Anyone who knows me knows I love to eat and hate to cook. When I travel, food is a big part of my trip. Isn’t that what vacation is for? Leaving precaution to the wind and enjoying gluttonous behavior not experienced at home? I have added a new destination to my “I ate my way through the country without guilt and can’t wait to go back” list.
Trinidad and Tobago.
Yes, that’s right. The two tiny islands at the southern-most tip of the Caribbean pack a spicy punch. Not to mention providing a plethora of cuisine choices, from five star to street food and from sweets to savory. Trinidad and Tobago has every food choice for every palate. Even though T&T is known for its party atmosphere, locals are either partying for Carnival or preparing to party for Carnival, it is now carving out a name for itself as a foodie capital. Trinis are proud of their mixed ethnicities which contribute to a cuisine unlike any other in the world. Indian, African, Chinese, Lebanese, Syrian and European all converge in the dishes that are prepared. Callaloo is a soup/stew that all locals make by combining okra, coconut milk, a variety of vegetables and homemade spices, and they call themselves the same name to point out the diversity in their heritage. Curry unique to Trinidad, The Scorpion – the hottest pepper in the world, doubles and chutney, fish, chocolate, rum, bitters, Carib beer, chadon beni and Bake and Shark all swirl in my head as I remember the sensual feasts I experienced on these beautiful islands.
I started by flying a red eye to Miami, Miami to Port of Spain and then in a daze I awaited my hopper flight to Tobago. I wandered into a random eatery, avoiding the usual chains that the U.S. has plagued the rest of the world with, and ordered fries and a Carib beer. The beer was refreshing and the fries were served with ketchup but also a small plastic cup of pepper sauce, T&T’s famous hot sauce. I like it hot. And not in the Power Station way. I put hot sauce on my hot sauce as they say and this was my intro to a country that delivers in the hot sauce category.
After arriving to Tobago and enjoying the last rays of a beautiful sunset at the Coco Reef Resort (isn’t every sunset on vacation stunning?), I headed to the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort and the incredible Kalina restaurant. It was a quiet night so I could enjoy the sophistication and artistic flair of the place, both in the food presentation and actual decor. When I say that I had the best curry tofu of my life I am not lying. Anyone who thinks tofu is boring hasn’t had this dish. It’s aptly titled “Tobago Curry and Coconut Vegetables” and it’s the chef’s tribute to the local veggies and spices unique to the island.
I would have stayed on in Tobago, swimming in the ocean and hiking in the rainforest, but my stomach pulled me to the big island of Trinidad to experience doubles, rum, callaloo and bake and shark. In order to get it all in I had to be diligent and not wimp out. If I felt full, too bad. You only live once. Push through is my motto. I am sure there is some sort of support group for all of us food warriors. But until I find it, I just keep eating. This will be fast and furious so stay with me.
After landing I went to Chaguaramas where lunch was at the Lighthouse Restaurant. Challoo stuffed chicken leg and thigh with garbanzo beans, grilled masala eggplant and steamed basmati rice garnished with chadon beni. Chef Dale Hamilton is only 26 years old and has already won numerous awards and cooked for presidents. If you tasted the chicken dish above as I did you would know why. The best part of the afternoon was the view of the harbor and yachts with the sound of the sudden rainstorm that passed over the restaurant and made a relaxing melody on the tin roof.
Dinner was at the famous Chaud restaurant and chef Khalid Mohammed did not let me down. Soup is something I could eat everyday and I was blown away by his corn soup – Sancoche: Corn Soup, provision and coconut crema. Who knows what provision is but who cares. Trinichow.com calls Chaud the best fine dining restaurant in T&T and Clinton and Trump agree. I wonder what those two would discuss over a dinner? The sous-chef said something funny about everyone knowing how to make corn soup at birth but I know that I wasn’t given that talent so I will continue to savor the memory of Chaud’s soup.
In the morning I headed to Ali’s to taste the famous Doubles. It seems an odd breakfast food but guess what. It isn’t. Don’t question me just go. Chickpeas, chutney, special sauce inside two bread-y pancakes. That is a technical term. Ali is funny and a gracious host, the shop is literally in his home.
Late lunch with Wendy Rahamut a famous TV show chef in T&T who gives culinary lessons out of her home. I was grateful that she simply cooked her amazing Callaloo for me and didn’t ask me to get up and do the same. I loved her beautiful smile and personality as much as I loved her food.
Please don’t ask what time I decided to do a massive rum tasting at the Angostura Distillery. I might be able to claim that this is the earliest I’ve ever imbibed. Might. It was well worth it and I even purchased some souvenirs. 1824 and 1919 were a few of the best, 1824 being my personal favorite. It was a good year.
Bake and Shark on the beach after a swim in Maracas Bay was heaven. I can’t say I tasted the shark so much after drowning it in the massive amounts of condiments provided but it was delicious all the same.
As a grand finale I ate at Waterfront in the Hyatt Regency Port of Spain. I had Coconut Curry Goat and Pimento Marinated Snook. Haven’t you always wanted to eat snook? My favorite part of the meal was afterwards when I got to dish the dirt with the head waiter who had served the heads of state at the Summit of the Americas in 2009. It seems that a certain Chavez ignored completely, and rudely, a certain Obama and that the president of Argentina, who will remain nameless Christina Fernandez de Kirchner was a total diva and didn’t eat a thing. I love gossip.
If you aren’t starving by now then I haven’t done my job. If you are, get on a plane to Trinidad and Tobago today.
Read: Culture Smart Trinidad and Tobago, Insight Guide Trinidad and Tobago and Rough Guide Trinidad and Tobago. And anything by V.S. Naipul.