By Greg Hoyos
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday July 25, 2016 – I’m not an adventurous food critic with a taste for the exotic but I do know what I like.
My mum was born and raised in Trinidad, so technically I’m half Trini, but that doesn’t make me less timid or exploratory when it comes to their cuisine. In fact, I’m downright squeamish. But T&T, as we call that fabulous country (the other T being Tobago, of course) boasts a truly remarkable cuisine, with something for everyone.
One major reason is the melange of nationalities and cultures who settled there, each bringing their own gastronomic wonders with them. Here are 5 favourites our neighbours do exceptionally well.
These are a distinctive and delicious Trini special food, enjoyed any time of day. Take a sandwich made with two fried flat bread slices (called baras locally), fill it with chick peas and add your choice of cucumber, mango, coconut, tamarind and hot pepper sauce. Funny story: Wikipedia reports that the name evolved because early customers kept asking for not one, but two slices of bara, hence “doubles”. But whatever you call it, you won’t forget it.
Trinidad may not have invented this dish, but arguably they perfected it. There are two main Trini styles of roti: “buss up shot”, and dhalpuri. I always thought buss up shot sounded like something deadly and to be avoided, but it simply means that roti dough is “busted open” on the stovetop just before it’s done cooking. You’re left with what looks like a mess of shredded roti, until you add curried chicken or whatever filling you choose. It’s delicious.
Dhalpuri is simply the roti (it means “bread” in Hindi) with a ground split pea filling inside; think of stuffed-crust pizza, only flatter. Wrap that around anything you want: pumpkin, beef, potatoes, chutney, chicken – all spiced to make your mouth water. Enjoy!
3. Bake ‘n shark
I confess this sounds unappetizing to me, but that’s my non-Trini half talking. A bake is simply a small loaf of unleavened dough which becomes a vessel for any one of an array of fillings. Shark is a fresh steak of fish fried and seasoned accordingly. Put them together, and bingo, food nirvana.
Probably Trinidad’s national dish, it’s actually a fantastic mash-up of (deep breath) Taro leaves, okra, crab and/or pigtails for flavour, thyme, pumpkin, onions, pimento, coconut milk, cilantro and perhaps the odd kitchen sink. Personally, I prefer callaloo soup, but I recall my homesick mum’s deep love of the original dish. As usual, it’s served with richly spiced meats or fish.
This is the granddaddy of them all, in my opinion. Pelau is an international dish, well-travelled and often adapted. Apparently it originated in Persia (today’s Iran) where it’s still known as Polow, but was brought as “pilau” to the Caribbean by Indian immigrants. Mix rice with meats (any meat) and vegetables, cook it all in a big pot with spices and serve to appreciative crowds. The Spanish then borrowed it as “pilaf”. Whatever you call it, you’ll love this modern day Marco Polo.
And of course I haven’t mentioned Buljol, Coconut bake (coconut bread), fried accra (saltfish fritters), black pudding, butter, cheese paste (a mixture of cheese, mustard, grated onion, and mayo), fried dasheen cake and boiled yucca with butter, fried plantain or buljol. You’ll just have to go there on a culinary expedition for yourself!