I can’t believe that just a few days ago, this was my view. All that talk about sorrel a few posts back was not wishful fantasizing, it was in preparation for our Christmas trip to Trinidad. It was a wonderful trip home for my husband, who hadn’t been home for more than a decade, and the first trip ever for our kids. It was also a chance to reunite with family and friends– my mother-in-law and brothers-in-law all made the trip from New York to stay with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in San Fernando, in the South of Trinidad.
It was also a different kind of homecoming for me. In the rare moments of pause between endless feasting, people fiercely debated the best place to buy doubles, and the right way to make pastelles or pelau. We sampled at least 5 different homemade black cakes. I realized– I was finally at home. A whole country of people just like me– the food-obsessed!
This is a typical scene of how we spent our day– “foraging” for food. It was officially past mango season, but an unusual weather pattern meant a few straggler mangoes, and we snatched them up wherever we found them. Whereas in the US there are usually only two types of mangoes- red mangoes from Mexico and Manila mangoes, Trinidad is home to several varieties. We sampled starch, Julie, calabash and dodos mangoes, and everyone had a favorite. Those that were too green to eat, my mother-in-law made into kuchela (Indian mango pickle).
In my sister-in-law’s backyard, there was a tropical bounty: pawpaw (papaya), coconut, tamarind, mango and banana trees. There were patches of dasheen for making callaloo, and sorrel shrubs ready for making sorrel to drink. Talk about locally sourced! On the note of sorrel, even if you didn’t get around to brewing your own, you could buy it already bottled, as juice, fizzy style, and as sorrel shandy (blended with beer).
We made a pilgrimage to Debe, the town in the South of Trinidad that is credited for inventing doubles, which is a sandwich made of two pieces of bara (a flatbread) surrounding a filling of (chana) chickpeas with a light tamarind sauce. These are sold in the morning from carts or stalls, which also often offer other fried treats including aloo (potato) pie, baiganee (eggplant fritter) and saheena (a spinach fritter). Order your doubles in the singular, indicating the amount of pepper sauce you want it with: “Doubles, slight pepper.”
In Debe, we also visited the market, where I bought some traditional cooking utensils, much to the amusement of my family, who have moved onto modern conveniences such as immersion blenders. Pictured here are a swizzle stick (whisk), dhal ghutney (used for mashing and stirring dhal), and paddles used for flipping roti. There were also myriad hot peppers available, including the Scotch bonnet, and an even hotter pepper (on the left), which the vendors told us was called the “chocolate” pepper. My husband, who is known to eat habañeros and Scotch bonnets whole, was humbled by the heat of the chocolate pepper, whose mere presence in a dish led him to coughing spasms.
No visit to Trinidad is complete without a visit to Maracas beach in the North. We visited on an overcast day, but that was besides the point. Most people come for shark and bake (or bake and shark, depending on how your family says it)– deep fried fish fillets sandwiched in a fried flatbread similar to Native American fry bread, dressed with a huge array of condiments including pepper sauce, tamarind sauce, pineapple, cucumber, tomato, and Trinidadian “green seasoning,” which is a sauce made of chives, hot peppers, thyme and chadon beni (culantro). Shark and bake alone might be enough reason to make a visit to Trinidad.
Now that you may be in a virtual food coma, sit back and relax. Enjoy traditional parang (Christmas music with South American origins) with this brief serenade by Brother Michael Samuel, the retired principal from my husband’s high school.
Thank you for coming by and reading! If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends and leave a comment. If this has whetted your appetite for Trini food, check my recipes for pastelles, pelau, sorrel and kuchela by clicking the links above. And if anyone has a fantastic recipe for doubles or shark and bake, please share!