Take the Sportsworld Drive exit to Cherry Blossom Road. Walk past Amazon, a fastener company, metal fabricator, food processor, electrical supply depot, and building materials complex.
It’s a business park, but next to the CP rail yard is an oasis: Irie Myrie’s Caribbean Catering Company, with its small phalanx of smokers and food truck in the parking lot.
In a short time, Theo Myrie has built a thriving business after taking a hiatus from training police services in 2015.
“I wanted to see what the kitchen had to offer. It was much more than I expected, so I decided to go this route,” says Myrie, 30, who was born in Jamaica and arrived in Canada at 16.
Demand was high for his truck and food in downtown Toronto at the start of 2019, and Myrie says he made a surprisingly large amount of money.
He bought The Hungry Olive in March 2021 and turned it into Irie Myrie’s; he sends a large portion of the take-out restaurant’s revenue to Jamaica.
“The truck is for me. But when the restaurant bills are paid, I ship what’s left over to Jamaica. Five years ago, my grandmother and I started a charity (IrieCan) to help children and the elderly. I remember as a kid running home in the rain to put a bucket on my bed to keep it dry. Those memories stayed with me,” he says.
Myrie’s takeout menu is jerk, patties, oxtails and curries from the Jamaican culinary canon, including one of my favorites: ackee and saltfish. He says it’s Jamaica’s national dish, dating back to the days of slavery.
“After abolition, everyone was trying to (survive) on their own. Now, everywhere you go on the island, you’ll find ackee and saltfish. It’s been part of our culture for a very long time.
Ackee is the yellow-fleshed fruit of an evergreen tree related to lychee and native to West Africa; Captain Bligh brought ackee to England from Jamaica in the 1790s (the plant’s scientific epithet includes its name). As with other members of the soapberry family, toxins from the fruit can be potentially harmful if unripe.
“Everyone does it differently,” Myrie says of the popular dish. He uses coconut oil to fry the onion and garlic with the peppers. He then simmers the salt cod a few times to reduce the salty taste of the preservation method, before adding pieces of the reconstituted fish.
“I then add the ackee carefully. It’s delicate, and you don’t want to mess it up. I add the Maggi seasoning, which has just the right amount of flavor, and black pepper. I make be careful not to go overseas because ackee has its own flavor, and you don’t want to lose it.Ackee sells.
He’s right: the texture of the ackee and its slightly sweet, slightly grassy flavor – balancing the salt cod – are the highlights of a dinner there.
Just like Myrie’s fried plantains.
I had several servings of the starchy banana cultivar: they were cut to the right thickness and cooked to caramelized perfection.
Then there is another signature Jamaican dish: the rice and peas are well cooked, hot and fresh. “Everyone across the island has it for Sunday dinner,” adds Myrie.
The dish is completed with a salad of steamed broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and “pop chow” (bok choy) — no dressing, per Jamaican convention, he says.
The little oasis vibe of Irie Myrie, the food, the colors, the picnic tables next to the tropical decor of the truck wrap and an overall energy create an ambience that lives up to the patois of the name.
“Listen to reggae. Irie is a positive vibration. It’s uplifting,” says Myrie.
“Ask anyone how they’re doing, and they’ll be like, ‘Irie!’ I’m genius!”
Andrew Coppolino is a Kitchener-based food writer and host. Visit him at andrewcoppolino.com.