Who is a Trinbagonian? It is me, it is you, it is your Aunty, Uncle and Nen-nen. We are a people that are full of life, we have vibrancy running through our veins. We like to laugh, lime, talk, give “picong” and have fun. We are in everything and everywhere and you know that saying that says “yuh can find a Trini anywhere” – it is TRUE
We are saucy, we are spicy, we are FULL of flavour, just like our food and without dispute, our food is such an integral part of who we are, that it makes me proud to be “Trini to d bone”.
When I think about our food and what it means to me, it invokes so many feelings and emotions and happiness is one of them. It is what it represents – the lime, the togetherness, the love, and family. Some of my best memories involved family, friends and food and I know I’m not the only one.
We all have that one relative, (if you’re lucky you’ll have two) that is responsible for all family gatherings. In mine, that’s my aunt, she just has to say “Lime by me” and we all spin into action. Somebody brings rice, another person brings pie, of course there is meat galore and well a fresh salad is a must. We would all show up around the same time bearing pots in hand, covered with towels and immediately make a beeline to the kitchen.
When we’re all there, the place is filled with the ambient sounds of spoons clanking and the murmurs of somebody saying, “ah could get more meat ah wah?” – good times. We all sit and enjoy a lavish spread and laugh and talk about the same things we did the last time. It doesn’t take much you know – just good food and great company.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the greatest melting pots of the world and I say this without any reservations, because we have so many influences that play a big part in the food we eat and enjoy every day.
From Africa, we have Crab and Callaloo, Coo-coo, Ochro and Rice, Pelau, Oil Down and the ever popular Cow Heel Soup, just to name a few.
From India we all know that one word that comes to mind…CURRY. Curry comes in all forms, from the vegan options like Curry Bodi & Aloo to Curry Corn. Then for the meat lovers we have Curry Chicken, Curry Goat and the “must have” Curry Duck for the river lime. Beef Roti, Chicken Roti, Shrimp Roti, Buss-Up-Shut, Saheena, Pholourie and this list would not be complete without the greatest vegetarian street food ever invented – DOUBLES. The only thing that gets you out of bed at 5:30am in the morning – “Slight Pepper eh!”
Going back in history, we have to mention the First Peoples, the Caribs & Arawaks. We adopted so many cooking techniques from them but did you know they also invented a natural food colouring and flavouring by the way of rou-cou, scientifically known as Bixa orellana and is the source of Annatto.
Another dish that came from the First Peoples is pastelles which are intrinsic to what makes a “Trini Christmas”, Trini. A pastelle is a beautiful marriage between a soft cornmeal dough and tasty meat or even vegetables. It also is the only food I tolerate raisins in.
Thank God for the Chinese, who brought their high heat style of cooking to our shores. Chinese food is definitely one of my go-tos and I’m thankful you can literally find a Chinese restaurant around every corner and in every “hole”… in the wall.
Garlic pork is another favourite around Christmas time and this we got from the Portuguese and a good lamb gyro has saved my life many a Friday night on the avenue and this we owe to our Arabian influence. All of this and more, make up who we are. It is not just about the food, it is so much more than that.
Through the years we all have put our spin on certain dishes to make it our own and two iconic drinks that come to mind are Sorrel and Mauby. Both of which I have fond memories of growing up as a child because my grandmother worked in the market, so I was very familiar with all of the spices that go into these drinks.
Mauby is actually made from the bark of a tree and includes other pungent spices like aniseed, clove and nutmeg that all come together to create an amazing beverage. Striking the right balance between bitterness and sweetness is key and a good indication of success is that you clear your throat on the first and second sips.
Sorrel however is my favourite and I can drink it all year round but it just tastes better at Christmas time. My grandmother made it like a concentrate, so whenever you needed, you just poured out a little of this thick, deep velvety red syrup and added water.
When it comes to food preparation, we have our own version of mirepoix. Three or 4 essentials that form the basis of any Trinbagoian pot – onion, garlic, pimento and ginger (if you like). Put these all together and add some big leaf thyme, a scotch bonnet pepper (for kick), chives and chadon beni and you’ve got GREEN SEASONING. The secret behind why the foreigners keep licking their fingers and the reason why our stewed and curried meats taste so darn good.
And let’s just make it official right now, Shadon Beni is the NATIONAL HERB of Trinidad and Tobago and it’s not up for debate. It’s found in every backyard and is present in every chow – you can’t say mango and not say chow, MANGO CHOW. And speaking of which, I’m sure you made some this week. Without me asking, I know most of you have at least one mango tree or zaboca tree in your yard. If you do, say ME!!!
If you were privileged to be born or raised in Tobago (our sister aisle paradise), then you can appreciate the part food plays in building community. It is the home of the “Tobago Blue Food Festival”, which is an annual island-wide event held to highlight the indigenous staple root that we know as dasheen or taro. The innovation and creativity at this event are second to none and was rated as one of the best food festivals in the world by CNN. It is dasheen like you’ve never seen or tasted before. Chefs and home cooks push the envelope on what is commonly just seen as a “side dish” and create extraordinary dishes that excite and also confuse the palate…in a good way, queue in the “dasheen punch”.
But this is not all Tobago has to offer, some would argue and say the best crab and dumpling can be found on the shores of Store Bay, which is a nesting ground for everything local that is Tobago. From creole dishes such as stewed pork and provisions to homemade cold concoctions like bay leaf ice-cream. And well, you can’t leave Tobago without getting your fair share of confectioneries such as benne ball, toolum- bombom, sugar cake and guava cheese to name a few.
I can’t talk about food and not mention our hard-working farmers. They are the backbone behind every early morning Saturday market run. They work long hours and they do it with joy and when you think about it, they plant a seed, they watch it grow, we get produce from that seed and then create a meal – that to me is one of life’s greatest miracles. “As long as the earth remains, there will be night and day, cold and heat, planting and harvest”.
But it is not just the farmers, many of us “planting garden” long time and that to me, is the true definition of farm to table. Many of us have eaten our neighbour’s mangoes that hung over our fence and we did it shamelessly. These are the things we grew up on – pegging a “pootigal” (portugal), peeling an orange and scraping jelly from a coconut.
Our country is filled with lush vegetation and exotic fruits and I’m ashamed to say that I only tasted caimito or star apple for the first time 2 years ago. It’s a sweet and fleshy fruit, similar to that of sapodilla but milky and slightly tacky. The skin is a deep plum colour and the pulp is a mixture of white and magenta. These are the fruits you don’t see often but when you do, it’s like pure joy, like balata, pee-wah, sugar apple, soursop, gru-gru beff, barbadine, chenet, jackfruit and fat pork – the latter my Mom absolutely loves, don’t ask me why because it almost doesn’t have a flavour, except when you get a sweet one but I believe it’s more of a texture thing.
Ever wondered how governor’s plum got its name? I’m still trying to find it out but when it’s in season, you know because every person you talk to, has a plum in their mouth and if you’re like me, you hold on to the seed a little too long. (Exhale) I think we can all agree when I say Trinbago yuh nice gurl, yuh is a sweet paradise.
So you see, it is never just the food alone. It is the people that make it, the memories that are forged and the love that goes into it. This is WHO WE ARE. We are TRINIDAD & TOBAGO!