Editor’s note: Food writer Andre James gives a unique perspective on cuisine across the Myrtle Beach area. In his weekly column, To Butterfly A Shrimp, James explores the menus of restaurants so you can learn just what to order during your visit.
WAH GWAAN! If you’re really mixing and mingling around Myrtle Beach like you should be, eventually you’ll be the recipient of this greeting, in thick Jamaican Patois.
The Myrtle Beach area has a very robust Jamaican community. I wasn’t fully aware of this until I found myself at one of their Independence Day parties about a decade ago, guzzling a Red Stripe beer as Sister Nancy’s iconic “Bam Bam” boomed from a monstrous sound system at the most outrageous decibels imaginable, so outrageous it rattled the plastic fork on my plate. The scene was beautifully raunchy, vibrant and chaotic, something you’d expect to see at the Passa Passa in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, not a nightclub off Highway 501.
Most Jamaicans arrive to the Grand Strand with J-1 visas to help strengthen the backbone of the hospitality and tourism industry for the bedlam that is the summer. Vacuuming underneath ottomans in the hotel lobby, operating the rickety wooden Swamp Fox Roller Coaster at Family Kingdom and every other job imaginable. When the summer rush trickles to a halt and the tourists go back home, so do many Jamaicans — back to Trelawny Parish, Middle Quarters or Naggo Head. But others choose to make the Grand Strand their new home. There’s no designated quadrant of the city where they all live, like you’ll see in New York City’s Chinatown or Little Haiti in Miami. Instead, Jamaicans are spread out from down near Murrells Inlet to up towards Cherry Grove, almost into North Carolina, so there’s not really a “Jamaicaville,” per se. But if there was a “Jamaicaville,” Homestyle Restaurant would be the heart.
There’s a trio of Jamaican restaurants in the area: Sunday’s Best in North Myrtle Beach, Clarendon Cuisine across the street from Piggly Wiggly and Reggae Island Grill — the only one that serves Ackee (a fruit that looks like softly scrambled eggs to the un-cultured eye) and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish. But Homestyle seems to be what Chef Creole is to Little Haiti and Nom Wah Tea Parlor is to Chinatown, an undisputed cornerstone. If that’s not enough, there’s 8 Riva Grocery, a market named after Ocho Rios, the bustling resort town on the north coast of the island not far from the birthplace of Marcus Garvey, and the famous Dunn’s River Falls. At 8 Riva you’ll find sea moss, whole parrot fish, bottles of Baba Roots herbal tonic, cans of callaloo (Jamaica’s answer to our collard greens), cassava, loaves of spice bun and other imported provisions that give Jamaicans tangible pieces of their homeland.