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Home Away From Home : A Jamaica Eatery

December 14, 1989|ITABARI NJERI

Like thousands of other transplants, West Indians are attracted to California because of the terrain. Some part of the state always seems to remind somebody of home--wherever home is.

"When I saw the mountains and the canyons," Donald Coley said, "(I said) this is for me."

In Jamaica, he lived on a mountain top that no one could reach except on foot. But a sense of home requires more than a similarity in geography. Home has its tastes, its smells. And when a longing for familiar ones hit, particularly during the holidays, West Indians head for Coley's Kitchen.

Run by Donald Coley and his wife, Veda, this spotless, peach-colored reminder of home on Crenshaw Boulevard is a study in exercised jaws and satisfied faces.

"The curried chicken is just like they make it in Jamaica," says Andy Pollard.

"How do I know? I go back and forth all the time," says Pollard, whose family comes from Barbados.

Curried goat is always on the menu, but it's a traditional Christmas dish as well.

"People really look forward to their sorrel drink and fruit cake, or black cake as we call it, " says Veda Coley.

Sorrel is similar to the hibiscus flower, with little red petals, she explains. "It's dried and preserved. . . . When you are ready for it, you boil your pot of water, put those petals in and they come to life again. You get a nice, red, rich drink. Then, you beat up ginger root, let it sit for several days--the longer the better--let it ferment and you mix it in. Serve it cold with a nice slice of fruit cake and that tops it off."

If you're thinking American fruit cake, forget it. West Indian black cake is filled with raisins, currants and mix-peel all ground up and soaked in over-proof rum and wine for months. "It's very moist, " says Coley. "We don't put nuts on top, and it gets its dark color from burnt sugar." It's a potent confection.

Also potent is cow cod soup, another traditional Jamaican dish. But what happened? Coley is asked. It's not on the menu.

"We used to have it," she says, but it had to be imported from New York. "People out here don't seem to know it's usable."

What is? "Well, the cow's cod."

Actually, the bull's family jewels.

"Yes, the bull's cod," she says with a laugh. "It's cut up in small pieces, then we cook it down nicely and add cho-cho, a kind of squash. Then we put in some nice Scotch Bonnet pepper to bring up the flavor. And, oh, the men go crazy."

The soup is considered an aphrodisiac.

"The men swear by it, so I have go along that it works," she says.

Yes, says her husband, every New Year there were reports of a slew of women "getting pregnant."

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