Living in my new city has been exciting but five months in I’m running out of my favourite things. To name a few extra large Aveeno lotion, black cake, sorrel, and iPhone minutes. Some of these things are easily replaced but a few weeks ago, I ran out of dried sorrel. I knew I was going to have to find a Caribbean store or market in London to quench my constant thirst for homemade sorrel. However, that was the same weekend London had its version of a snow storm – more like gentle snow flurries. Luckily for me a little birdie had already planted the seed of Ridley Road Market in my subconscious. “You can get any and everything Caribbean there,” they said. Off to Ridley Road Market I go!
I was prepared for the snow flurries but the London transit system sure was not. London does not know how to handle any precipitation but rain. So two bus rides and two train transfers later, I arrived at my destination- Ridley Road Market. I would have liked to say that I was engulfed with the sounds and smells of a familiar Caribbean market like one on Flatbush Avenue but it wasn’t. It was something entirely different. It was a World Market.
Fishmongers, butchers, spicers, vegetable stands, perfumers and multi purpose stalls with goods from all around the world lined the walkways of Ridley Road. I recognised a flag vendor with flags from every nation of the world (Spain, Russia, Senegal…). The spicer had all varieties of curries, fresh cinnamon, vanilla, thyme, basil and everything needed to season anything worth seasoning. In those initial quiet moments, I observed my new market and started formulating my menu. I was channelling my Guyanese grandmother Maria. I was mimicking her movements and gestures like she would have done on one of her bi-weekly trips to Stabroek Market in Georgetown. Market days were serious missions for her. “Know what you come for before you start picking,” she would say. She was always purposeful in her market selections, bartering with the vendors to get the best going rates. So in true Maria style, I haggled with the Ridley Road Market vendors and purposely gathered my ingredients for my Sunday pot of Metegee or Metem.
- 2 pieces of salt fish £1.50
- 2 pieces of cassava and one garlic clove £1
- 1 bundle of okra, a bunch of thyme and 2 scotch bonnet peppers £1
- 1 jar coconut milk £.40
- 2 big bunches of fresh spinach and two red onions £1
- 5 lemons £1
- 1 bowl of fish £5
Metem is one of my favourite Maria dishes because of her duff and her perfectly cooked yams. Duff is a cousin of dumplings but better. It’s melt in your mouth good – no chewing required. While I haven’t figured out how to properly cook duff or yams without ending up with a mushy mess, I was determined to recreate my grandmother’s Metem. I turned on some tunes and poured a glass of ginger beer and got to work.
Cutting up the vegetables and provision for the boil-up and seasoning the fish I would later batter and fry, I starting thinking of the origins of Metem. Like Ridley Road Market, Metem too is a product of the World. Metem has its origins in Ghana. It survived in the memories of my enslaved ancestors through their bondage. It persevered through slavery and colonialism to and made it to the kitchen of my Afro-Amerindian grandmother. She fed her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren with her special boil-up . And here I am in 2017 in England, the empire that conquered both Ghana and Guyana, cooking Metem. After an hour and half later on low steady heat, the coconut milk, cassava, fish and thyme aroma enveloped my kitchen. Smelt like Maria’s kitchen alright – Mission Accomplished!
Thank you Granny for this amazing recipe. Life comes full circle if you let it be and if you know what you want before you start picking. Living with purpose
For information on Ridley Road Market, origins of Metem and other Guyanese cooking visit these useful links below.