Ground Provisions: Finding Jamaica in Paris at Hustler Corner

August 3, 2011

Words by Rishi Bonneville

“Ground provisions” is a term ascribed throughout the Caribbean to starchy, ground-grown fruits and vegetables—yams, cassava, potatoes, breadfruit. Everyday staples that make up the foundation of the region’s diet. Here at LargeUp, Ground Provisions will be an ongoing series on Wednesdays spotlighting Caribbean eateries around the world,  from unsung island gems to outposts of Caribbean hospitality in the Diaspora and beyond.

As a visitor from New York, it is disorienting to be in a major international city like Paris and not hear reggae. While New York oozes Caribbean-ness, Paris gets its accents from Africa. Away from the city of lights popular tourist destinations, in neighborhoods like Chateau Rouge, Barbes-Rochencourt, Simplon, Stalingrad—and further out in the infamous suburbs like Evry—brown folks from Senegal, Algeria, Mali, Morocco and other former French colonies live and work. And, when no work is available, simply come outside to talk. The music of choice, vibrating from mini-cars and storefronts might be Ivorian coupe decale, Congolese Soukous, or Algerian Rai. If you’re hungry, the local boulangeries offer long orange-crusted baguettes and bitter shots of espresso coffee, each for less than a euro. Turning onto a side street, you’ll find  mostly small, narrow restaurants with hand-painted signs specializing in fare from Cote D’Ivoire, Mali and Martinique. Haitian spots are few, ongoing fallout from the epic war of liberation two centuries ago. Visiting Paris this past June, staying in Simplon, I was drawn in by the variety of tastes around me, each with its own historical raison d’etre. But after two weeks of raison d’etre,  I was having a case of curry tabanca. I needed roti and reggae.

Luckily my man Kay One at Maquis Art had the link. Fifi, a regular customer (and dancehall afficianado) directed me to Hustler Corner in Stalingrad, a partnership between veteran French-Madagascarian selector Rico of Scallawax sound system and a Jamaican (by-way-of-London) chef named Andrew. Together, they had expanded Dubwize, Rico’s legendary vinyl shop, to a small West Indian oasis, a hybrid of righteous music and food in an intimate setting. Disembarking from the elevated train on Ligne 2, my friend and I easily found the shop nestled in the middle (not the corner) of a nearby block. Entering under a bright green graffiti sign, we were greeted by a large mural of a dreadlocked fisherman on the right, and an elevated counter full of the latest dancehall 45s on the left. The same green lettering announced the entrance to the kitchen in the back.

Chef Andrew

After perusing the menu, which included oxtail, stew beef, and curry chicken, my friend decided on the stewed chicken plate and I on the Ital rice and peas. The chicken was marinated in a tangy, peppery sauce and presented on a bed of moist rice and peas. The Ital plate was served with lightly sautéed cabbage and yam. Andrew brought out both plates himself. A special request for Sizzla was granted and we ate to an accompaniment of “Woman I Need You” and “Babylon Ah Listen” played live and direct by Rico. Both our plates were clean at the end of the meal. I found it hard to imagine this kind of experience—live selection, home-cooked food—in Brooklyn, in spite of its sizable number of establishments catering to the Jamaican diaspora.

Dancehall culture has yet to establish a firm hold in Paris. However, major artists do come for major events –Barrington Levy was a headliner during the 2011 Paris Hiphop Festival–and roots reggae festivals draw fans. During the 2011 Fete de Musique, an annual event on June 21 in which street parties are held throughout Paris, Hustler Corner sponsored a dancehall street party, a “passa passa.” Many French reggae sounds came to play–strictly vinyl–and filled up the street. While the level of revelry didn’t reach the feverish pitch of the Jamaican prototype, the enthusiasm from the attendees, many of whom knew the words, was palpable. As night fell, one young woman, Ting bottle in hand, was screaming along to some obscure Mr. Vegas record. It was then I realized that, at the intersection of a growing Parisian appetite for dancehall, and the vision needed to build a real yard vibe, Hustler Corner was in fact aptly named.

Hustler Corner 4 rue Belloe – 75019 Paris. Metro Stalingrad. 06 78 76 51 03.