Trinidad and Tobago is famous for many things, including its multi-ethnic population, Carnival, pan and soca but one of our many hidden treasures that encompasses all cultures, religions and ethnicities is the street food: small portions of heavenly treats that seem to always fill that empty hole in our stomachs. Vendors in St James, Port of Spain, Curepe, Arima, San Fernando and Store Bay make their trade by filling the gap between snack and full-course meal.
Perhaps the most popular street food is the ubiquitous “doubles,” made of two bharra (hence the name) or flat cakes, with channa and sometimes curry mango and kuchela in the middle. It is said that nowhere in India would doubles be found; it is purely an Indo-Trinidadian invention. Eaten as breakfast, lunch or dinner by most Trinidadians, doubles are traditionally accompanied by an ice-cold red Solo sweet drink.
From Curepe to Port of Spain, you can find doubles. The UWI doubles man during the week at lunchtime and especially on a Saturday morning offers a wide choice of condiments, including spicy chutney, cucumber, garlic and hot tamarind sauce. As you head home from a Friday night fete, you can get a taste of doubles with pepper sauce and spicy curry at El Socorro Junction, off the highway. Early in the morning, during the week and on a Saturday morning, the pavement outside Brooklyn Bar is crowded with patrons waiting to savour doubles fresh off the stove.
But some say the southland is the real home of doubles. There, the talk goes, the consistency of the bharra is as light as a feather, never too floury or pasty; the channa is plentiful and smooth, and the pepper and seasonings hot enough to tantalise without brutalising the tastebuds. Past the Debe market strip, groups of street food vendors converge to sell the most remarkable doubles in south with pepper, kuchela and hot cucumber. On a Sunday evening, you can lean against your car as they cook these delicacies in front of you and savour the taste of pholourie, saheena and aloo pie. Or enter Doubles Park in Marabella opposite Gopaul’s Hardware on a Saturday morning and have your pick of doubles from the numerous vendors lining the park.
Take a trip to Curepe Junction on a Friday evening, follow your nose and fall in line for a bite of black pudding. Whether from Curepe or from Charlie’s Original Black Pudding in St James, it is often pasted on some hot homemade bread for dinner or taken on its own for a quick snack.
Coconut vendors park their laden trucks around the Queen’s Park Savannah, at the heart of the capital, on most evenings, luring you with ice-cold coconut water to gulp straight from the shell. For the more fastidious, paper-wrapped straws are provided, but be warned: drinking from a straw is traditionally considered the mark of the tenderfoot.
To quench your thirst after an afternoon jog around the Savannah or on a Sunday evening to cap off your weekend, Tony’s ice-cold coconut water is an ideal street drink that dates back to yesteryear when vendors carried the coconuts through villages by horse- or donkey-drawn carriages. After the water has been drained from the shell, the sweet, slippery coconut jelly, scraped from the belly of the nut, completes your meal. Also, around the Savannah on most evenings, you will find the “pholourie lady” offering about six pholouries, made of flour, split peas and cornstarch, rolled into balls in a bag dripping with chutney or mango sauce.
Crushed ice, drenched with thick red or yellow syrup and covered with added condensed milk is a sweet, quick quencher. Enjoy a snow cone around the Savannah in the afternoon after a stroll or on a Sunday evening with the children. This drink or snack is an old favourite among Trinidadians and is ideal for a hot sunny day.
On the weekends, visit Richard’s bake and shark at Maracas beach and enjoy a “fry bake” stuffed to overflowing with fried shark. Then, comes the real fun. At your own leisure, add the toppings: tamarind and chutney sauce, green seasoning, pineapple, tomato slices, finely-chopped cabbage and carrot. Enjoy, as the sauces threaten to travel down your arm and make their way onto your clothes. Richard’s can be enjoyed most days of the week but the mad rush is especially on a Sunday lime at Maracas.
The infamous Brooklyn Bar in St James is known also for its souse. Souse can be made with either chicken feet or pig feet but either way, it is a delicious after-drinks snack that allows the salt to cut away the alcohol. Pickled with cucumber and seasoned well with pepper, chadon beni, thyme and lime, souse is a famous treat that is so popular and satisfying that it is included on the menus of some high-end restaurants.
To enhance your souse after the Friday evening lime, try D’ Punch man opposite Standards furniture store in St James. Stimulate your tastebuds with an array of punches, including peanut punch, linseed, sour sop and barbadine, to give you sustenance for another hour liming with your friends or to cap off your evening.
Head to St James for hot geera pork or a roti. Along the Western Main Road on a Friday or Saturday night after a fete, try geera pork, seasoned to perfection, sizzling with hot spice and cooked until tender and succulent. If this is not enough, then, opposite Smokey and Bunty, try a large roti, crammed with chicken, goat or beef, brimming with potato, pumpkin, curry mango and channa. Roti can be bought day or night in and around St James and Port of Spain.
If it is one thing any Trini likes is a good barbecue. Head down to the southland in La Romain on a Friday evening and delve into barbecued meat from La Romain BBQ Hut. Hot tasty pepper sauce and garlic seasoning are spread over your tender halal beef, lamb, shrimp, fish or chicken, with potato fries and fresh tomato and lettuce salad. Try one of their desserts, such as strawberry ripple cake that is to die for.
A lifelong favourite of many Trinidadians, especially after a good party, is corn soup outside Mas Camp Pub on Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook. Corn is cut into tiny pieces and served with a thin soup with thick flour dumplings. Or try a boiled corn nestled between corn husks to hold the natural juice of the corn.
Street food is not limited to Trinidad at all. In Tobago, one of the most famous dishes that can be purchased on any day by the vendors on Store Bay is curried crab and dumpling. Crab is cooked in a hot curry sauce and then served with fat, thick flour dumplings and an ice-cold mauby drink. Take your time to suck out the succulent meat and juices trapped between the shell of the crab and drown your dumplings in a scrumptious curry sauce.M