A Taste of Home
Owner, Carena's Jamaican Grille
7102 Midlothian Turnpike | Richmond
Years in Richmond: 27
Where I eat in Richmond: Full Kee, Edo’s Squid
Owner, La Sabrosita Bakery
7730 Midlothian Turnpike # A | North Chesterfield
Years in Richmond: 15
Where I eat in Richmond: Pupuseria El Salvadoreño
Owner, Sen Organic Small Plate
2901 W Cary Street | Richmond
Years in Richmond: 13
Where I eat in Richmond: Saadia’s Juicebox
Owner, Africanne on Main
200 E Main Street | Richmond
Years in Richmond: 22
Where I eat in Richmond: Seafood specialty restaurants
A Taste of Home — Infusing Global Flavors into Richmond Dining
by Sarah Choi
What is a taste of home? Is it merely a combination of flavors on your palate, or is it more than that? When I am down, don't feel well, or the weather is rough, there are tastes, smells, and textures that call to me, evoking a hunger that cannot be alleviated by just any food. That pang of nostalgia and longing is a hunger you feel in your soul and heart, not just in your stomach.
Carena Ives of Carena’s Jamaican Grille gets it. When asked why she decided to open a restaurant, she answers, “I was really hungry, literally and figuratively. No one was doing Caribbean food at the time, so I thought why not open a restaurant?” Having grown up in Jamaica watching her mother cook simple foods using a small coal stove, Carena was inspired to open Jamaica House in 1994 and Carena’s Jamaican Grille in 2007. Caribbean transplants from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New England immediately embraced Jamaica House on VCU’s campus, then the rest of Richmond followed. “Because our food is so similar to Southern comfort food, it didn't take long for Richmonders to try our version of oxtails and fall in love with it,“ says Carena.
Sometimes simply cooking from the heart is what precedes opening a food service business. Argentina Ortega used to rush home between her two jobs to make fresh bread to sell to her community. “In El Salvador, we eat fresh bread with each meal, and I knew the community missed the taste of home.” Now, her family business, La Sabrosita Bakery, bakes fresh breads, pastries, and custom cakes daily, in addition to selling other Hispanic groceries. Her tres leches cake with guava filling tastes as festive as the piñatas that adorn the bakery ceiling.
After the initial success of her wellness business, Perception Organic Spa, Hang Pham decided to open Sen Organic Small Plate to share her life philosophy through food. “I have been helping people with their external health through an organic spa experience. I wanted to address their internal health with organic food,“ says Hang, who created an authentic Vietnamese menu with the help of her mother, grandmother, and female Buddhist monks. Hang thoughtfully designed all parts of the dining experience, including Sen’s decor, the locally made dinnerware, the organic, free-range, and wild-caught ingredients, and the carefully selected teas representing the zen practice of peaceful coexistence within your community and mind.
Chef Ida MaMusu of Africanne on Main also cooks to heal, focusing on kosher meats and organic vegetables with a limited use of salt. Her restaurant’s famous lunch buffet feels like a family holiday feast exploding with African spices. Meanwhile, her dinner menu boasts dishes not only from her homeland, Liberia, but also from Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal. Chef MaMusu says she cooks because cooking is the love of her life. She shares a story of learning to cook from her grandmother at age eight, bringing the pot to her each time when she needed to add an ingredient. I love imagining that sweet scene in my head when tasting her Liberian jollof rice and chef’s special mixed greens.
Perhaps it is the rich stories of home we miss when we feel hungry for comfort food, as if the soul has taste buds for memories and history. The next time that you need of a little lift in your spirit, maybe pull up a chair in one of these businesses and let their food take you far away, yet close to home.