Trini food: the taming of the stew

A guide to Trinidad’s food and dining scene, all new for 2018!

Fine dining

Foodies, pace yourself. It is possible to sample everything but gourmands, try not to gorge, okay? Woodbrook and environs, on the outskirts of Port of Spain, is the hub for haute cuisine. On the Avenue (ie Ariapita Avenue) in Woodbrook, you can choose from Italian (Angelo’s), Caribbean creole (Veni Mangé), Chinese-Indian fusion (Hakka), sushi (More Sushi), or continental cuisine (Smokey Joe’s).

At MovieTowne, the options include authentic Japanese cuisine (Kaizan Sushi), Italian delights (Rizzoni’s), a Brazilian-American steakhouse (Texas de Brazil), seafood and barbecue dishes (Trader Jack’s), and international flavours (Zanzibar and Ruby Tuesday). Both Zanzibar and Kaizan also offer delivery!

At One Woodbrook Place, vegans and vegetarians are catered to at Coloz (Caribbean) and Urban Oasis (international). In Maraval, head to Taste Vinoteca for small plates and vintage wine, or to Aioli or Joseph’s for a taste of the Mediterranean; while chef Khalid Mohammed creates modern, international dishes with a Caribbean twist at Chaud Restaurant in St Ann’s.

At Kapok hotel, off the Queen’s Park Savannah, you can savour the flavours of the Orient (Tiki Village), or brick-oven baked pizza (Kava). A few minutes away is a lovely old mansion where you will find it difficult to choose between authentic north Indian cuisine (Apsara) and Thai/sushi (Tamnak Thai). On the south side, the international chain TGI Friday’s serves up its signature steak and grilled favourites. Downtown at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, the Waterfront restaurant serves up Caribbean and international cuisine.

Down south, it’s now possible to sample Cuban cuisine at Arabian House (which also serves Arabian dishes, of course), while La Cantina Pizzeria does authentic Italian pizza (they also have branches up north); Atherly’s on the Sutton is the spot for creole and international flavours; and Soong’s Great Wall is a longtime favourite for Chinese food.

Top 10 dishes to try in T&T

  1. Doubles: You are never more than 100ft away from a doubles vendor in Trinidad, especially if you are in a city or town. Not all doubles are created equal, however. Some are simply delicious; while others are, well, doubly so… Two fried barra and a spoonful of curried channa will change your life. Trust me — especially with slight pepper, tamarind sauce, cucumbers and mango. Everyone has their favourite doubles vendor. We recommend (the original) Sauce Doubles in Curepe, and the man at the corner of Lopinot Junction on the Eastern Main Road who has been selling doubles for 35 years.
  2. Roti: You have to eat a roti. There is no way you can visit Trinidad without having a roti. The trouble is choosing what to put in it. Pack some combination of curried chicken, beef, goat, duck, or conch inside this delicious wrap, together with bhagi (spinach), pumpkin, channa, potato, mango or bodi (string beans).
  3. Crab & callaloo: The leaves of the wild dasheen plant are cooked with coconut milk, pumpkin and okras (ochros) to create a thick green soup that is simply divine — especially when crab is cooked in the callaloo. A Sunday tradition that remains popular, crab and callaloo is usually served with white rice, red beans, macaroni pie and stew chicken.
  4. Pelau: The national “rice and peas” dish, a one-pot wonder that every Trini cook adds their special touch to. Traditionally, the most popular pot to cook at house parties and to take on beach outings or on excursions, the pelau is usually cooked with pigeon peas and a meat, either chicken or beef. These days, however, the Trini gourmand has added all sorts of spins to the humble pelau — from the carnivore’s pork and lamb, to shitake mushrooms for the vegan. Usually served with cole slaw or a green salad and/or avocado.
  5. Souse: Pickled chicken foot or pig’s trotters with cucumbers that make even vegetarians drool.
  6. Pineapple chow: No one else in the Caribbean puts pepper in their fruits — only the Trinis. But there is good reason: the results are to die for. Soaked in salt, black pepper, chadon beni, garlic and pepper, pineapple suddenly takes on a whole new personality — spicy yet sweet, like a Trini. We also make chow with mango, pommescythere, cherries, plums, carambola and even chennette.
  7. Bake & fish: It’s probably not what your cardiologist would recommend but the deep-fried deliciousness of this dish is worth the extra exercise to work it off. The soft dough and seasoned fish are further enhanced by lashings of tamarind, garlic, chadon beni and pepper sauce. (As always, we recommend flying fish, lionfish, kingfish but not the critically endangered shark which is unfortunately a local delicacy)
  8. Corn soup: The saviour that sobers up many a tipsy party-goer, the trusty corn soup can usually be found outside most concerts and big events. This tasty veggie option is filled with dumplings, potato, carrots, and wedges of corn in a seasoned split pea broth.
  9. Stew chicken & macaroni pie: The combination is deadly, sure to knock you out on a Sunday. The secret of the stew is in the seasoning, which the crafty Trini cook marinates the meat in overnight, while the cheesiness of the macaroni pie is directly proportional to its deliciousness.
  10. Pastelle: Truth be told, this is a major reason that Trinis love Christmas. Wafer-thin casings of cornmeal are filled with seasoned meat (chicken, beef, lamb or pork), tuna or soya, with olives, capers and raisins, then cooked in a banana leaf and foil. The result must be devoured in twos and threes!

Cocoa is king again

We also happen to grow some of the finest cocoa beans (Trinitario), which is in demand by high-end chocolatiers in Europe. A cocoa renaissance has revived the industry and gourmet concoctions are being handmade with local fruits and flavours (like Cocobels’s sublime sorrel and dizzying ponche-à-crème). Other names to look out for: Cacique, Ortinola Great House, Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company.

Hotter than fire

Besides the best cocoa, we have some of the world’s hottest peppers. One, the Moruga Scorpion, was actually rated as the hottest in the world at one point. Our pepper sauces are not to be trifled with — one is even dubbed “mother in law” to describe its lethal power. The East Indians can also be credited with creating all manner of chutneys and sauces out of fruits like tamarind, pommescythere, and mango. A dollop of kutchela or mango amchar will lively up any dish.

Herbs and natural remedies

It goes without saying that many natural remedies are still known, like using soursop leaf to put babies to sleep, aloe to heal cuts and wounds, and “wonder of the world” for drawing out impurities from the skin.

Posted by Nazma Muller

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