The Trinidad and Tobago culinary scene is buzzing. With the success of restaurateur Khalid Mohammed, Caribbean Flavours TV host, Wendy Rahamut, and Trinibagonians’ big win in CHTA’s Taste of The Caribbean competition, the foodie locale continues to be recognized globally for its traditional and fusion cuisine.
“Tobago food is like home,” Zahara Duncombe, Spa Director at Spa Essencia at the Hyatt Trinidad explains when I probe her about the difference between island and mainland cuisine. “Trinidad has a cosmopolitan food scene,” she continues. “It’s like New York, there’s a little bit of everything.” However, grubbing like a local Trinbagonian is far from prim and proper.
Down home cooking the Trinbagonian way
At this years’ Blue Food Festival, an annual outdoor celebration for indigenous Tobagonian cooks, stew chicken, curry crab, dumpling, green banana, boiled ripe plantain and, of course the blue dasheen root, were all on the tasting menu.
While relaxing on the sunny island, we also sampled baked cassava pie, steamed fish and Ah Taste of Tobago’s delicious ginger wine.
And we can’t forget the famous street food.
Doubles to Trinbagonians is like pizza to New Yorker’s — it’s a cheap, greasy delight. Trinidadian doubles king Araby Ali, owner of Ali’s Doubles, a roadside shop in San Fernando, Trinidad, starts prepping the ingredients for his curried ‘channa’ (chickpeas) and ‘bara’ (fried dough) at 2:30 am every day. When asked how his competitors’ doubles compare, he said: “I have no competition.” The congregation of locals lined up outside his eatery at 9 am on a Tuesday is a testament to his cocksure response.
Ali wouldn’t give up the goods on the doubles recipe that’s been in his family for over 50 years, but here’s what the sandwich-like treats are traditionally made of.
Bara — which makes up the bread of the “sandwich” — is composed of flour, salt, curry powder, gheera (cumin), ground pepper, yeast, warm water, sugar and oil for frying. Curried channa — the filling — is composed of chickpeas, curry powder, minced garlic, onion, cumin, salt, pepper and pepper sauce.
While local roadside street-eats like doubles and sahina (callaloo, chickpeas and deep-fried dough) make grubbing in Trinidad and Tobago feel authentic, upscale dining is a mainstay on the Caribbean island as well.
Khalid Mohammed: Fine dining star
Chaud claims to be “the most elegant fine dining restaurant in Trinidad and Tobago.” After spending an evening at Khalid Mohammed’s upscale culinary oasis, I understand why.
The interior has a colonial French aesthetic — an ode to Mohammed’s training at New York’s esteemed French Culinary Institute perhaps?
The four-course meal we enjoyed was divine. We started off with Sancoche, which is corn soup, ground provisions and coconut cream. The main course consisted of two small plates: Red Snapper Creole, served with coo coo (seasoned cornmeal pie), callaloo fondue, and crispy ochro (okra); plus Stewed Oxtail and Dumplings with poi bhaghi (pak choi).
For desert, I had Cocobel Chocolate Delice served alongside a scoop of organic Cocoa Nib ice cream.
Culinary artist on his craft
Dale Hamilton, 26, is the executive chef of the Lighthouse restaurant at Crews Inn—a waterfront hideaway in Chaguaramas, Trinidad. The culinary artist proudly shares that he cooked for President Obama. “I prepared a rib eye, arugula mashed potatoes and broccoli,” says Hamilton who oversees the property’s three food and beverage establishments.
“Keeping within the local ingredients is where my heart is in culinary,” the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute graduate says. “The more ingredients I see the more inspired I get to cook. I’m an artist in the kitchen.”
And art is just what Hamilton whipped up when we visited the Lighthouse for lunch. The first course was Bake and Shark canapés (a popular Trinbagonian street food) served with a cucumber lime salsa and coconut tamarind sauce. Then came tamarind seared mahi mahi, and garlic roasted potatoes with a sundried tomato salsa. And for desert, mango passion fruit mousse cake. Yum!
Wendy Rahamut of TV’s Caribbean Flavours
According to author and Caribbean Flavours host, Wendy Rahamut, “It’s the blend of different cultures that makes Trini cuisine unique.” From French and African, to East Indian and Portuguese, 19th century indentured servitude brought immigrants from all corners of the globe to Trinidad and Tobago. The result: culinary diversity respectfully glazed with chutney and pepper sauce.
The veteran chef has been filming her cooking show in a cozy kitchen on the ground level of her St. Joseph’s Village home since 1998. Wendy shared her delicious callaloo and rum punch recipes with us — take note.
Wendy’ Rum Punch
1 cup of fresh limejuice
2 cups of sugar (melted)
3 cups of dark rum
4 cups of water
Drop of Bitters
Tarnish with nutmeg
1 bunch of dasheen bush or callaloo bush washed and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
½ cup chopped West Indian pumpkin
1 medium onion chopped
½ large bunch of fresh thyme
2 tbs of chopped celery
1 cup of shopped fresh chives
8 ochroes (okra) sliced
1 Scotch bonnet pepper left whole
2 pimento peppers, seeded and chopped
2 whole blue crabs, cleaned and washed in lime juice
2 tbs of butter
1 cup of coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large pot, place 1 cup of water, add dasheen bush, garlic, pumpkin, onion, thyme, celery, chives, ochroes (okra), peppers and crabs.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until all ingredients are tender (approximately 30 minutes.)
Stir in coconut milk, cook for another 10 minutes, remove hot pepper and crab and swizzle until smooth; taste and adjust seasoning.
Get more great recipes at Wendy’s web site.
Trinidad and Tobago are not just about white sand beaches and fruity cocktails. We hope this culinary exploration will inspire you to go globetrotting in the kitchen — cooking and eating Trini style — until you can make it to this island food oasis.
Follow Metanoya Z. Webb on Twitter at @GtStiletto