Hidden in West Norwood lies the new home of Caribbean food. Ryan ‘Riley’ Spence has spent his time in quarantine starting his own Caribbean food, getting his menu down to a fine art. If, like me, you happen to catch Mr Spence early on one of his delivery days (Friday – Sunday depending on the menu) you might be lucky enough to sample the new dishes he has planned. In the early afternoon of a surprising hot Sunday, I found myself with two of Mr Spence’s regular customers, eating a fantastic bowl of Fish Soup. Both of the lovely ladies were both waiting for their orders when Mr Spence game out with the dish, asking us all to try it and give him our review. As this was my first time trying any sort of fish soup I was overwhelmed with the vast amount of flavours coating my tongue. The soft orange broth has salmon, carrots, potatoes, green bananas, and a vast amount of other Caribbean staples hidden within and I was pleasantly delighted. One of the ladies also trying this soup painted the picture of it quite well, stating ‘this is what you eat after going out on a cold Saturday. It fills you up and warms you up all in one’ and nothing in me could disagree. The flavours coating my tongue while eating the soup were familiar yet I found it hard to place – my own Caribbean culture only coming to light when my mother feels like cooking or at family events. Overall, the soup itself has an instant feeling of being at home. Something the two ladies eating it with me shared.
Mr Spence is well known in West Norwood as an up and coming entrepreneur. He has already started running groups, boxing classes for the youth within the area, and his own music career. Yet even with all these projects (and his a fulltime job), he has still found a way to support his local community. His food delivery services have given his local community the chance to not only eat fantastic traditional food, but also bond with neighbours. Many people will come to collect their own food, have a lovely socially distanced conversation with Mr Spence and his family, then take their orders and help deliver orders for the more vulnerable members of the community. Mr Spence’s consumer’s ages range from children all the way to the elderly, bring the community together over food.
Not only does Mr Spence produce classic main dishes and sides (such as jerk chicken, rice and peas, oxtail, and mac and cheese) he also makes deserts. His traditional Caribbean banana cake (with optional custard) has gone down a treat with his customers, as well as his more recent venture into honey waffles and ice cream. With his constantly changing menu, his customers get to enjoy a vast array of Caribbean food – from fish to red meat – there is always a dish for everyone.
Once Mr Spence had finally finished with his deliveries and collections for the day, I finally got the chance to sit down in his flower-covered garden and ask him the true root of his most recent business. Unsurprisingly, Mr Spence’s influences for ‘Riley’s Kitchen – For Ya Belly’ were: community, family, and giving back. In times such as Covid-19, many people feel disconnected from each other and nothing brings people together like food. Then simplicity behind it is astounding and admirable; the business allows people to communicate with Mr Spence and each other. If there is one thing this pandemic has shown is that communication is needed for many. Despite being able to sit down and eat with friends, it is nice to be able to order the same food, eat the same meals, and talk about it together. For Ya Belly enables people to start a conversation, something many people (especially those who are vulnerable) don’t have. Mr Spence also used his business to give back to the local community and the black community by buying his produce from black own businesses and small local shops. With the Black Lives Matter movement still ongoing and the uncertainty, small businesses feel from this pandemic, Mr Spence tries to do as much as he can to support those who will need it most.
Riley’s Kitchen – For Ya Belly is a business run by a man who strives to do his best for others; something we should all try to do. For Ya Belly; for your family, for your community, for others.
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