LAST WEEK’S column focused on the humble origins of many of our treasured foods. Complex flavours born on the tawa, coalpot, and fireside are gradually being sidelined by imported tastes and culinary abominations such as the “chizza.”
Mind you, I will probably end up getting this chizza thing because it looks too delightfully stupid to ignore. A fairly sound reasoning, I think.
Back to the driving thought though. What our traditional foods express is that sometimes when you really ketchin’ hell the spirit, pressed in a vise of struggle, can create some really remarkable things.
The doubles is, perhaps, our best example of this idea. Notwithstanding its blue-collar origins, this simple street food went on to become a national obsession or a culinary cult of personality that stokes fiery devotion in its devotees.
I’ve overheard fully formed and sporadically heated verbal sparring hinged on wildly varying perceptions of where the best doubles can be had. These barroom debates make you think Trinis are more passionate about doubles than politics. This makes sense because of the two, only one will fill your belly.
Most Trinis have their doubles vendor just like they have their doctor or their ganja dealer. Although, if you’re in the habit of checking in with your ganja dealer first, you probably spend more money by your doubles vendor and, consequently, more time by your doctor.
I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t eat “ah doubles” until my late teens. Growing up in Diego Martin there was no easy access to such exotic fare. My first sampling was at Sauce Doubles in Curepe. I marveled at the speed with which the vendor would serve salivating customers. Oh how he towered above us, deftly passing channa manna down to the mere mortals below.
We ate deeply of the pillowy bara and seasoned channa, entirely oblivious to the scurrying roaches about our feet.
“I want pepper to make my head scratch!” Instructions from my friend Gruff. “You have potato pie?” “ Yeah, allo pie.” “Nah, I want potato pie.”
Snippets of a conversation between the vendor and my friend, rechristened thereafter...Pie.
In those days Sauce Doubles was the only name on our lips. He was like the Collonade Room in the Young and Restless. This was apparently the only restaurant in all of Genoa city where Nikki, Victor, that viper Jill and other types could go for candlelit trysts.
Soon enough I would discover other worlds beyond Curepe and its low-cost rat housing of piled-up discarded coconut shells.
Enter Fatboy and Shelly on Independence Square. After a night on the town scaring the horses and womenfolk our band of party Taliban, each of us properly one over the eight, would converge on this doubles box in the heart of the city.
Fatboy and Shelly’s bara were always light and fluffy and the channa was elevated above mere chickpeas with a generous application of spices and green seasoning. The contribution of the condiments can’t be left out of the equation. Coconut chutney, mango chutney, and cucumber for texture – these additions made their doubles the crack of the street food world.
And how the hell did they keep the channa so hot? When Fatboy/Shelly reached down to put that doubles in your hand it was like receiving hellfire communion from the devil.
I’m sure you have your own doubles altar, that one vendor who is better than all others. The sad truth is it’s increasingly possible today to get a bad doubles. Ten years ago this was as unlikely as Carnival without risky casual sex.
Mango chutney is now a mostly lazy “sweet sauce.” Some bara are rubbery and lifeless and the channa might as well be soya chunks. The pepper is also more like mace.
The doubles factory culture has spawned a proliferation of doubles boxes everywhere with taste and attention to detail lost to the allure of fast money. Bara and channa are being produced in bulk and the boxes subcontracted to people who have nothing to do with preparing the product.
Still, I do have my doubles vendor, my old faithful. My constant in a sea of change for the worse. Her bara is soft, her channa flavourful and her coconut chutney is out of this world. Of course I won’t tell you where she’s at because that line is long enough as it is.