Doubles in Curepe, crab and dumplings at Pigeon Point, paime, pastelles, bake and shark at Richard’s, and gyros on Ariapita Avenue: the food I’ve encountered in TT has come from all over the world – and it is all delicious.
I am a Jamaican foodie born and bred. The backyard of my great-grandparents’ home was where my love for food and fantastic conversations probably began, with four generations scattered across the lawn under a huge tree, plates filled with all kinds of food and my mother’s pastry, eaten while basking in familial love.
This most pleasant introduction created a foodie – and the foodie is now in TT.
I had my first doubles probably on my second day in Trinidad, and to say it was delicious would be an understatement. Of course, like many things I have encountered here, it was new to me, but not absolutely novel. I enjoyed various types of Indian food in Jamaica, but never before did I have doubles.
I was even more impressed because technically, it is a totally vegan treat and by far one of my favourites. The curried channa/chickpeas, chadon beni, sweet tamarind sauce, mild pepper for me, served on warm fluffy bara (a fried flatbread) leaves me wanting another, and then another – every time!
Over Christmas, I enjoyed paime and pastelles. I remember unwrapping them from the foil with excitement, then unravelling the banana leaf that encased them. Bearing a smile that comes naturally when I smell good food, I tasted both for the first time.
Paime reminded me very much of my mother’s cornmeal pudding, with its taste of spiced cornmeal baked with raisins. I enjoyed that sweet outer layer of glaze-like moisture – it was from foodie heaven. The wrapping reminded me of what Jamaicans call blue draws/duckanoo. On consulting Google, I discovered paime and duckanoo are the same thing, made in the same way, and exist throughout the Caribbean.
Quite similar to paime is pastelle, though to me, it is like a steamed version of a Jamaican patty made of cornmeal stuffed with well-seasoned ground beef or chicken and raisins.
Another food I’ve encountered in TT that was technically the same thing as something in Jamaica is coo coo. It’s the same as cornmeal turned with vegetables and spices, known in Jamaica as turn or tun’ cornmeal. Tun’ cornmeal, however, does not include okra. Coo coo/duckanoo is known as fungi on islands such as Dominica.
This intrigues me, because again, the fact that our similarities outnumber our differences is reinforced: they all came over from the African continent with some of our ancestors – but it is also interesting how closely it resembles polenta, from northern Italy.
In contrast, there’s callaloo: same name, but totally different. When I heard a local restaurant had callaloo I was happy, because I hadn’t had it in weeks. But Jamaica callaloo is an amaranth green, closer to spinach, usually steamed with garden seasoning and sometimes saltfish. TT’s version is dasheen leaf cut up and cooked into a kind of stew with okra to a consistency almost like cream of pumpkin soup.
On my way to Maracas beach for the first time I stopped at the lookout and had pineapple chow, and again, it reminded me of something from Jamaica.
Chow is fruit, usually pineapples, plums or green mangoes, soaked in a sauce of chadon beni, pepper, chopped garlic and salt. It is a lot like Jamaica’s green june plums in light salt, a favourite of many. And to a lesser degree, it is the savoury cousin of Jamaica’s sweet stewed green june plums, cooked in reduced sugar, with light ginger and lime juice. Just as in Jamaica, chow is served in a small transparent plastic bag.
Of course I can’t describe all the delicious new food I’ve encountered in TT, but last and not least are gyros. I’ve always been a fan of Mediterranean food, but had not had a gyro until I came here. They’re of Greek/Middle Eastern origin, and came to TT’s shores with migrants from the Middle East – with steadily growing numbers of new gyro vendors springing up in the past five years.
I look forward to enjoying more of these delicious dishes and attempting to make them myself. I’m currently learning how to make doubles – and I won’t stop until it is almost as good as doubles from Central Trinidad.