Patois, Soon Come

Patois, Soon Come is a personal essay I wrote for LooseLeaf Magazine Volume 4. This issue focused on food as “a way for us to make place and community for ourselves.” In the essay, I examine my relationship to food growing up as a person of Chinese-Jamaican descent and recount my first dining experience at Patois Toronto, a hybrid Asian-Caribbean restaurant created by Chef Craig Wong. Below is a short excerpt. 

I grew up in a house with two kinds of rice. There was parboiled, the kind for peas and pigs feet, and jasmine, the kind to steam alone. That also became how I thought about the food we ate, two separate groups of taste. There was Chinese food and Jamaican food and so by addition, we were Chinese-Jamaican. Two things which were separate despite the fact I am described as mixed.

Then I heard of Patois Toronto. On the fringes of Chinatown, in a crowded row of storefronts along Dundas West, was a trendy new restaurant billing itself as “Caribbean meets Asian soul food.” I swiped through a stream of Instagram photos looking at the brilliant concoctions of Dirty Fried Rice and crisp fried chicken. I sunk my teeth into the story of Chef Craig Wong, whose Chinese-Jamaican heritage and classic French training captured my imagination. It was more than adding jerk chicken into chow mein. Here was a chef frying gailan in a wok and serving it with parmesan. Chef Wong made Double Downs with Jamaican patties, and stir fried Hong Kong style lobster with jerk flavoured butter. He mashed together flavours and made them whole.

I saw in that restaurant the reality of something I hadn’t dared to conceive: you can put your roots together. I had never thought it was my place because when you are half of something how can you have the rights to tell thousands of years of tradition or customs how to be? How can you really know either by being both? 

To top it off, I was born in Canada and didn’t grow up with my parents’ Jamaican culture or language. My childhood had snow days, McDonald’s, bags of milk, and co-ed Catholic school. In many ways I grew up All Canadian. My best friend played lacrosse and hockey, and her parents would buy us Timbits from the drive thru before games. My mom dutifully packed my brothers and I lunches of sandwiches with the crusts cut off, Goldfish crackers, and a juicebox. My introduction to cheeses was in the form of string.

But when I went home to eat there was my mom’s food. Food which she grew up with plus the recipes she found in thick cookbooks, glossy magazines, and cable television. We’d have jasmine rice with char siu and bok choy one night, then rice and peas with fricassee chicken and fried plantain the next. Her repertoire of recipes encompassed the globe.