Franka Philip and Ardene Sirjoo on Trinidad’s food, culture, and entertainment | Q&A

Journalists Franka Philip and Ardene Sirjoo chatted with Discover T&T about Trinidad’s distinctive arts, culture, entertainment, and culinary scenes

CAROLINE TAYLOR: For those wanting to support local artists, designers, musicians, and writers (visual art, fashion, jewellery, literature, film, music), what are some of the names — or titles — you recommend they look out for? What, for you, makes them so distinctive?

 

FRANKA PHILIP & ARDENE SIRJOO:

  • Local artists: Che Lovelace, Sabrina Charran, Brianna McCarthy, Halcian Pierre, Maria Nunes… Che because of the way he makes the humans in his work ethereal. He captures the ordinary — things you might take for granted on a daily basis, he brings them to life. Sabrina’s work has a rawness and emotionality. She seems to plumb the depths of human emotions to bring out a message. She’s also been doing a great work in her teaching at QRC where the students have been much more serious and dedicated to their craft due to her motivation and example. Brianna impresses with her use of texture, detail, shapes. Her work speaks to a regal Afrocentric yet extremely Caribbean aesthetic. She’s attracted lots of interest in the US, and when she works with brands, they tend to be high quality artisan brands. Halcie’s pop art is very joyful and celebrates different aspects of our culture in a vibrant way. She also makes her art quite accessible because she paints on different sized canvases. Maria is dedicated to capturing the best of traditional mas — her photos of fancy sailors are beyond brilliant. As a historian she uses her lens to capture elements of T&T culture that are disappearing too fast. Her recently published book In a World of Their Own: Carnival Dreamers and Makers is a must-have.
  • Musicians: Jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles’ passion about exploring different elements of our culture, particularly the traditional aspects like tamboo bamboo and the tambrin band, is refreshing. An Etienne Charles concert is always a stimulating event. Vaughnette Bigford is singer who has brought a new generation to appreciate local music with her reinterpretations of some of our pop and calypso classics.
  • Writers: Barbara Jenkins, Shivanee Ramlochan, Kevin Jared Hosein, Lisa Allen-Agostini, and Danielle Boodoo-Fortune are fiction writers at the forefront of a new dawn in T&T literature. Judy Raymond is a writer of non-fiction who is an asset to the genre.
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CT: What are the most special aspects of Trinidad’s food, and culinary scene?

FP & AS: You can get many kinds of food in Trinidad, it’s so diverse! There is a great diversity of street food led by the traditional East Indian favourite, doubles. The street food scene could be enhanced if more chefs took on the challenge of owning food trucks.

CT: Which local dishes should local and visitors absolutely try at least once?

FP & AS: Roti (from Roti Cafe in Santa Cruz), doubles — there are so many good vendors up and down Trinidad but many think the doubles from south Trinidad is the best. My advice is to find a vendor who cooks their doubles on the spot — always better! Hit Store Bay in Tobago for some of the best curried crab and dumpling as well as the coo coo and callaloo with ground provisions (yeah, it’s heavy on the carbs but worth it!). If you’re going to Maracas, have a bake and shark with a multitude of toppings including tamarind, garlic sauce and the local favourite — chadon beni sauce. A homemade pigeon peas pelau cooked with lots of coconut milk is also a must.

CT: What are your favourite places to dine on the island, from coast to coast (from casual to fine dining)?

FP & AS: In terms of fine dining, there are several restaurants that set an extremely high standard like Chaud, Buzo, Prime, and Aioli in Port of Spain, and Krave in San Fernando. Other very good restaurants include Apsara, Town, Chaud Café, and House of Chan, as well as Adam’s for a great breakfast on a Saturday morning — but get there early it gets packed out quickly. For tea with amazing cake and pastry — Jardin in West Mall. For good and reasonably priced burgers, we highly recommend Burger Joint in Woodbrook — ask for a side of cassava fries too. Sunday brunch at the Hyatt Regency is also a great option for treating yourself. For the best artisan bread, a visit to Zabouca Breads in Port of Spain is a must.

In Tobago, La Tartaruga is the best for fine dining. Also check out Fish Pot and Sea Horse Inn, as well as the Kariwak Hotel, and Shore Things Café and Crafts — the cake is great.

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CT: For those looking to learn more about our finest locally grown/produced food and beverage exports (like Bitters, or rum, or pepper sauce, or cocoa, etc), which products and brands would you point them to? Which make good souvenirs?

FP & AS: For the best locally grown produce, the NAMDEVCO (The National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation) markets are our pick. The information about where they are located and their opening hours can be found online (namdevco.com). There is also the Green Market in Santa Cruz. In terms of brands, Angostura’s premium rums make great gifts as well as the legendary Bitters. For cocoa, there’s a lot to choose from — Cocobel chocolates, Sun Eaters, Gran Couva come to mind immediately. Pepper sauce — Bertie’s is the best in class.

CT: There are so many traditions to explore within the Carnival season, from pan to traditional mas to stickfighting. How would you recommend someone compose their Carnival itinerary?

FP & AS: Stickfighting; 3canal show; calypso category competitions (extempo, social commentary, most humorous etc); traditional characters competitions and parades; Carnival Kings & Queens competition; pan yards (every night leading up to finals); and Panorama finals.

CT: For “J’ouvert virgins”, or those looking to try something different from what they normally do, how would you describe their J’ouvert options? Which are the bands they should definitely take a second look at?

FP & AS: Options are endless, but it depends on the experience you’re after. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive road party in the dark with paint, check out Dirty Dozens (a younger crowd); Cocoa Devils (more mature crown); Friends for the Road (mixed ages). For something a little more raw, traditional, dutty, with a mix of live music and DJ plus riddim truck, AND if you care to cross the big Savannah stage in all your painted glory, definitely try 3canal. Walk with cash to patronise road-side vendors!

CT: What are the must-do fetes on the Carnival calendar, and the best fete opportunities during the rest of the year?

FP & AS:

Carnival fetes:
  • School all-inclusives: St Mary’s; PREStige (Presentation College South); Fatima
  • Other all-inclusives: Different; Soca Brainwash
  • Wet/paint fetes: Soaka; Soaka Street Party; AM Bush
  • Cooler fetes: Bring It; Army; Bayview
  • Shows/concerts: Machel Monday; Tuesday on the Rocks
  • Carnival Sunday breakfast parties: Vale; Breakfast Is
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One-off events during the year:
  • Cocoa in July
  • Josie’s Jamishness
  • Beach House Mayfair
Regular events:

A lot of parties take place on party boats like the Harbour Master, these are usually hosted by private promoters and popular DJs. There’s also Throwback & Wine (soca, dancehall, hip-hop).

CT: What other festivals in Trinidad would you recommend people experience at least once in their lifetimes?

FP & AS: The Divali Nagar hosts events which takes place in the week before Divali; Tobago Heritage Festival; New Fire Festival; Bocas Literary Festival; T&T Film Festival; Ramleela; Hosay; Emancipation Village.


About Franka Philip and Ardene Sirjoo

Photo courtesy Frank Phillip and Ardene Sirjoo

Photo courtesy Frank Phillip and Ardene Sirjoo

Franka and Ardene are both big dreamers who enjoy developing and executing interesting creative projects. Their backgrounds in media and general curiosity have led them to co-found Trini Good Media. TGM is a website that features the podcast Talk ‘Bout Us and the site OpedTT, which curates opinion writing. TGM is also producing special audio content for several organisations.

Franka is an experienced journalist who has worked at the BBC World Service and Guardian Media. A noted food writer, she regularly writes the Cookup column for Caribbean Beat magazine.

Ardene Sirjoo is a popular voice on the T&T airwaves as she co-hosts the popular programme The Mandate on i95.5FM, she is also in-demand for her skills as a host at events and a moderator for academic and professional discussion panels. Ardene works with the Bocas Literary Festival as the media and marketing coordinator.


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Posted by Caroline Taylor

writer & editor • actor, singer, producer & director • egalitarian • animal & nature lover • island girl • water baby • perennial discoverer

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