Callaloo, Jerk and Caribbean street food—in Somerville!
The folks running Some ‘Ting Nice, the city’s newish Caribbean restaurant at 561 McGrath, have taken a few detours on the road to running a restaurant.
Co-owner Michael Puckerin represented Trinidad and Tobago during the 1984 Olympics; co-owner Susan Puckerin used to run and own a hair salon; and the general manager (not in photo) was once a make-up artist for Beyonce! Yet these days they are focusing on serving dishes they learned how to cook growing up on the islands. Running the show in the kitchen is executive chef Mark Reid, who used to cook at Reggae on the Grill and Caribbean Rhythm, both in Dorchester.
One afternoon recently myself and a few Arts Council staffers headed over to the restaurant to sample the following: jerk chicken, curried goat, roasted pumpkin, callaloo (a dish of West African origin featuring leafy greens and okra), bhaji (veggie fritters of Indian origin), roti bread (also of Indian origin) plantains, oxtail stew, macaroni pie, stewed pork, rice and beans. Every dish was tasty, full of flavor, and not overwhelmingly spicy. Right now you can only consume non-alcoholic drinks like sorrel, guava, and passion fruit juice, but check back soon when the owners hope to have a liquor license.
Shortly after our island feast, I sat down with owners Michael Puckerin and Susan Puckerin along with head chef Mark Reid to learn a little more about the restaurant. —Katie Griffin
Chatting with Co-owner Michael Puckerin
Nibble: How did the restaurant get started?
Michael: That’s always been my dream to have a restaurant. I’ve been cooking for a long time, so I got the right opportunity and the right place.
Nibble: How did you learn to cook?
Michael: I came from a big family, five girls and five boys, there were ten of us. So my mother taught us to cook. I got my speed by running to the dinner table as a kid to grab one of the three chairs!
Nibble: Is the menu influenced by specific islands in the Caribbean? You’re from Trinidad, right?
Michael: Yes, but we cook from all the islands. They all have different seasonings, I can’t say everyone cooks the same. Some have different spices, things like that, but we cook things from all of the islands.
Nibble: You also have a roti section of the menu. Is there an Indian influence on the food as well? (Roti is a type of Indian-styled flat bread).
Michael: Yeah, lots of folks cook it in Trinidad and Tobago. I grew up with a lot of Indian friends, playing sports. I get along with everyone. I don’t really see color, if I cut me I bleed red, if I cut you you bleed red.
Michael: I like our chicken, the macaroni, the soup and jerk chicken. All these such things I can cook pretty good.
Nibble: Do you get your ingredients from places in Somerville or from other places?
Michael: No, we get them from New York, some are shipped to us from Trinidad and Tobago. There are a few things from Stop & Shop, but if you want good Caribbean food you have to go to a Caribbean market.
Nibble: I see you have a little stage and a stereo set up back here. Do you play music at night?
Michael: Yeah, I’m a kind of slash DJ. When we start selling wine and beer, maybe next month; we’re not sure what we’re going to have there.
Nibble: So you can’t sell drinks from the bar at the moment, but probably in the next month or two?
Michael: Yeah, the people want the Caribbean beer. Plus I make a nice home-made wine that will knock your boots off. I never gave anyone a taste that didn’t love it. I found a name for it too- Some ‘Ting Nice. A little house wine.
Chatting with Chef Mark Reid
Nibble: What’s your favorite dish on the menu here?
Mark: As a Jamaican, I am a so-called “master” at jerk chicken, jerk pork. You have to remember it’s not about what you cook, it’s how you present it. You eat with your eyes first. I wouldn’t say I love to cook, I love to watch people eat. As long as you enjoy eating, I’ll cook. I love my customers, they are my extrinsic motivation. There’s something famous in Jamaica, something called the escovitch fish.
Nibble: And how do you usually cook the escovitch fish?
Mark: This is your choice of fish seasoned with our special seasoning and deep fried. While it’s being fried, on the the other burner we have rings of carrots, onions, pimento, and scotch bonnet peppers. This is quick fired in vinegar; the trick is to add a splash of orange juice; this cuts the acidity of the vinegar. Then you drench the fish with this concoction after it’s fried and drained. You garnish it with the vegetables in the sauce and serve it with bammy (Jamaican cassava flatbread).
Nibble: When did you learn how to cook?
Mark: While in college in Jamaica, I had no choice but to learn the easiest thing to cook. Because back home I was not allowed in the kitchen—my mother and sisters would run you out! So the first meal I learned in college, which was dictated over the phone, was minced beef. I remembered the seasoning my mother used to send me to the store for; the rest was trial and error. These were tastes passed down through my family. So I can say I went to Grandma University. Cooking is memories. If you cannot remember the taste, you won’t try to reach that high again.
Nibble: Is there anything else you want to share with Nibble readers?
Mark: We are only as good as the last meal we make. The hardest people to cook for are repeating customers. They know what they had the last time, so you better be on par. It keeps us on edge. I was told by one of my elders: Part one – if you feel good, you look good, you will cook good (in other words, uniform, or attire). Part two – if you love cooking, it means you will never work a day in your life; it is not work, it is feeding people and having fun. So from me and Some ‘Ting Nice, I always say welcome home.
Chatting with Co-owner Susan Puckerin
Nibble: Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
Susan: Yes, I have a couple. I like curried chicken or goat, and the aloo (potato balls; a popular street food in the Caribbean). That’s one of my favorites, and I like the escovitch fish.
Nibble: How did you learn how to cook? Was it while you were growing up?
Susan: Yes, we started cooking at a very young age. My mom would start cooking on a Sunday and we would cook through the rest of the week. There were eight of us, so we had to learn. Macaroni pie was one of the first things I learned how to cook. I still love it.