Trinidad and Tobago Feature
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Eating and Drinking Well in Trinidad and Tobago
Food here blends indigenous, British, French, Spanish, African, South American, East Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern influences. Referencing the national dish, acclaimed second-generation chef Debra Sardinha-Metivier notes, "We are a callaloo in people form. Maybe you had a Chinese grandmother or Indian grandfather who helped broaden, sophisticate your palate."
Today there's a growing awareness, pun intended, of returning to roots: "Everything comes full circle; organic-farm-to-table sustainability was always a necessity. More people then had a backyard garden…and shared. If I had a mango tree, and my neighbor had a coconut, we would barter.…Adapting to modern life while creatively meeting the needs of three square meals (including a rushed lunch for workers) began fusion cuisine." It's the fusion (particularly of Indian and Caribbean) that sets Trinidad apart. —Jordan Simon
Although much of what you'll find in restaurants and stalls here resembles variations on Caribbean standards, street food, which rules rushed Trini life, stands out. You'll find fresh rotis (akin to wraps) stuffed with curried meat, seafood, or chicken; chicken geera (an Indian dish heavily seasoned with cumin); pies—beef, cheese, fish, aloo (Hindi for potato); and pows (from the Cantonese pao-tzu, steamed wrapped buns with savory or sweet filling, typically pork).
Reflecting the island's pronounced African influence, this hearty stew is the national dish (variants are found throughout the islands). Into the pot go the leaves of the dasheen, which resembles slightly bitter spinach and is also called taro or "callaloo bush," along with okra, chili peppers, coconut milk, chadon bene (an herb also known as culantro), garlic, onion, tubers, and sometimes crab. It's often served with macaroni pie (essentially pasta baked with cheese and eggs).
Crab and Dumpling
Tobagonian cuisine mimics Trinidad's, for the most part, but its signature dish is messy, marvelous curried crab with dumpling. The sweet blue crabs and dumplings are simmered in a rich coconut sauce. Tobago is also celebrated for its sumptuously prepared "provisions" (often-starchy vegetables), soups, and stews.
Pelau is another mainstay, its roots dating back to 5th-century BC Mesopotamia and brought to Europe by Alexander the Great's army. International variations run from rice pilaf to Spain's paella; Trinidad's version borrows from several cultures. Chicken, beef, pork, or goat is cooked down with rice, pigeon peas, pumpkin, brown sugar, onions, garlic, and often the ubiquitous curry powder (which Trinis consider a metaphor for the spiciness of their lives).
One of the great Indian contributions to Trinidad, this is unleavened flatbread cooked on an iron griddle called a tawa/tava and stuffed with a variety of filling fillings. Sada roti is the simplest kind, filled with curried lentils, fire-roasted tomato, eggplant, potato, and other vegetables. It's a popular breakfast option, along with paratha roti (aka "Buss-Up-Shut"), rubbed with clarified butter to enhance flavor and grilled until crisp, brown, and crumbly, and usually served with fried eggs. The classic roti, dhalpuri, is stuffed with ground yellow split peas, garlic, cumin, and pepper; meats are often added.
Guava paste, sticky-sweet but delectable candied tamarind or papaya balls, and Indian snacks like gulab jamon (creamy dough fried in sugar syrup scented with cardamom and rosewater) are common. Pone, which is similar to bread pudding, derives its consistency from ground provisions such as cassava (manioc), sweet potato, or pumpkin. Grated cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, coconut, and sugar are added and baked in a casserole. Tobago chefs often add a pinch of black pepper to provide an edgy counterpoint.
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