Patois and patties at Twice as Nice

New Statesman

Y'know, me don' see dat David Starkey much down 'ere on me manor, seen, tho' wevver it am because he be chi-chi man or foo-foo racist man me don't know. All I do know is dat he could be 'avin bare good wittles if'n he laak tekkim ve trubs an' dat.

I could go on but you get the point. Round my way, Jamaican patois and cockney have interpenetrated to create a complete argot that's pretty much incomprehensible to the casual RP speaker, although if you bother to take the time - and are unprejudiced - you'll discover that it's rich not only in coinages and neologisms but also in metaphoric figures, colouring and imagism of all sorts.

It would be wrong to describe this new English dialect as "Jafaican". There's nothing fake about it - it's spoken unselfconsciously by both black and white young people who have grown up surrounded by its two parent tongues. I'm not sure if Starkey has taken the time to read Stephen Pinker's magisterial The Language Instinct but, if he did he'd discover the unpalatable - to him, at least - fact that a close analysis of African-American demotic has shown it to be far more grammatically complex than standard English. I suspect that the same is true of the common tongue spoken on the streets of sarf London - all of which is by way of my saying that, far from believing white Britons have become too black, I suspect we aren't yet black enough.

Empire strikes back

It's anomalous that, while white Britons have taken south Asian cuisine to their woolly bosom, West Indian food hardly ever features on high streets or in the culinary columns of newspapers - apart, that is, from jerk (or seasoned) chicken and Jamaican patties, which are increasingly sold alongside pies and pasties in fish-and-chip shops - though the mass-market items are more often than not as bland as their British co-specifics.
Which is a shame, because Caribbean food is a rich synthesis of African, Asian, European and Chinese influences, with a distinctive local twist. From ackee and salt fish through curry goat to fried plantain, the dishes are toothsome, piquant and wholesome - especially if you add in the distinctively heavy dumplings known as "foo-foo" (not to be confused with Starkey). My suspicion is that, as it was to the imperial mission, so it is to the post-imperial noshing: at an unconscious level, the majority population enacts a "martial races" policy on its gustatory habits. The Asians, colonised to serve as the small shopkeepers of the imperium, have retained that role for their former overlords. African-Caribbean people, by contrast, were outright enslaved and, once manumitted, brought in to run the public services - transport, health and so on - rather than the takeaways.

Tall tail

One of my favourite British chefs is Fergus Henderson, whose St John restaurant in London has been offering "nose-to-tail eating" to upmarket diners for years. If you want nose-to-tail eating of a different, but equally palatable sort, at a fraction of the price, I recommend my local Jamaican gaff, Twice as Nice on the Wandsworth Road. When you order the cow's foot here, you get a complete cow's foot, hoof and all. When - as I did at lunchtime today - you essay the oxtail, be prepared to find out quite how many little bones there are in a bovine tail.

The food is graphic at Twice as Nice and the prices comprehensible - my oxtail came with salad, rice and beans. With a can of Ting ("real Jamaican grapefruit"), my lunch cost £5.70 - but that's only because I opted to sit in, listen to the reggae lilting from the boom box and earwig the young folk goofing out at the nearby counter: "She say she 'av five chillun, man, an' look at 'er - she am sma-all, innit." When the Vietnamese woman who flogs pirated DVDs from café to café came moseying in, it occurred to me that, were I out on a date, I could round it off with the latest cinema release - all for under a tenner. Given that this would be a date with myself alone, the chances of some sort of sexual activity would be better than evens.

I'd rather dine alone at Twice as Nice than break foo-foo with Starkey, TV's Mr Twice-as-Nasty. Still, even if he doesn't wish to darken the establishment's doors for a sit-down meal, I strongly suggest that he dash in for one of its excellent patties: the pastry is light and fluffy and
the fillings are delicious. As he strolls through the milling crowds along the Wandsworth Road, munching the thing, he might even be struck blind - colour blind, that is.