Jamaica: Jerk Chicken

Restaurant: Back-A-Yard
City: Menlo Park, CA

I took my aunt, uncle, family friend, and sister out to a Jamaican restaurant after window shopping at East Palo Alto IKEA.

This place is a hole-in-the-wall! Unless you’re working in Menlo Park, it’s on a street most people just drive through, from 84 to 101 and vice versa.

For five years, I’d driven by this place on my way home from work, and noticed there’d be smoke coming out from the buildings on Willow and Newbridge, and it’d smell good. I had no idea where it was coming from, till my coworker took me here a year ago.

Definitely check this place out. Perhaps after IKEA, if you’re not in the mood for Swedish meatballs. I suggest coming here when it’s bright outside as the area can get sketchy at night- it’s real close to East Palo Alto.

Back-A-Yard makes really tender and very moist jerk chicken! (Be sure to get some festivals there too!)

I got the jerk chicken meal, which included a salad, rice with beans, plantains, jerk chicken, and extra jerk sauce.

jerk chicken - 1

Here’s a closer look at that delicious chicken with jerk sauce. The jerk sauce isn’t spicy but it’s very unique and bold in flavor.

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Here’s what one food critic at Check Please Bay Area said of Jamaican jerk chicken:

I have been in love with Jamaican food since visiting the island over twenty years ago. I have since returned to Jamaica several times. I have learned that Jamaicans are easygoing people who are serious about their food. Chicken should be the national bird, and Jerk Chicken is prepared everywhere, including makeshift BBQs on the side of the road and huts near the beach.

A little background info, from Jamaica Travel and Culture:

Jerk Chicken is believed to have been conceived when the Maroons (African refugees that escaped slavery in the Americas and formed independent settlements) introduced African meat cooking techniques to Jamaica which were combined with native Jamaican ingredients and seasonings used by the Arawak. The method of smoking meat for a long period of time served two practical purposes, keeping insects away from the raw meat and preserving it for longer once it has been cooked. This process also introduces a strong smoky flavour to the meat.

There are two commonly held theories regarding how the name “Jerk” came to be used. One is that it originates from the Spanish word “Charqui”, used to describe dried meat. Over time this term evolved from “Charqui” to “Jerky” to “Jerk”. Another theory is that the name derives from the practice of jerking (poking) holes in the meat to fill with spices prior to cooking. Nowadays, the word “Jerk” is used as a noun to describe the seasoning applied to jerked food and as a verb to describe the process of cooking used.

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