We hit Maroon Town in St James recently, in search of interesting food stops. On reaching the Springfield main road, we saw breadfruit being roasted (looked promising), so we stopped and inquired what was on the menu. Jerk chicken. Not exactly what we were looking for. We wanted something that was not the usual fare. “Check Ms Phang a Bay, then. Har cornmeal pudding and fry dumpling doh hol’ up”, the stranger’s tip was seconded and that set in motion a sequence of events.
What was so special about Ms Phang’s food?
A native of Montego, Iris Phang, we discovered, started by selling bread, at 8 Strand Street, baked by her uncle Henry Phang. Her father also operated a bakery in Sunshine Plaza also on Strand Street. She took over operations in the late 1980s.
“My uncle eventually gave me the keys and told me to talk to the owner about taking over the rent. The owner was concerned if I could manage the rent but I told her yes; I started to bake and someone gave me an idea how to do the dumpling. I got the recipe but I made some changes and do it my own way,” the diminutive Phang explained.
“My recipe begins with love. I love what I do. I like to see people happy when they’re eating my food and that’s where I get my enjoyment from. I always weigh and measure my ingredients, that’s key for me and that bit of advice came from my father as well,” Phang added.
Phang explained she actually closed the shop in the late 1990s and a chance encounter on Church Street with a male customer in the early 2000s changed all of that.
“I was coming down Church Street close to where Hometown Supermarket (now Hi-Lo Supermarket) was and this man crossed the street and came over to me and he said, ‘Ms Phang, yuh a mek we dead fi hungry, yuh lock up the place and we a hungry man, start open back and do likkle supm’n. At the time I was a little depressed and after that encounter I started and just keep going. First time I went to America I was in a department store and three ladies were in there looking at me and one came over and said ‘a yuh a Ms Phang, a whayuh a do up here, how we go get we food and dumpling when we go down?’ When I go to the airport all I can hear is ‘Whey yuh a go, how we go get we dumpling and things?’. Things like that really make me feel good,” Phang stated.
“I just make the name by putting out the products the best I can. I’m not famous out of this materially, but I have made a name and the customers depend on me,” added Phang.
— Text & photos by Aceion Cunningham