For those of you that do know me, it’s no surprise that I am HOT blooded in every aspect. I tend to favor hot temperature, hot temperaments – James will attest to this, and hot food. I accredit these attributes, to the fact that I spent my childhood literally 10º above the equator. Growing up in the Caribbean had its perks, a loving family, tropical weather all the time, and the food. If I’m ever in a bad mood, putting a plate of my favorite food in front of me will wipe my attitude away – or at least that seems to work for James.
Anyway, in an appreciation post of my upbringing and the fact that I’m hankering for some of my grandmother’s home cooked meals, I decided to write a post about what you absolutely MUST eat when visiting good old Trinidad and Tobago.
The food in Trinidad and Tobago is always something I struggle to describe, as it is such an eclectic mix of influences. I would say the food adequately describes the multifaceted people of T&T and represents the various influences the country has undergone since its early inhabitants. You can find Spanish, Asian, Indian, and Creole foods exploring the foodie scene.
There is literally no way you can go visit T&T and NOT have doubles. Whether you have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight snack it doesn’t matter (or you can have it for all your meals like I sometimes like to do when I’m visiting). Doubles is essentially a sandwich, however, the “bread” consists of fried bread called baras. The filling, channa, which is curried garbanzo beans/chickpeas can be topped off with various toppings. My favorite topping is shredded cucumber (known as kheera). Other toppings include mango, garlic, tamarind chutney, and bandania (an herb sauce made from culantro/mexican coriander/chadon-beni). If you like your food spicy, odds are you’ll want some pepper sauce on there. Say slight if you’d like a medium dollop of hot sauce and say heavy if you’d like a lot of hot sauce, if you can’t handle the heat like me, say no pepper when you order.
Photo Credit: https://goo.gl/images/uKSUgU
Okay, I know. Why in the hell would you go to a tropical island, to experience new cultures and cuisine and eat at a chain? I get it, but you really do not understand when I say KFC in Trinidad is completely different from any other KFC you’ve ever had taste wise. I proudly say this, the first thing I get on arrival to Piarco International Airport, is a KFC Cruncher sandwich bought directly from the airport branch. I don’t know if it’s the spices used, a different recipe for the Caribbean, or maybe the meat is fresher since a lot of the meat is locally sourced, but KFC in T&T is 10x better than the ones I’ve had in the U.S. and the U.K. Just this once, trust a local and buy the KFC, you won’t regret it. While I’m on the topic of chain restaurants, another one that I find far better in quality and taste in Trinidad is Pizza Hut.
Bake and Shark
If you’re a fan of the food network, check out Andrew Zimmern’s special on T&T. He spends quite some time at the famous Richard’s at Maracas Beach. Local tip: avoid Richard’s. While it is absolutely tasty and delicious, it’s filled with tourists and long lines. Go to literally any of the other stands right next to Richard’s and you’ll be just as pleased. Bake is a common term in reference to fried bread. As such the sandwich consists of a round thin/flat, bread stuffed with fried filets of shark meat. Clearly, us Trinis like our food fried. No bake and shark sandwich is complete without a multitude of toppings on it. I personally enjoy ketchup, mustard, pepper sauce, bandania, garlic sauce, tomatoes, cucumbers and cole slaw on mine but it’s up to you.
Pelau is the Trini “crock pot” meal. A rice dish consisting of meat, seasoning, peas and carrots, and other vegetables. I actually wasn’t the biggest fan of pelau as a child, because I always found it rather boring but after having some that my Aunty Jel made I found the key to a great pelau is making sure it isn’t dry. Don’t be surprised if you head to Maracas beach and see some locals eating pelau, or even doing their own cookout at the beach! It’s quite common.
Whenever I venture home, I always try to get some BBQ before I leave. It’s not that the BBQ in the states compared to Trinidad is completely different, but there is definitely SOMETHING different. It’s quite common to come across a roadside vendor and order a box of BBQ Chicken, that comes with a piece of garlic bread, chips, and a salad. While I usually am quite fine eating any BBQ in Trinidad there is one spot, in particular, I always seek out. On La Romaine St., in San Fernando you must visit Original Bar-B-Que Huy. I always order a box of barbecue chicken and chips with garlic bread and salad. You need to put sauces on it, it’s not complete without a dash of BBQ Sauce, Garlic Sauce, and Pepper Sauce.
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/Original-Bar-B-Que-Hut-126629500699186/
If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a local wedding, odds are you’ll be blessed with “Wedding Food.” A.K.A. GOOD CURRY. Roti, channa and aloo, curry mango, curry meats(chicken/goat/duck/lamb), salad, dhal and rice to name a few. Roti is essentially an Indian style flatbread and can come in many varieties, my favorite is dhalpouri roti which is roti filled with crushed split peas. Channa and Aloo is essentially curried garbanzo beans/chick peas and chunks of potatoes – very simmilar to a channa masala if you’re familiar with Indian food. Curry mango is exactly what it sound like, mango in a curry sauce – it has more of a sweet taste and is an excellent side for roti and channa and aloo. Lastly, dhal and rice is something I grew up eating as an everyday food but is often found at “wedding feasts.” It’s essentially rice, with a split pea sauce/soup layered on top. If you attend a very traditional wedding, you may even have your food served on a large leaf as opposed to a plate. When it comes to the rice, try and eat local! The “Island Grain” brand does it all with their rice, from planting to packaging and it’s delicious!
Mutton Curry, Beef Rendang, Eggplant Masala, Vegetable Curry With Rice – Rich Maha Aud9 by Avlxyz via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-SA.
Pastelles is a dish you typically find around Christmastime and represents the Spanish influence in Trinidad. Often cooked in a banana leaf, the cornmeal pie is filled with some type of meat and various toppings. Then it is rolled up in the banana leaf and boiled/steamed until ready. My grandmother typically fills her pastelles with seasoned beef, capers, olives, peppers and potatoes, though you can have different meats and toppings.
Trini Christmas At Maltby Street by Franka-in-london via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC NC.
Perhaps one of my favorite breakfast foods growing up as a kid. My grandmother would cut a plantain in half and give it a quick fry in the pan. A very simple and easy breakfast meal I loved eating before going to school.
Irazu by Cherrylet via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY.
Since I am also Venezuelan, I often ate many Spanish foods growing up. Another favorite breakfast food of mine was an arepa. Essentially a ground maize dough, cooked in a pan and cut in half to be used for a sandwich. Some people eat it with butter and cheese, or avocado but my favorite filling was to have it with fried tuna, tomatoes and onions.
18 Arepas by Tastingmenu via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.
Another Spanish dish traditionally found in Venezuela/Colombia is a cachapa. These are delicious corn pancakes essentially but are sweeter. However we don’t top them with syrup but instead, a little bit of butter and some cheese is the way to eat it. Some people eat them singularly or use them as bread in a sandwich.
Queso De Mano Cachapa, Cachapas Y Mas by Gsz via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.
Street Food / Snacky Foods
With a name like that you know it’s got to be good! Chow is a fruit mix, often seasoned with salt/pepper/bandania/garlic. I know it sounds odd to those that aren’t used to it. Spicy fruits?! Trust me, it’s absolutely delicious. My favorite types of chow are pineapple chow, mango chow and plum chow. A good old cucumber chow is good as well.
I think you’ll find quickly a lot of our food is fried. The aloo pie is no different. The dough is fried and then filled with seasoned, mashed up aloo (our term for potato). I recommend adding some slight pepper to it!
03 Inside Aloo Pie – Trini Flava’s by Jasonlam via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-SA.
There is nothing better than getting some homemade pholourie from your aunt or the aunty down the street that sells them. It consists of seasoned dough balls, fried(shocker right), and served with chutney to be dipped in. Absolutely delicious.
When I first moved to the states, and my mom told me she bought some plums from the store I was extremely disappointed when she handed me a massive purple ball. This was not the plums I was used to. The plums in Trinidad are often small, green and olive-sized. Heck they even look like an olive. When they’re green they sour, (which I find makes for a great plum chow), but turn yellow once ripe. There’s also another type of plum called a Governor plum. We had this tree growing up at home, and it is a bit larger than the green plums but not by much and turns red when ripe. I favor these when I want a sweet plum.
A Pomerac (also known as a Malay Apple) is a pear-shaped type of apple I guess and is pink on the outside with a spongy white inside surrounding a large pit. It is very sweet and juicy and is only in season a few times a year.
Pomerac by Therese Yarde via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC NC.
Okay so after you have drunk the water from a coconut, you need to cut that baby open and eat the jelly. There is literally nothing better. The best jelly is a nice soft, thick white jelly. If you have a young coconut your jelly will barely be formed, and if the coconut is too old the jelly gets very dry and hard.
Scooping Out The Coconut Flesh by Joe Shlabotnik via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.
Another fruit that was completely different from Trinidad and the States are the cherries. They are these tiny little fruits, much smaller than the cherries in the States and far sweeter. I find the cherries in the States a bit tart, however, the ones in T&T are juicy and sweet.
Cherry? by Vinicius Costa via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.
Chennettes (sometimes known as Quenapas). In order to eat these, you need to crack the green outer layer skin, most people just bite them open, then discard the skin and eat the pink, sweet meat of the seed. Be careful though, it gets quite sticky and they can stain your clothing!
Mamoncillo by Don Meliton via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.
I feel like this just goes without saying, when in the Caribbean/tropical island you kinda need to have coconut water fresh out of a coconut. Growing up I was fortunate enough to have coconut trees in my yard, and often my older brother would scramble up a tree and get some coconuts, hack off the top with a cutlass and we would drink the water directly out of it. If you’re not lucky like we were to have a tree at your disposal, there are tons of shops and grocery stores that sell bottled coconut water. While it’s not the same as drinking it fresh out of a coconut it’s still far better than the terrible imitation coconut water you find in the States.
First off, there’s only one brand of peanut punch to drink. Ramsaran. Look out for the green and white box. It’s the BEST. Peanut punch is literally so simple to make at home, but it doesn’t taste the same as Ramsaran’s. It’s literally peanut butter, milk and sugar. It’s not thick like a milkshake, but not smooth like water, somewhere in the middle.
Mauby is quite popular in the Caribbean and Trinidad is no exception. I don’t really know how to describe the drink other than to say it starts tasting sweet and then ends a little bitter. I believe you can purchase the drink pre-made but growing up we had the syrup that you would mix with water and tada you had Mauby.
Mauby And Bitter Lemon Sodas by Matt.ohara via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC NC.
I spent my whole childhood drinking malta, literally almost one a day. It’s a soft drink of sorts, made from wheat and hops. My boyfriend tried it once after I found it in a specialty store in the States and promptly informed me it was non-alcoholic beer. Once he said it I could understand the similarity considering both drinks and made with hops, but I can never wrap my mind around the fact that is similar to beer. To me, it will always be just Malta.
Photo credit: ravensong75 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY
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