The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England is dedicated to the explorations and military action of Britain at sea. Featuring a beautifully constructed “ship in a bottle” sculpture, off of the café, the museum houses exhibits on the history of ships and the supplies of a voyage (including 16th-century medical tools which I always find vaguely torturous) plus plenty of nautical maps and the exploration of the high seas. On the upper levels of the museum, exhibits are dedicated to industries intrinsically tied to the oceans. You can learn about Captain James Cook as he rounded the Cape of Good Hope to open exploration and trade with the Asian continent. Subsequent displays explore the history of the East India Company, its benefits to the English, and negative consequences for India and China. Moving on to the imperial expansion to the Americas featuring the colonization of North America and the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in Great Britain in July 1833, thirty-two years before the United States, but not after having a very healthy trade for a few hundred years that spanned from Africa to the Americans including the Caribbean colonies of Jamaica and Barbados. African slaves were brought to Jamaica to support British sugarcane production. As they did in the USA, these slaves brought okra, yams, hearty greens and other foods with them. While plantation owners were required, by law, to provide salted, preserved meat and fish to their “workers” once a year, the slaves were also afforded a “provision plot” to grow their food to supplement their diet. Naturally, they would grow what they knew how to grow! Provision plots would have been filled with potatoes, yams, and greens plus other foods endemic to the area like bananas, plantains, and ackee fruit. It was, by definition, supplies for use. Provisions.
And then I thought “Hmmm….a Caribbean tonight sounds goooodddddd.”
(A jukebox record scratched somewhere in the distance.)
Wait. What? Excuse me, Miss America. What did you say!?
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this. promise.
One of my favorite places to get a cheeky delivery dinner is from a no-frills, mostly counter service Caribbean restaurant in Shepherds Bush, London named Ochi. Ochi is a bit legendary as a who’s who of food fans, like Rhianna, Usher & Busta Rhymes, often swing by when in London town(Rhianna reputably went twice in a single visit). I can attest that the food is absolutely delicious. They feature all the greatest hits of Caribbean cuisine like salt fish & ackee, callaloo, curry goat plus provisions like fried festival and hard foods like green banana, boiled yams, & plantains. Personally, I have seen their oxtail stew with peas and rice makes a man speechless. Lord, have mercy! It is a memorable sight to behold indeed! Admittedly, I had to research most of the provisions and portions on the menu because they meant absolutely nothing to me! But soon I was ordering with confidence although, honestly, I’ve never really seen the allure of the provisions and hard foods that come with every meal. They were “filler” sides that only detracted from my ability to get the spicy stuff in my belly – like white rice. Until this moment, I had no idea why they were called “provisions.”
My seeming nonsequitur(at least this one) from aquatic history lesson to delivery dinner craving had led me to an epiphany. The “provisions” that accompany Jamaican dishes like curry goat and brown chicken are named what they were. Up until that moment, To me provisions were just the less appetizing, inexpensive accompaniment to deliciously spiced food that arrived, like magic, at my front door in central London. But for someone, long ago, these “filler foods” were essential. Easy to grow, easy to store, and filling in the belly, they were hard-earned morsels that supplied sustenance. In a moment, the space between the origins of provisions and how I, many years later, originally learned of provisions became shockingly clear in its contradiction. From critical to convenient. I felt grateful. I appreciated the journey of these foods from Africa to Jamaica to England and all their implications.
I’ll never look at a green banana the same way again.
A day out in Greenwich is a lovely way to learn more about London and British history away from the maddening crowds of central London. Although, frankly, be prepared to battle British school groups and tourist aggressively trying to queue for the non-queue “take a picture with the prime meridian line”. Beyond the Royal Observatory, the other sights are relatively serene.
How to get there:
River Bus to Greenwich: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/river/about-river-bus
- Its £7 each way and a real treat!
Royal Museums Greenwich: https://www.rmg.co.uk
- Cutty Sark
- National Maritime Museum
- Queen’s House
- Royal Observatory
- Prime Meridian Line
- Old Naval College which includes the painted hall
NOTE: The painted hall is under refurbishment until fall 2018 but, for £10, you can take a guided tour, with hard hat, that takes you up into the scaffolding so you can see the ceiling up close. To me, this was a happy accident instead of it being a deterant. I can’t wait to go back to see the ceiling from the floor of the hall once its finished.
Where to eat:
Greenwich market has food trucks and crafts every day of the week for a cheap and cheerful lunch.
The Golden Chippy: http://thegoldenchippy.com/ – For fish & chips, I recommend a place that is a walk off of the high street but worth it. Besides, ya gotta walk off that plate o’ fry!
If you’d like to stay in town:
The Old Brewery: https://www.oldbrewerygreenwich.com/
Where to drink:
The Trafalgar Tavern: www.trafalgartavern.co.uk – Service is slow as barnacles but the waterside setting is perfect and off of the beaten track. You’ll find more locals than tourists at this pub that has a dozen or so beers on tap and over 100 gins.