CAROLINE TAYLOR: Tell us a bit about the island’s culinary heritage
SHAUN ALEXANDER: Like most postcolonial countries, our culinary heritage is tied to the country’s history of slavery and conquest. Trinidad & Tobago’s food is a unique blend of foods brought by African slaves and Indian indentured labourers. We started off with our Amerindian cuisine thanks to our indigenous peoples, followed by creole or Afro-Caribbean and Indian cuisines which dominate the island. However, because of Trinidad’s central location, practically every country has immigrated here and left an indelible mark. Our culinary heritage tells the story of the meals created by all our country’s immigrants — from Chinese, Middle Eastern, Portuguese, Amerindian, Spanish, and are so many others.
CT: What makes the island’s food distinctive?
SA: The respect paid to all the cuisines listed above. Our food has key ingredients such as chadon beni or bandhaniya, first cousin to cilantro (also known as sawtooth coriander or culantro) and pimento peppers. You might see pimento peppers in pimento olives or pimento cheese, but there’s nothing like fresh pimento peppers. Our island’s food is centred on the availability of fresh ingredients. We are a seasonal people that celebrate the abundance of our produce as it comes. Lastly, you might say, we “over-season” our food, but we just want you to taste it! There’s no “lightly seasoned with just salt and black pepper” in Trinidad! There must be garlic, chives, chadon beni, pimento peppers, hot pepper, and — yes — salt and black pepper. T&T’s food should always taste fresh and lively on your taste buds.
CT: What are the local dishes that both local and visitors absolutely must try at least once?
SA: Doubles is life. It might not look visually appetising to the foreign eye, but trust us, you must have this street food. While you’re at it, head down to Debe and visit the food stalls selling golden fried East Indian delicacies such as saheena, baiganee kachori, and aloo (potato) pies.
- Pelau: browned rice and pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk with chicken, beef, pork even soy or vegetarian options. It’s better than any rice and peas you’ve ever had.
- Curry crab and dumpling: a Tobagonian specialty.
- Nick’s Channa & Cheese on Caroni Savannah Road: curried channa and a thick slice of New Zealand cheddar (or government cheese, as Trinis like to say) sandwiched in a warm dinner roll. They also have stewed chicken, stewed liver and gizzard, and chow mein sandwiches available.
- Bake and fish — and I say fish because Foodie Nation promotes sustainable fishing practices. So get a Maracas bake and fish with all the toppings, pineapple, lettuce, tomatoes, slaw and all the sauces: chadon beni, garlic sauce, a touch of ketchup (because Trinis love ketchup), and you will make the best tasting sandwich ever.
CT: Where do you think are the best places to dine on the island, from coast to coast (from casual to fine dining)?
SA: Debe for doubles and all the other East Indian delicacies; Queens Park savannah (food court) at night; D Cross Crossing (food court) in San Fernando at night; Eddie Hart Grounds (food court); St James Main Road to get one of the best street vendor rotis in Trinidad, and finally in Tobago, do not miss the food court when you go to Store Bay beach.
CT: Any other thoughts about Trinidad’s food and dining scene?
SA: The variety and fusion of our cuisines puts our food and dining scene on par with the best in the world. It’s Foodie Nation’s goal to ensure that the whole world hears about it and hopefully visits our twin island one day to taste it!
Every year, our food scene gets more diverse and experimental. People are taking risks and moving away from the classic roti and creole food shops and are getting creative with ingredients indigenous to our island, which has had an impact locally and internationally.
Street food as a main attraction, like the rest of the world, is something that has exploded among the foodie community. Because of our economic recession, chefs and cooks are being more innovative and getting into the food truck and pop-up restaurant model and it’s exciting. We can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store.
About Shaun Alexander and Foodie Nation
We are a food marketing and food tourism company based in Trinidad & Tobago whose sole mission is to promote our twin island through food. We like to educate people about our food in an organic and accessible way, through our website, through videos, through social media. We do it all. Our Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Shaun Alexander, keeps the team on track behind the scenes. He also draws on his culinary background as the official Foodie Nation chef and recipe tester to create signature dishes that are posted on the company’s website.
For more on Trinidad’s food & dining landscape…
- The Trinidadian food & dining experience
- Franka Philip and Ardene Sirjoo on Trinidad’s food, culture, and entertainment | Q&A
Written by Caroline Taylor