Just as the world started looking sunny again (vaccinations, cop convictions) something even sweeter rolled around: mango season! My love affair with these golden orbs of goodness is as old as I am, so much so that I have no mango bias.
Trust me, I’m one of very few in the Caribbean who don’t have a sun-kissed fav they’d happily defend to the death. Whether for snacking, juicing or just to fill your home with that fragrant aroma (iykyk), mangoes are a delicious reason to be alive from April – August every year.
So far, I’ve scarfed down more East Indian, Bombay, Blacky and Number 11’s than I should share. Another of the many varieties, Julie, is a staple right across the region and with good reason. Fleshy and flavorful, they’re as much comfort food as any stovetop dish and are coveted treats (try one chilled, #chefskiss) in the hot summer months.
Ironically, Julie Mango Restaurant is also one of the latest entrants on Kingston’s food scene, named after the tropical treat of course, and all it represents to the island’s people. When the owners coined their “fresh meals and good feels” motto, they looked for a name that would make discerning diners feel right at home. The “lightbulb moment” was also inspired by the first name of one half of the husband/wife owner/operator duo, Rajiv Harpalani and Julie Ramchandani-Harpalani.
The “islandy/ fun” moniker ties in perfectly with the pair’s philosophy— incorporating plenty of fresh produce into a multi-cuisine menu. Like the mosaic skin of a ripe Julie mango, the restaurant’s offerings display several appealing tones: Thai, Mexican, Indian, and more.
Before I sat down to my Vegan Jerk Alfredo and Fish Macho Tacos, I quizzed Julie about business in the breezy, charming space. I noted the commitment to local ingredients as I made my selection (menu mainstays include Ackee Tostones, Mango Mayo, Breadfruit Tacos) and asked if there was any Jamaican ingredient, in particular, they hadn’t already incorporated that they planned to wow patrons with in future.
“I would like to see how best we can use green bananas because I think it’s something that’s so readily available and good for you too“, Julie said.
“To see possibly a curry green banana or green banana fries, something to that effect that’s definitely our next product to play around with. “
With such a jazzed up array and with more on the way, I asked both Julie and Rajiv their favourite menu item each. The couple who left stark corporate backgrounds behind to start the venture (Julie was a teacher, Rajiv, a jeweller) both agreed on the Jahpotle Bowl as their go-to dish.
This Ja-Mexican fusion combo includes jasmine rice, black bean & corn salsa, guacamole, fried plantain and a protein of your choice (seasonal vegetables, tofu, chicken, fish or shrimp). All this is drizzled with a cilantro aioli (drooling yet?) and served with a homemade Jamaican chipotle marinade, showing just how well separate cuisines can combine for a palate pleaser.
By this time though, discussing the item after delicious menu item had my mouth watering. Complimentary housemade plantain chips and hummus were a much appreciated appetizer before the entrees arrived. Julie Mango prides itself on its pasta presentations – from mild jerk to marinara – and they (over)delivered with the vegan alfredo. Their creamy sauce smothered a bed of perfect penne and garden veggies, and of course, dished up some drool-worthy photos while at it.
Julie Mango’s famous Macho Tacos were another delight, soft shell vessels with signature mango slaw and spicy mayo. Crunchy purple cabbage lent contrast to the nearly-buttery tacos, but the bits of fish were my favourite, tangy and well-seasoned against the pillowy package.
Never mind the cropped shots of my mimosa (this was April 21, anniversary of the day we lost Prince) or refusal to part with the garden swing seat, let’s just say it was the intensely warm offerings that had me entranced. Julie Mango Restaurant was a worthy outing and unique experience I’ll be sure to sample again.
A pandemic doesn’t seem to let up for anyone, but it does let in little reasons to smile. Most of us are still adjusting to life without the things we’ve grown used to. April marks Carnival celebrations in Jamaica, for instance, which has been shelved for a second straight year. As a soca junkie however, I still scored some gems from the genre, and one I can stand behind (dance to) is Melancholy by Nailah Blackman.
“A little rain your garden make your flower blossom/ A little pain in your heart gon’ make you sing a new song/ life so unpredictable/ None of we invincible,” Blackman sings, before reminding us that bleak outlooks can become brighter days.
Bedroom by British pop act Litany is a soft rock track with a steel pan (a soca music fixture) sample that somehow perfectly compares. Many of us are ‘melancholy’ due to what feels like a never-ending ‘bedroom’ confined existence. “I know you’ve been feeling quite low lately,” singer Beth Cornell intones over sensual synth-pop before her bracing invite to bluer skies. For both singers, paradise is on the other side of darkness/solitude; follow Cornell’s airy appeal or Blackman’s sharp soprano for melodic pandemic reprieve.
More on Sasha’s work:
The Last Bite: Good Food Equals Good Mood At Tables Turn Restaurant (Issue 7)
Sasha Lee is a Jamaican writer who has too many interests, and credits in both journalism and fiction. Her work has appeared in DancehallMag.com, Ellipsis Zine, Sublunary Review and LEON Literary Review, among others. Among her creative endeavors is a monthly column entitled “The Last Bite” – where she shares a slice of paradise in food and music reviews – for MixedMag.co. She can be found on Twitter @ohsashalee.