rice and peas or boiled food, aka boiled ground food.

From left, pumpkin, sweet potato, yam
From left, pumpkin, sweet potato, yam

Trelawny, the parish I call home, is well-known as yam country. Many of the yams on the island are grown here.

Jamaican sweet potatoes are more like yellow yams that you might find in American grocery stores at Thanksgiving time
Jamaican sweet potatoes are more like yellow yams that you might find in American grocery stores at Thanksgiving time
Dasheen, a root vegetable that is usually boiled like a yam or potato, turns bluish-gray when boiled
Dasheen, a root vegetable that is usually boiled like a yam or potato, turns bluish-gray when boiled

Vegetables

Did you get your greens in for the day? With such a wide variety of vegetables available, it’s pretty easy to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet here.

Callaloo, often called "Jamaican spinach," is typically served steamed and salty with breakfast. I love it with a little hot scotch bonnet pepper.
Callaloo, often called “Jamaican spinach,” is typically served steamed and salty with breakfast. I love it with a little hot scotch bonnet pepper.
From left, scotch bonnet pepper, cabbage, okro (okra)
From left, scotch bonnet pepper, cabbage, okro (okra)

I have encountered a few vegetarians here, many of whom are Rasta, though generally speaking Jamaicans don’t eat nearly as many vegetables as health-crazed Californians do.

True Rastas are vegetarians. “Eat yuh medicine, yuh medicine yuh food” is an element of Rasta philosophy, meaning we can keep our bodies healthy by putting in nutritious (vegetarian), vitamin-rich foods. Your body is a temple, after all.

From left, cabbage, chocho, yam
From left, cabbage, chocho, dasheen

Chocho, seen above at center, is a relative of cucumbers, melons and squash. It grows on a vine and is usually boiled and eaten in soups. It’s got a very crunchy texture and will leave a sticky residue on your hands if you don’t coat them in oil before chopping. I love to throw it into curries and stir fries.

Cucumber and sour sop. Sour sop is a fruit, and when mixed with lime, it makes a nice juice drink
Cucumber and sour sop. Sour sop is a fruit, and when mixed with lime, it makes a nice juice drink

Fruits

Major benefit of living in a hot, humid climate? Lots of tropical fruit!

Otaheite apples are sweet and much softer in texture than American apples
Otaheite apples are sweet and much softer in texture than American apples

“We never buy apples!” giggles my host mom each time I come home with a bag of them. Fruit tends to be expensive in Jamdung, and because there are lots of fruit trees in much of the country, neighbors often just give them away.

Nesberries
Naseberries

Naseberries (pronounced “nez berries” or “knees berries”) are like little balls of sugar. The texture is a little grainy and they are extremely sweet. The skin slides right off of the very ripe ones. If you’re looking for an easy dessert, one of these ought to do the trick!

Dry coconuts and paw paw
Dry coconuts and paw paw
Young coconuts, jellies, and dry coconuts
Young coconuts, jellies, and dry coconuts
PEARS!
PEARS!

Jamaicans call avocados “pears.” It’s a little early for pear season (hello climate change!), but much to my delight, they’re slowly starting to reappear in the market.

Watermelon is simply called "melon"
Watermelon is simply called “melon”

Melon is very expensive in Jamaica, but it makes for a very nice treat for special occassions. A quarter of a melon, like the bags pictured above, could cost as much as J$450 ($3.89 USD).

Bananas and oranges! The navel oranges grown here are actually more of a greenish-yellow color on the outside but just as sweet (maybe sweeter!) as oranges in the US
Bananas, plantains and oranges

The seville oranges grown here are actually more of a greenish-yellow color than their namesake color. They’re perhaps even sweeter than the oranges I’ve had in America and their leaves make a wonderful tea that tastes a bit like fruity pebbles.

Pine, as it's called in Jamaica, is one of my favorite market smells
Pine, as it’s called in Jamaica, is one of my favorite market smells

Now that the time is heating up, smoothies have become a pretty regular item in my weekly rotation. I play the “what color will this be?” game each time I turn on my blender.

Flava 

Seasonings are what take a dish to the next level. What would rice and peas be without thyme, coconut milk and escallion?

escallion
escallion

Escallion is a mainstay in Jamaican cooking. People use it to season their meats, soups, rice and just about everything else you can imagine.

onion, garlic and tomato
onion, garlic and tomato

Looking for a quick way to spice up a can of tuna? Try heating it with onion, gaalic and tomato in a pot with a little coconut oil and serve over rice. Dinner in 5!

scotch bonnet pepper
scotch bonnet pepper

Scotch bonnet peppers are so spicy that it burns to touch them while chopping. I once got some of the juice in my eye and then proceeded to hop about my house screaming “I’m gonna die!” Their taste, though, is unmatched. One likkle toops inna di pot and your meal with light up with flavor.

turmeric root
Melon, turmeric root, carrots

Many of my favorite spices are actually grown in Jamaica, turmeric root being one of them. I’ve heard Jamaicans call it “orange ginger” and “curry root,” both being pretty accurate descriptions. Grate it into your pot to make a flavorful curry dish or into some hot water to make a detoxifying, anti-inflammatory tea.

Likkle dis an dat

People also go to the market to buy various other goods, like clothes, household items and electronics. While walking around on Saturday, I stumbled upon this woman who was weaving thatch to make a basket.

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Her fingers were moving with lightning speed! She explained to me that she buys the thatch (a palm leaf) from someone in the hills of St. Mary, removes the “bone” (tough piece that runs up the center), then weaves it into these long strips. After she’s finished, she sells the strips to someone in Ochi, who then stitches it into a basket and sells it in the Ocho Rios craft market.

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Traditional crafts like weaving are an element of culture that is sadly fading. I was so pleasantly surprised to see this woman working on her craft right before my eyes. She manages the stall to her left and does her weaving while she waits for customers.

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Getting to know your local market and market people are great ways to feel more integrated into the community. Even though Brown’s Town is about 15 minutes from my home, it’s where most of my community shops and socializes, and a few of my community members actually sell at the market too.

Introducing myself to the people I’m buying from has its perks too. Sometimes you can get brawta from vendors. Brawta is a free likkle sinting (little something) that a vendor might add to your bag if you buy nuff nuff tings or if they like you. I think this action says a lot about the personal, warm nature of Jamaicans.

IMG_2726Sometimes, the market is the only place I’ll go outside of my little community. Even if I don’t see anyone I know, the openness I encounter feels so refreshing.

 

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6 thoughts on “Sell yuh sinting nuh! A day at the Brown’s Town Market

    1. I consider myself one of the lucky ones! I mostly eat vegetarian meals, but there are a few different ways to get your meats here: there are open air (covered) meat markets similar to the vegetable market, as well as wholesales (brick and mortar stores) that sell meat and fish. My host family mostly buys meat from local poultry and goat farmers in our community, so someone usually carries it to our house (by foot or donkey). Perhaps I’ll do a post about that in the future. Thanks for reading 🙂

  1. Great post! You really captured the essence of the Brown’s Town Market, and your pictures are excellent. Also – it’s a pleasure to read a blog without a single stray apostrophe! 🙂

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