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Made in Trinidad: Unique Gifts, Souvenirs and Shopping

Cocobel Chocolate Trinidad

Chocolate made in Trinidad from the finest Trinidad chocolate. Photograph Courtesy Cocobel.

Trinidad products: what to buy, and where to buy it

No, a ceramic coconut made in China is probably not how you want to remember your trip to Trinidad. Fair enough. But there are exceptionally talented local craftsmen in Trinidad working in leather, clay, fabric, copper and other raw materials like seeds, shells and gourds. And you can find just about anything mainstream, from clothes, houseware and aromatherapy candles to fancy local foods, fashion and jewellery.

Artisan chocolates from the finest cocoa in the world

Some of the best cocoa in the world comes from Trinidad and Tobago, but it usually goes straight out of the country for others to do wonderful things with. Now, chocolatiers are offering exquisite handmade truffles and other rich delights to local buyers. There are an increasing number of local chocolatiers and luxury chocolate brands popping up around the country.

Trinitario, which is indigenous to the islands, is used by the French luxury chocolate manufacturer Valrhona in its single estate chocolates. It is one of the leading producers of gastronomic chocolate in the world and its products are used in high-end restaurants. Valrhona produces vintage chocolate made from beans of a single year’s harvest from a specific plantation.

The village of Gran Couva in Central Trinidad is home to one of the island’s oldest plantations, San Antonio Estate, where the age-old cocoa variety of Trinitario is grown. The estate produces some of the rarest and most aromatic beans on the planet. The fact that they are produced in limited quantities makes them all the more precious.

For a tour of the estate, which is the main collection point for cocoa grown by the Montserrat Cocoa Farmers Co-operative Society (their cocoa and chocolates can be bought). Tel. 679-9515. rdeverteuil@gmail.com

Cacique Chocolates

This gourmet chocolate – fine dark, white, milk or sugar-free – is handcrafted and coupled with flavours like passion fruit, orange, caramel, guava and coconut. Truffles are also available. caciquechocolates@hotmail.com

Ortinola Great House

The famous Cadbury Brothers of England entered into a deal with another English firm with vast property in Trinidad to supply cocoa from Ortinola Estate in the Maracas Valley, St Joseph, in the 1880s.

This magnificent estate covers nine acres of trees and undulating grassland, the perfect setting for many a wedding. The lush valley is home to the ubiquitous hummingbird and other stunners. The great house has been restored and is often used for family reunions, celebrations, retreats, and conferences. You can make reservations for afternoon tea on Sundays and stroll through the lovely grounds of the estate, beneath the shadow of the mountains. You can also go on a tour of the cocoa estate, which may include a sample of local chocolate. www.ortinola.com

Cocobel chocolate

COCOBEL chocolate starts at Rancho Quemado Estate, located in the south of Trinidad, where the country’s world-famous fine Trinitario cocoa is harvested, fermented and dried in the sun.

At the Cocobel workshop, cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate through meticulous roasting, grinding and refining – each stage measured only by the chocolate maker’s senses. Then the magic ingredients are combined with the dark chocolate: freshly picked herbs and spices are blended into tropical fruit purées that capture the unique palette of quintessential Trinbagonian flavours, such as mango pepper, pineapple chow, guava cheese, sorrel, tonka bean and ponche-a-crème. www.cocobelchocolate.com

Clothing and fabrics

Nothing quite makes a statement about a place like its fashion. House of Jaipur is a brand adored by Caribbean women and now considered one of their own. Its collection of ‘ethnic-inspired resort wear’, as owner Dhisha Moorjani calls it, is much-loved and sought after across the region for its unique and colourful slant on casual glamour and elegance. Moorjani, a Trinidadian designer, is proud to clothe women in these beautifully hand-embroidered and beaded pieces created by artisans in India who excel in this traditional art. A little black dress from Meiling is a must-have for every woman with taste… Other celebrated local designers include The Cloth, Claudia Pegus, Heather Jones, the Wadada Movement, Karen & Kathy Norman (K2K) and Anya Ayoung-Chee.

Indian fashion, accessories, fabrics, textiles, home décor, and jewellery are very popular and can be found at the numerous Indian stores in Aranjuez, Chaguanas, Tunapuna and Debe, as well as Indian expos dotted around the country (look for huge tents and signs).

Travelling trade fairs from India have become a regular event. Don’t be surprised to find some great buys in Indian apparel, textiles, jewellery, ornaments, even furniture. There’s something for every budget, and the savings start with not having to buy an actual ticket to India.

Fine Art

On both islands you’ll find galleries selling the work of some of the country’s top artists and photographers, and there are often several exhibitions in progress. Expect a broad range in terms of quality and price, but the best work is world-class. A lot of local artwork is displayed on the walls of restaurants and businesses. If you see something you like, don’t be afraid to ask who created it, and where else their work can be found. A good starting point for understanding of the local gallery and exhibition circuit, with particular reference to contemporary art is Alice Yardaliceyard.blogspot.com – simultaneously an exhibition space and an artwork facilitator based in Port of Spain.

Jewellery

If you’re looking for something special and unique, local jewellery designers create breathtaking hand-crafted jewellery in gold and precious stones, including Jasmine Girvan-Thomas, Janice Derrick, Rachel Ross, Gillian Bishop and Chris Anderson. Akilah Jaramogi produces ecological jewellery – dramatic polished necklaces, bracelets and earrings made from seeds and beads from the forest and natural materials. www.facebook.com/AkilahsJewelry

Another well-kept secret: Gemstones in Maraval and West Mall. Local artisans produce work of high quality. Wood, seeds, copper, even simple strips of wire (wire-bending is a time-honoured aspect of Carnival costume-making, but the technique is as versatile as its exponents) are some of the more commonly used materials. Higher-end work is also abundant.

Books & magazines

Local fiction and non-fiction, and locally produced magazines, of which there are many, can be found at Paper Based at the Hotel Normandie in St Ann’s, or the RIK and Nigel R Khan bookstore chains. And of course, there are original Trini books and magazines by our publishers, MEP!

A steelpan & local music

Nothing says Trinidad like a pan. It is our national instrument and a joy for any musician to get his hands on. The tenor pan, or lead pan, carries the melody andcan play 29 notes over 2.5 octaves in the higher register, while the new G-Pan, invented by a University of the West Indies team, can play 37 over four octaves. If you are interested in purchasing a pan, contact: PanTrinbago, Port of Spain, Tel: 623-4486 •  Trinidad and Tobago Pan Instruments Company Ltd., Port of Spain, Tel: 799-1715 • Lincoln Enterprises Ltd, Woodbrook, Tel. 683-8071.

Apart from pan, calypso and soca, Trinidad & Tobago is a music-lover’s dream. Jazz, Indian, gospel, parang (a Spanish-flavoured music popular around Christmas), fusion, chutney. We have a long, long-standing love affair with rock (from mild-alternative to semi-hardcore). And we have some excellent choirs with classical and contemporary repertoires. Most successful performers have produced their own albums. Have a listen to some other very Trinidadian kinds of music from names like Mungal Patasar and Pantar, 3canal, Theron Shaw, jointpop, Ataklan, the Marionettes Chorale and the Lydian Singers.

Rum

The two biggest rum producers are Angostura (of Angostura bitters fame, but they do many other things) and Fernandes. There are also multiple smaller, often short-lived, brands which spring up in the local market on a regular basis. House of Angostura’s specialty rum can be bought at large supermarkets and duty-free shops.

Pepper Sauce & Chutneys

“Pepper?” is possibly the most commonly-asked question in the Republic. Every day, at minimum, every order of doubles, roti, or aloo pie invites a brief inquiry into the customer’s desire for pepper sauce. Ask any vendor where they buy their pepper sauce, or track down local brands at any supermarket. Restaurants often make and sell their own – consider Buzo Osteria (in Port of Spain) or Shore Things Cafe and Craft (in Tobago). Local fast-food chain, Royal Castle, does not have a pre-packaged line, but go for the fried fowl and you’ll find some of the best of the hot stuff.

Look out for local fruit wines, our million and one home-made pepper sauces, chutneys and amchar (tamarind and mango). If you see someone selling bottles of homemade pepper sauce anywhere, buy it.

Warning: The pepper sauce known as ‘mudder in law’ is named after sharp-tongued mothers-in-law and considered lethal, so approach with due caution.

Where to shop

Considering the size of Trinidad (it’s less of a problem in Tobago), there’s an almost alarming number of shopping malls. In downtown Port of Spain, Frederick Street is a hectic shopping stretch which keeps a finger on the pulse of our culture even as older buildings and shops are replaced by bigger and trendier ones.

Shopping malls

There are five major shopping malls in Trinidad: The Falls at West Mall (Westmoorings) and Long Circular Mall (St James) in the western suburbs of Port of Spain; Trincity Mall near Piarco airport; Grand Bazaar (Valsayn); and Gulf City (San Fernando). They house branches of popular downtown stores, but also high-end stores you won’t find anywhere else. There are several smaller shopping plazas and mini-malls as well (e.g. Valsayn and Ellerslie Plazas, and Excellent City Centre in the heart of Port of Spain).

Downtown

Non-mall shopping is focused on a few key streets in each urban centre: Frederick and Charlotte Streets (Port of Spain); High Street (San Fernando); Main Street (Chaguanas); Milford Road Esplanade and the Market at Carrington Street in Scarborough, Tobago.

If you are in Port of Spain at Carnival time, you will find the southeast side of the Savannah transformed into a centre for local arts and crafts. It is a crowded time of year, but Ash Wednesday – when the Carnival crowd is subsided – can be a rewarding time to browse.

Excellent City Centre in Port of Spain is considered the heart of downtown shopping, with everything you could possibly need under one roof – from designer clothing and shoes, to phones, electronics and jewellery – plus a bakery and a food court. Here you will find everything for the home, including appliances, bathroom and bedroom items, toys, school supplies, children’s clothing, books and souvenirs. You can also shop online at www.excellentstorestt.com.

Chaguanas is an intimidating experience to some: a dense collage of shops and stalls and traffic. But, if you can find a place to park, the centre of town offers as closely packed a cluster of shops as you will find in this country.

Online

Though relatively new, online shopping is gaining traction. So far, food, shoes, clothing, lingerie and accessories are the main items that can be bought from local sites. Local retailers and artisans are represented online, but it is not the case that every retail outlet will have a corresponding website. It is still more common for a business to have a Facebook page than a stand-alone retail site. AhPiece.com carries a selection of local art, craft, food and fashion. www.trinidadTunes.com specialises in local music; www.TriniTrolley.com sells everything under the sun, including electronics, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, art and craft and toys.

Markets

San Antonio Green Market in Santa Cruz is a one-stop shop for just about everything: organic produce, fresh natural juices, curry crab and dumpling, shrimp, corn soup and roast corn, Trinidad dark chocolate, muffins, flowers and plants, custom-designed jewellery, hair products, craft, compost, tiles, garden accessories, photographs, honey, newspaper mesh, homemade greeting cards, Trinidad and Tobago puzzles, head massages, ducks and fish. Also, fun activities for children, live music (pan, parang), cooking demos, conversations on health, nutrition and bringing balance back, specialty food gifts and condiments. www.facebook.com/GreenMarketSantaCruz

UpMarket is a monthly gathering of local artists, artisans, craftspeople, fashion and food is held at the Woodbrook Youth Centre in Port of Spain. www.facebook.com/UpMarketTT.

By 

A team of of writers discovering Trinidad & Tobago for 25 years and counting!

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