Today I’m going to start a regular Friday feature that tells you a little about fun things from my daily life. And since food is probably the number one thing West Indians love–especially in Trinidad and Tobago–it’s only fitting that I start by talking about Caribbean cuisine.
T&T is a diverse society, with a large black and East Indian population, and minorities that include the Syrians, Chinese, Dutch and a whole lot more. Our food has been influenced accordingly and we love to try new things. So without further ado, here’s my personal list of the top five street foods of Trinidad and Tobago, researched by myself and my family and completely unofficial, of course.
Salty, citrusy, spicy goodness. Souse is a leftover from colonial days when poor people made do with every part of the animal, especially the cheapest cuts. Made from soft-boiled trotters, chicken feet or even cow-skin cut into thin strips–which has a jelly-like consistency–souse is basically a pickle with the flavour profile of a ceviche. Lots of onion, cucumber, fresh herbs, mild or hot peppers and salt make the tasty broth that the meat is soaked in for hours. It’s usually served in cups and eaten with the fingers, the better to lick them.
These light, savoury fried dough balls are usually served with a sweet sauce on the side. The sauce is made of fresh, whole green mangoes, skin and seeds and all, chopped up and stewed down with sugar, geera and Indian spices. There is also a salty, peppery green chutney that is sometimes served with it, also made of green mangoes, but without the seed.
Pholourie refers to the fried balls, but when you say it to a Trini, it’s understood sauce will come with it. That’s where all the flavour is, since the Pholourie is not highly seasoned. Usually sold in paper or plastic bags, with the sauce in a bag of its own. You dip the Pholourie in the sauce and eat it with your fingers. A cheap, popular snack because you can get up to a dozen for a few dollars.
3. Corn Soup
Popular at parties, sporting events and in the streets after dark, Trini style corn soup is made of fresh corn on the cob, boiled for hours in a broth of yellow lentils, carrots, fresh herbs and mild peppers. Small dumplings are usually part of the soup as well. It’s bracing, hearty enough to quiet hunger and served hot from a bubbling pot in Styrofoam cups.
2. Bake and Shark
One of the tastiest and most popular fish dishes In Trinidad. As in Asia, shark fin soup is popular here, but Trinis use the meat as well. The fish is seasoned with lots of limes, salt, pepper, fresh herbs and spices, and then fried. The ‘bake’ is a savoury dough that puffs up when fried into a large, light receptacle for fish heaven.
The dish became popular with people who visited our premiere beach, Maracas. Vendors there would buy the fresh fish directly off the boat and fry it up to serve to beach-goers. Although it’s served many places now, it’s understood that a ‘real’ bake and shark only comes from Maracas, and for many, only from ‘Richard’s’, a popular vendor at that beach. What makes bake and shark so special is the wide variety of sauces and condiments served with it to enhance the flavour of the fish. They include–but are not limited to–coleslaw, pineapple slices, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, ketchup, garlic sauce, pepper sauce, sweet tamarind sauce, honey mustard and so on. It’s self-service on paper plates, so you choose your own condiments and then chow down on crispy, juicy goodness while watching the waves come in.
First off, just look at that. This vegetarian dish is popular with rich and poor alike, as it makes for a cheap and delicious hot breakfast. It’s rare to meet a Trini who doesn’t love this, and have their own special ‘doubles man’.
And now I’ve made myself hungry, so I’m off to forage in the fridge.
Stay thirsty, my friends!