The Flaky-Crusted Upside of Colonialism

Try Jamaican patties at Suya for a taste of the Caribbean


Susan Burdick

Some dishes practically eat themselves. They’re so self-contained, so tidy, so cute in their “Hi, take me with you!” obligingness.

Jamaican patties (yes, “Jamaican” is part of the name, as in “French toast”) are not patties per se but palm-sized turnovers whose flaky crusts enfold savory fillings. A favorite street food throughout the Caribbean, Jamaican patties are a delicious product of colonialism, descended from that English coal miners’ staple, the Cornish pasty—but with far spicier fillings  and yellower crusts, brightened with turmeric and egg yolk as if to honor the tropical sun. Traveling in Jamaica as a teenager, I tagged these curry-kissed babies “Caribbean knishes.”

At Suya African-Caribbean Grill, beef, chicken, and mixed vegetable Jamaican patties join a menu that also includes jerk chicken, roasted plantains, and skewered meats flavored with fiery suya-pepper spice rub. All three fillings are resoundingly satisfying; my favorite is the exquisitely tender, melt-in-your-mouth meatless version. Hot-sweet dipping sauce balances the earthy crustiness.

“We tried to think of the types of street food that we like to buy when we go home to Africa,” says Oakland-born U.C. Berkeley graduate Zain Oke, who opened Suya last year with her Nigerian-born husband Seun Oke in the ebullient dining district now flanking U.C. Berkeley’s West Gate. “We realized that a lot of our favorite African flavors cross over to the Caribbean, which makes sense. Patties are the perfect comfort food. They leave you less guilt-ridden than mac-and-cheese.”

Suya African-Caribbean Grill,  2130 Oxford St., Berkeley, 510-981-8028,

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