Wed | Aug 23, 2017

VIDEO: Meet me by the river at Miss Belinda's

Published:Thursday | August 13, 2015 | 8:00 AMRandy Bowman
Miss Belinda (left) shares one of the many life experiences she encountered while cooking for persons of all walks of life along the bank of the Rio Grande with Randy Bowman.
Crossing the Rio Grande was not an easy feat, but Randy did it to get to Miss Belinda's.
Miss Belinda carefully peels the just-roasted breadfruit.
Miss Belinda gets the fish ready for frying while Randy anxiously waits.
Cooking up a storm under her hut, Miss Belinda stirs her pot, atop the coal stove.
Food time! Randy (right) points to the specific fried fish she wants as Miss Belinda plates her food.
Lunch is served! After a long walk to get to Miss Belinda's on the River, she served a plate of fried fish, fricassee chicken, rice and peas, steamed vegetables, roasted breadfruit, fried dumplings, and plantains.
Randy gets ready to chow down the dish set before her while a pleased Miss Belinda looks on.
Randy looks on as Miss Belinda serves lunch at her eatery on the river.
Randy encourages Miss Belinda to give her everything and not ask what she wants.
'Yes, that's the way rice and peas shoud look!' must be what Randy is saying as she watches Miss Belinda share.
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I was born 'under the clock' in St Andrew, so when I heard the first Eat Around Jamaica food stop was going to be in the middle of the famed Rio Grande, I freaked out. Things only got worse when we discovered that in order to get to the eatery, we had to not only drive for hours to get to Portland, but also, at the end of it all, execute a precarious trek that would take at least half an hour.

Driving to the end of the road closest to the Rio Grande, the journey to Miss Belinda's On the River took us through bushes, down the river bank, across the river, near a cane field before finally, we could see smoke wafting through the sun's glare. All the agony of the not-so-nice nature trail disappeared, and I was reminded how hungry I was and thus began shouting: "Miss Belinda! Miss Belinda! I smell yuh pot, but don't see you!"

She answered: "Randy, yu mek it, man! Come right round the corner, man." The corner seemed like forever, but I made it. A wood fire was ablaze under a little hut and Miss Belinda was about to put the first of about five fish in a ready and waiting Dutch pot. I was just in time.

Perhaps not aware of the foodie that I am, she began opening the pots to show me the feast she had prepared. The scents quickly filled the open air, wreaking havoc on my stomach. It's safe to say I was more than hungry by then.

To distract myself from the wait I had to endure, I asked Miss Belinda a bit about herself and what brought her to the middle of the Rio Grande. "You know, my mother was the one who started cooking here. Her name was Miss Betty. But when she got ill and could not manage to come here as often, she encouraged me to start cooking and even to change the name of the place. She said, 'Make a name for yourself, man.' And that's what I've been doing for so many years now," said the little woman with a personality as big and warm as her smile.

Surrounded by the lush Stony Hill, Miss Belinda makes a daily walk to her very popular spot with all her supplies, accompanied by Roy, whom she employs to help mainly with cutting wood for the fire, and Junior who sells refreshments - real good rum punch, beer, soda, and water.

"I have served from all walks of life; big movie stars like Johnny Depp, Beyonce, and many more. As a matter of fact, is one of them build up back for me after the river did tek its course during the rainy season and wash weh all me pot dem. They were here filming one a dem shows," Miss Belinda shared as she showed me around.

Soon the food was ready. It was time to eat. Miss Belinda asked what I wanted. I thought she had, by now, figured me out. I told her, emphatically, "Give me everything!" She laughed and said, "I need a bigger plate then."

The fried fish and rice and peas were my favourite from the platter I was given that included fricassee chicken, steamed vegetables, roasted breadfruit, and festival, with a refreshing glass of soda. Talk about soul food. It brought me back to my late grandmother's cooking. I could taste the love and all the seasoning used to make the meal. It was good to the last bite and well worth the tedious journey.

If you visit the Port Antonio area, I highly recommend you go rafting along the Rio Grande (or if you are up to it do the trail), pull up ashore and visit Miss Belinda's. She cooks on a simple wood fire the tastiest Jamaican dishes. Be sure to call ahead of visiting to secure your food, as anything this good goes quickly.

Miss Belinda can be reached at 389-8826.

randy.bowman@gleanerjm.com

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