“Oh, I get it now,” I said to my travel-partner-in-crime, Nikta. “This is really working for me.”
I was at Azul Beach Resort Negril, eating my second Jamaican beef patty of the afternoon, sitting on a white-sand beach as the waves lapped up over my ankles. What I’d suddenly “gotten” was the all-inclusive resort model that Azul and many of Jamaica’s hotel properties use to varying degrees of success. A model in which you pay one price for your entire stay. No charging $5.00 Cokes back to your room. Or $15 rum and Cokes. Do what you want, drink what you want, eat what you want.
Which for me, at that moment, was a picnic of beef patties and jerk chicken on the sand. Did I also have a cocktail in hand? You’d better believe it.
Why did eating a beef patty, one of Jamaica’s most beloved snacks, have such a profound effect on me? Because over the previous few days, I’d become something of a beef patty aficionado — ordering the dish at roadside huts, bars, chains, and every single place I could find recommended on the internet. I’d also tasted the best iterations of the very-empanada-ish snack back home in Los Angeles under the guise of research and even tried to make my own (very bastardized) version for a cooking contest.
So I knew what a good beef patty needed: flaky pastry and a filling so deeply savory — thanks to allspice, tomato paste, and curry powder — that it creates an immediate salivary response. And when I tasted the beef patty at Azul, I knew: This one was legit. I instantly stepped back into line to order two more. And a plate of jerk chicken. And a Coke, which I upgraded with a shot of top-shelf rum at a nearby bar. Besides a few dollars in tips, I paid nothing.
“This chicken is better than the spot we went yesterday,” Nikta said between bites, referring to Scotchie’s — the world-famous jerk hut in Montego Bay. I cringed at the thought of a five-star resort besting a local favorite but it was tough to argue. Though Azul’s poolside shack didn’t have space for the full wood-grill-covered-with-corrugated-siding set-up that authentic jerk joints use around the island, the chicken was made to order, cooked perfectly, and sauced generously. The bird we’d had at Scotchie’s was far more traditional, but it was dry.
“Want another drink?” I asked Nikta between bites. She nodded with a full mouth and I hopped to my feet to grab her one. There was a bar a few feet from us, a phenomenon which always seemed to be the case — as if we were inside an Alcohol Vortex.
The fact that the all-inclusive model, which I’d shunned across 40-odd countries, finally won me over with a snack that usually costs less than a dollar at any bar from Kingston to Montego Bay is significant. Or at least it felt that way to me. I read it as a promise, “We’re committed to doing things right.” And if I was going to fully buy into the experience, that’s exactly what I needed to hear.