Ital Flavors at the Rastafari Indigenous Village
At the heart of the Rastafari Indigenous Village is a philosophy. It is one of harmony with nature, and the preservation of the Rastafarian culture. It is also about sustainability, including cottage industries such as soap-making, craft items, drum making and products from natural sources, such as breadfruit flour and chocolate.
As far as food is concerned, everything is “ital.” This is a special word that signifies a way of life that is close to nature. It is “vital” without the “i.” In fact, it helps to increase “livity” – a life energy that Rastafarians believe cannot be present in processed food. It is a spiritual approach.
“We take as much from the wild as possible,” First Man tells me. We are talking about food, while eating fresh fruit served in carved calabash bowls. Queen Berhan had already pointed out the herbs and young fruit trees growing in the garden near her soap-making workshop, as we arrived.
Essentially, meat and alcohol are not a part of the Village environment. Residents follow a vegan cuisine, which does not necessarily involve a great deal of cooking. No salt is used. First Man describes in detail how to make the Rastafarians’ classic dish, Ital Stew – an example of their cooking. Here goes:
As with much of Rastafarian food, there is a coconut milk base, which adds a certain sweetness and is also highly nutritious. To start off, you bring the coconut milk to the boil with beans (“peas”) – either “red peas” (kidney beans) or “gungo peas” (pigeon peas). At this point seasoning is added – scallion, thyme, onions and wild herbs (pepper elder, basil and so on). Remember – no salt! This is all boiled down into the “first stew.” Ripe plantain and sweet potato are added for the extra sweetness, and the mixture so far should be “boiled down” so there is little liquid left. In the stew, everything should be cut up small, including some ground provisions which may be added much later in the preparation. The mixture should now be creamy, like a custard – or “istard,” as First Man calls it.
Finally, the last set of seasonings goes into the stew, including fresh green vegetables – anything leafy, such as Pak Choy. A few green peppers might also be added, to produce a dish that is visually appealing – “In the red, gold and green colors of Rastafari,” smiles First Man. This last addition to the pot is just lightly heated up using the remaining heat of the pot.
At this point, I am starting to feel hungry!
Rastafarian cooking is one part of the overall experience that awaits at the Rastafari Indigenous Village (located near Montego Bay): an experience that is real and direct, without any frills. The residents of the Village are convinced that peace and harmony can be achieved with greater understanding and knowledge of each other’s culture. One of the aims of the community is to spread this awareness.
One way to bring people together has always been to sit down and share food. So, when you visit the Rastafari Indigenous Village, be sure to have an appetite, so that you can enjoy the fresh, natural flavors to the fullest!
(Photo: The red, gold and green colors of a Rastafarian dish. Courtesy of Rastafari Indigenous Village)