On Dame Street, Afro-Caribbean Soul Food

Ruby Tuesday hasn’t had a day off in 11 weeks, and she can’t take one now. She has to marinate chicken for brunch tomorrow, and she has sauce to make.

She bustles out of the kitchen at the back of Berlin on Dame Street and immediately bustles back in. “I was just tasting the jerk sauce, so I had to get water,” she says, coughing. The sauce on its own is very spicy.

It’s traditional Jamaican jerk sauce, made with a base of scallions, Scotch bonnet peppers, and pimenta, also known as allspice. Tuesday won’t say what else is in it. She learned the recipe from a Jamaican relative, and she says it’s a secret.

It could be any time of day inside Berlin. The bar isn’t open yet, so most of the lights are off and the candles aren’t lit. It’s afternoon, but not much sunlight reaches the restaurant area in the back. Someone has soaped up all the windows facing Dame Street to clean them. Staff rush around, stacking glasses and getting ready to open the doors.

Tuesday has been cooking Afro-Caribbean soul food in the pub since November. She serves it from 4pm to 9:30pm, but her day starts much earlier.

She trains in each day from home in Donabate for 11:30am. Once in the kitchen, she preps the rice side dishes and oxtail stew, which needs at least two hours to simmer, she says.

Where’s the Beef?

Tuesday was “born and bred” in the Brixton area of London. Her parents were immigrants from Ghana, but she grew up surrounded by Caribbean culture. She says she learned a lot about Caribbean food from her Jamaican neighbour, Mrs Bartley.

She came to Dublin 14 years ago for a weekend and fell in love with the place, she says. She stayed here and got a job at one of the main telecommunications companies in Ireland. Becoming a full-time chef wasn’t part of her plan.

The first time she thought about cooking professionally, she was in a field in Roscommon, 11 years ago. She’d gone to the Mantua Project festival there, for the reggae.

Late one night, she went looking for something to eat. She found a stall selling Jamaican stew peas and rice. She says, traditionally, it’s kidney beans stewed down slowly with scallions and coconut milk. As it cooks down, you add marinated beef shin and dumplings.

“So it’s tasty, right? But they did that minus the beef. So I remember walking up the fields, no sleep, thinking I need this food,” she says. She rooted around with her fork and couldn’t find any beef.

“I went back to the guy and said there’s no meat in there, and they just started laughing and said, ‘We’re vegetarians.’ And it’s like, what?”

Mantua’s organisers invited her to come back to the festival the next year and make the food she’d been craving. She served barbecued jerk chicken and salad all day Saturday, straight through the night to Sunday afternoon.

There were hungry people who needed her, she said. She thought: “I will keep going, no matter what. I’ll go until the wall is hitting me, which to me is God saying no, turn back, there’s no more.”

After that, she didn’t cater for a few years. In October 2017, she began serving food on Saturdays in a café on St Michan’s Street in Smithfield. She kept it to Saturdays because she was still working full-time during the week.

“It started really kicking off,” she says, but in September of last year there was a fire. “The whole place got burnt down … lost everything. It was just unbelievable,” she says. “But again, my faith kicked in. I just kept holding on. I said it’s not the end of the world.”

Within a week, she found out she was being made redundant at her day job. Two months later, she opened Ruby Tuesday’s Soul Food in the Berlin bar.

“You know how [in the Bible], when your fields need to be started fresh, they burn everything and the soil, they clear it? And it becomes new again, it becomes better? That’s the way I hold that fire,” she says.

“[After] the fire … my work colleagues at the office were like, ‘Oh my God, what are you going to do, Ruby?’” Tuesday says she could have felt down about it, but she held on to her faith.

“I give thanks to my lord for giving me this opportunity. I hope I can keep it going.”

“Eat All Your Dinner!”

Tuesday says she’s a mum, and she’s felt an urge to cook for people since her four daughters grew up and left home.

“I’ve been accused of being a feeder because my food portions are huge. I’ll be like, why have you not eaten all that? So I think that’s where it comes from – eat all your dinner! I think that’s where the whole enthusiasm comes from,” she says.

The most popular dish on the menu is the Ruby Tuesday jerk chicken platter. It’s a generous portion of chicken legs and thighs covered in jerk sauce, served with jollof rice and fried plantain.

The rice is a West African specialty and is cooked with tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. Tuesday gets her plantains from a Moore Street wholesaler. It’s very important that they’re ripe enough, and the wholesaler ripens them for her, she says.

Also on the menu the oxtail stew, which she serves with dumplings, and rice and kidney beans. Tuesday calls them “rice and peas”.

There are also jerk chicken wings, Caribbean fish cakes, and a selection of wraps. At weekends, she makes curry goat. If you’ve never tried it, she says, you’re missing out.

Chris Smyth and his husband Rogerio Andrade go to Berlin a few times a month, mostly on payday. On his last visit a week earlier, Smyth says he ordered the Jamaican spice bag. “I was sweating, but it was nice.”

He had ordered chunky chips and the jerk sauce. “I ate the whole bowl, if that tells you anything,” he says.

Andrade had the sweet potatoes and chicken wings with jerk sauce. “It’s not too spicy for me. I’m from Brazil,” he says.

When Tuesday came to their table, Smyth suggested adding a burger to the menu. “I come out on a Friday for comfort food. Beer, burger, fries – happy days. If it’s dipped in jerk sauce, all the better,” he says.

So this week, there’s a burger on the menu. Tuesday adds scallions and spices to the homemade patties.

“She will bring the food to people and chat to them,” says Emily Jacquier, who has worked in Berlin since June. “When they’re not sure what to do, she’ll walk around and talk to them about the menu. And you don’t really see a chef doing that, getting so involved with their customers.”

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Erin McGuire: Erin McGuire is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at erin@dublininquirer.com.

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