Monday, October 17, 2016

Taste of Trini tour

This photo really is for some Facebook
friends. We recently discussed odd
mailing addresses used in some areas.
I love this one.  In case it is too small
to read clearly, it is labeled:
Hector -- Light Pole193

Soon after arriving in Trinidad late June we heard about a 'do not miss' tour sometimes offered by Jesse James.  Not one person gave this tour a negative review.  But this tasting tour was not something we wanted to do with the grandchildren; kids would not enjoy this. Then we returned to Texas for a long visit, returning to Trinidad late last month. Last week there finally were enough new arrivals that Jesse was able to offer another tasting tour.  There were 7 cruisers in the small bus for this tour and Jesse himself was the driver and host.  Bill and I were the last 2 participants to board the bus so we were relegated to the rear seats.  Even though the bus was very nice, with his diminished hearing ability Bill was unable to understand much of what was said because of the wheel noise that always is present in the rear area of a bus or van.  But I had no trouble hearing and was able to relay or repeat most of what Jesse said so Bill could follow along with the rest of us.

As soon as everyone was in the bus Jesse passed out a plate and cutlery to each couple to share the day's tastings, with the solo guy in the front passenger seat getting his very own personal plate. Of course, since he had the premier seating he also was assigned to assist Jesse in serving the foods all day long.  Jesse had stopped and purchased a few breakfast items to get us started while slowly driving in the congested traffic on the only egress to/from Chaguaramas where all cruisers temporarily reside.  A bus had broken down in the southbound lane and traffic was horrendous this morning.  As we slowly made our way toward Port of Spain, Jesse served us several breakfast dishes and talked about the special foods particular to the islands country of Trinidad and Tobago.

Tobago has a national dish called Crab and Dumplings but Trinidad has no national dish. Tobago has mostly African/Creole foods; whereas, Trinidad has more Indian/Creole/Middle-Eastern foods.  We would be sampling a little of everything Trinidad has to offer in foods. Following is a list of the foods we tasted in the order in which these were presented.  I have included recipe links for a number of these dishes.

Breakfast foods:
clockwise from upper left: bhaji
herring, chicken gazette, bake

1. Coconut Bake -- 'bake' is a dough that usually is fried but could be baked.  Bill and I had previously eaten Bake 'n Shark and it was fried; sort of like a hamburger bun for which the risen dough has been deep fried rather than baked.  This Coconut Bake likewise had been fried.
2. Bhaji (spinach) 
3. Chicken Gazette (chicken liver)
4. Smoked herring/salt fish

5. Fried Bake
6. Fried Bake filled with curried channa (chickpeas)
7. Fried Bake filled with shark

Guess you could add just about anything you like to the bake.

Signs like this are in front of many
shops.  Easy food on the go.

8. Hot Pie - filled with white cheese and mashed potato
9. Hot Pie - filled with straight potato and onions, sweetened mango sauce and cucumber
It is easy to be strict vegetarian and eat breakfast street foods with no eggs, meat or milk.

pickled pommeceteye

10. Pommeceteye -- green fruit pickled with salt, peppers and shadow bene (culantro)
The pommeceteye fruit also is eaten raw with salt and black pepper.

L-R: Caralie, tomato choka, baigan
choka, pumpkin choka, sada roti
Typical Indian breakfast in Trinidad is 15 TT ($2.25 USD):
11. Roti - Sada Roti
12. Caralie (bitter green vegetable)
13. Tomato Choka (very good!)
14. Pumpkin Choka
15. Baigan Choka (roasted eggplant, also very good) h ttp://

Cow Heel Soup

Hangover Cure:

16. Cow Heel Soup

Pastry Pies (baked rather than fried as are the Hot Pies listed above):
17. Pastry Pie filled with fish (did not like this one bit)
18. Pastry Pie filled with Spicy Beef 
19. Pastry Pie filled with Spicy Macaroni (surprisingly pretty good)

Around this time we passed the community of Laventille.  Today this community is the highest crime area on the island and is filled with ramshackle shacks where people live in poverty.  When one reads of the high crime in Trinidad, this is where most of it occurs.  There has been no crime against cruisers in Trinidad in several years; that type crime happens up in Grenada.  Here in Trinidad it is mostly local-on-local crime, and Laventille is the area hardest hit.  Also located in Laventille is the only factory in the world which produced Angostura Bitters.  Angostura Bitters sold all over the world come from this small factory situated in this shantytown high-crime neighborhood.  Who knew!


20. Coconut Roll -- pastry containing lots of ginger and is tasty

21. Accra -- like a hushpuppy mixed with fish and often served with tamarind sauce which can be spicy


22. Portugal -- a type of orange which remains green; more like a tangerine to me

23. Saheena -- unusual and good; we did not taste the dipping sauce that often is served with saheena

24. Pitchorie -- Jesse spelled this for me as *pitchorie* but I cannot find any recipe by that name.  The sample we ate reminded me of a type of fried corn bread served with chickpeas on top.  This is a vegetarian dish. 

No photos of the Saheena or Pitchorie because we ate these at a food truck and I forgot my camera in the bus.  Note that eating street food in Trinidad is quite safe, like Singapore. Each street food vendor is required to wear a food badge which means s/he is licensed and inspected.  The food preparation and serving areas must pass health inspections.  Good to know.

One unusual-to-us thing noted is that some men here carry birdcages around with them -- to work or to socialize or to shop or whatever -- they take their caged song birds with them. Jesse said his grandfather carried such a bird.  Bill and I had noticed the 2 men who operate the roadside doubles stand near the marinas bring their caged song bird to work with them each day. Which brings up that dish for which Trinidad likely is most famous -- doubles.  We did not stop for doubles during this Taste of Trini tour because everyone on the bus previously had eaten doubles and this tour was intended to introduce us to other Trinidadian treats.  But here is a recipe for those famous Trinidad Doubles, which usually are served with hot sauce.  Just be sure and watch that hot sauce!  It can be a killer!!

Macaroni Pie & BBQ Pig Tail

Lunch Foods:

First was a typical Creole lunch:
25. Macaroni Pie -- Neither Bill nor I cared much for this.  It was slightly sweet.
26. Barbeque Pig Tail -- a specialty of the town of Valencia.  Not much to eat on a pig tail but the sauce was good.

Dumpling topped with Callaloo
w/ Stewed Pork on 2nd dumpling

And another typical Creole lunch:

27. Dumpling  -- square and flat and heavy.  Very filling.
28. Callaloo  -- African Creole staple
29. Stewed Pork -- The difference in Trini style stewed pork (or goat or beef) is that they add sugar to the hot oil in the pan to carmelize and create a dark color and coating on the chunks of meat first; then cook as regular for stewed meats.
30. Sea Moss Punch 

L-R: Dasheen, Salt Fish, Cassava,
with Green Fig at bottom.
Cassava was best thing on plate.
And another typical Creole lunch:

31. Cassava -- typical 'provisions' throughout the Caribbean
32. Salt Fish (neither Bill nor I tasted this as we have tried it before and it is far too fishy)
33. Dasheen -- more provisions
34. Green Fig -- this is a tiny banana which normally is cooked.  It is exactly the same as we ate at Fatu Hiva in French Polynesia.  In Polynesia it is cooked in coconut milk and turns bright pink.  Here in Trinidad it is cooked numerous ways but stays banana colored.

Custard Apple

35. Custard Apple -- again, we passed on tasting this because have had it before and we were getting awfully full by this point in the tasting tour.

UFO Fruit on bottom

UFO Fruit

36. UFO fruit -- Okay, they might call this a fruit but Bill and I know better.  It is a pod of Brazil nuts which has not fully ripened.  Here in Trini they cut the pod from the tree before it is ripe enough to fall off on its own.  When we were in the Amazon jungle region of Peru we saw these Brazil nuts very high on the trees and were warned by our guide to stay well clear of them.  Because if they fall on your head you likely will be killed. The Brazil nuts which grow wild here in Trini are a different variety than those found in Peru.  
One of many nuts inside UFO

The typical Brazil nut is shaped somewhat triangular along its width; whereas, while these found on Trinidad also are triangular along the width there also are additional ridges along the width causing a somewhat fluted shape.  Plus, these are fresh and raw as opposed to the dried and often roasted nuts found in stores back home.

Chockie Toe
Silk Fig.  The best!!

37. Fig -- a very tiny chewy very yellow banana; locally called a Chockie Toe

38. Silk Fig - the best small banana; called Lady Fingers in other parts of the world.  This banana is rather delicate and cannot be exported.  It is my favorite type.

View to the north

View to the south.
Very nice beach side public park.

A typical Indian lunch beneath the palms at beachside on eastern side of island:
39. Pilau -- seasoned rice
40. Piratha Roti --
41. Dhal Puri Roti --
42. Curried Green Mango
43. Curried Chickpeas & Potatoes -- my favorite dish on the plate
44. Stewed Beef
45. Pumpkin
46. Curried Chicken
47. Curried Goat -- also pretty good
48. Peanut Punch (we both passed on this) 
Picnic lunch by the sea with our Taste of Trini co-horts

Peanut Punch

L-R clockwise: Piratha Roti, Stewed Beef, Curried Chickpeas & Potatoes,
Curried Goat, Pumpkin, Curried Green Mango, Pilau.
We did not sample the Dhal Puri Roti or the Curried Chicken because we 
were simply too full.  All these bites were adding up over the day!

Jesse James cutting up watermelon for our group.
The man on the right is Dallas, the melon vendor.
There were thousands upon thousands of small Birds of Paradise plants blooming as we drove through the two savannahs between the mountain ranges.  There are 2 mountain ranges which traverse east/west across Trinidad, and 2 savannahs.  These savannahs are open to the Atlantic and go completely across this large island.  These are very worrisome in the event of a tsunami.  The local people practice evacuations in case of a tsunami.

49. Watermelon -- the man named Dallas who sold us the watermelon was quite the character.  He talked for 10 minutes straight about the health benefits of eating watermelon.

Roasted Corn

50. Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob -- very hard and chewy; nothing like corn in the USA.  It tasted like popcorn which had been popped over burning charcoal.  I nibbled a few kernels and Bill passed on this.  Corn is not allowed on his Crohn's diet.


51. Tulum -- this is what is called an Old Time Treat.  Neither Bill nor I liked it in the least but the woman seated in front of us loved it and asked for a second helping.  Tulum is very hard and is chewy.  

It has a licorice flavor and is made from dried coconut and molasses.  

This was the thing I disliked most of everything we tried this day.
Yet the other woman loved it.  People do have different tastes.

Pickled Pineapple on left;
Kurma (sticks) on right.
52. Kurma -- another Old Time Treat but this one was delicious!  It is a ginger candy.  I plan to make this once we are living back on land. 

The road turned back northwards and we began to see teak trees growing all along the roadside as we moved to higher elevation.

53. Pineapple in salted brine pickling solution.  Okay but not something I would seek out.

Coconut Finger

54. Coconut Finger -- a layered pastry with food coloring added to the coconut.


55. Pone -- Cassava Cake made with coconut, ginger and condensed milk.  Pretty good.

Tamarind Balls -- SPICY!

56. Tamarind Balls -- sour and sweet and fairly spicy hot

57. Bread Pudding -- from the days of British control of Trinidad.  It contained lots of fruit was was not like any bread pudding with which I am familiar.  I prefer my own recipe.

As we drove around the Trinidad countryside and small villages we noticed mostly-faded flags on long poles standing in the yards of many homes.  Jesse explained that these were Jhandis -- Hindu Prayer Flags.  The Hindu holiday of Divali will be on 29 October 2016 and these prayer flags traditionally are displayed for a month prior to Divali.  The flags represent the gods prayed to by the family in each home.  Hinduism recognizes many gods and goddesses so the combination of colors of flags varied wildly.

Boy bussing bamboo.
This can be dangerous.
As we drove to higher elevation there was a village with a young boy 'bussing bamboo' in front of his home.  Jesse stopped the bus to allow us to watch this process.  Jesse said that when the bamboo is burned all the way through the center that it will sound like a gunshot.  I do not understand the attraction of doing this but it is something that has a long tradition in Trinidad.
People can be, and have been, injured doing this.  Again, I do not see the attraction.  Here is a local newspaper article about an accident which happened a few years ago:

A few of the tiny pots being made
at the pottery shop for Divali.
These will be filled with oil for lights.

Also along this roadside we found a man making pottery.  He was very busy making items already ordered by locals for the upcoming celebration of Divali.  We disembarked and watched him throw a vase on his potters wheel.  Jesse said he was having to do all this work himself because he cannot find any workers; the workers he has tried to hire all want to be paid for the entire day but will work only 3 hours; so this shop owner is working 18 hours daily by himself to fill the orders before Divali.


58. Pholourie -- another hushpuppy type dish but made from flour rather than cornmeal.

Tiny Trini Plum

59. Tiny Trini Plum -- looks like a large green olive but is very tangy and spicy hot.

60. Mauby -- a brown beverage made from the bark of a tree and tastes somewhat like root beer; has a bit of a a sassafras flavor although made from a different type tree.  Mauby is common throughout the Caribbean and is known by various names.  The Mauby we sampled was not the fizzy variety, more like sassafras flavored iced tea.

Sugar Cake. With bag of
Tiny Trini Plums

61. Sugar Cake -- Coconut and sugar and food colors; our sample was purple.

Pepper Roti.  One of my
favorites of the day.

62. Pepper Roti -- sort of like pizza (?); this was a stuffed flat roti and very spicy.  Good!

Chicken Fingers

63. Chicken Fingers -- boiled chicken feet.  These make a delicious broth as a base for soups; I have cooked chicken feet on the boat.  The woman seated in front of me on this tour could not get past how these looked.  

She squealed and dropped the foot onto her plate because she thought it had wiggled.  Thoroughly boiled and removed from the body of the chicken, so she knew it could not have moved; but it bothered her to see it.

Cutters -- Roast Pork

64. Cutters -- Cutters are snacks one eats before going out drinking, so the rum won't get you drunk as quickly.  Our tour was not going to drink any alcohol but Jesse treated us to a couple of cutters.  This first one was roast pork with hot sauce and it was delicious!

A Cocoa Pod.  The cocoa beans are
covered with that white slime.
65. Cocoa Pod -- 4 of us on this tour had previously tasted a fresh cocoa pod; 3 had not. This is the wrong season as the pods have not yet ripened enough to pick.  But Jesse drove slowly and eventually found a couple of pods that were yellow enough to warrant picking.  One of our tour participants was tall enough to pick one of the pods.  Trinidad grows the best cocoa in the world.  Grenada likes to boast that claim, but Trinidadian cocoa is the best.  Plus, a Trinidadian is credited for saving cocoa from extinction; unfortunately, I did not note his name and do not remember it.  But he found a way to stop the Witches Broom disease that was killing cocoa all over the world.  There is an entire department devoted to cocoa at the University of Trinidad still today.  Jesse told us a story about a very large yacht coming to Trinidad years ago and he was engaged to take the elderly male owner on a tour, and the man specifically wanted to visit cocoa plantations and the University of Trinidad to speak with the experts on cocoa.  Turned out this elderly man's surname was Mars -- of the Mars candy company, the 6th largest privately held corporation in the United States.  (Sorry, British friends; Mars is not a British candy company; it is an American company which has production facilities in the UK, as well as in The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Australia.)  The white slime surrounding the cocoa beans inside the pod tastes like cocoa.

Cutters--BBQ Chicken

Gullar Jamoon on left.
Barfi on right.

66. Cutters -- barbequed chicken this time

67. Gullar Jamoon -- a commercially packaged sweet which is like a donut hole.
68. Barfi -- a commercially packaged candy; a type of white milk fudge with confetti sprinkles.


69. Cinnamon fried plantains
70. Cold Macaroni Salad
71. Grilled Kingfish -- very tasty!
72. Stewed Pidgeon Peas -- the best I have ever tasted
73. Festive Rice
74. Geera Pork -- Trini version of jerked pork
75. Sorrel drink -- a canned or bottled drink made from sorrel, a flower.  Nice and refreshing.
76. Spicy dill pickles, cucumbers, peppers & tomatoes relish -- my favorite dish of the day.  This accompanied the grilled fish very nicely.  I do not know the local name of this relish and could not find a recipe for it.  But all ingredients were finely chopped and blended to compliment the  flavors extremely well (to my taste buds!).  This is something that I will attempt to duplicate in the future when grilling fish.  

L-R clockwise starting at top center: Grilled Kingfish, Geera Pork,
delicious dill pickle relish, Festive Rice, Cinnamon Fried Plaintains,
Cold Macaroni Salad, and Stewed Pidgeon Peas in center.

By the way, while attempting unsuccessfully to find a recipe for this relish, I came across the following local news article about cucumbers.  Cucumbers are not just served raw in salads here in Trinidad; they actually cook cucumbers in various dishes.  A few of the dishes we sampled this day had cooked cucumbers incorporated as a minor ingredient.  This linked news article provides a sample of some other recipes cooking cucumbers.  The Shrimp and Cucumber Stir Fry is one that I certainly will cook in the future.,162049.html

We enjoyed this Taste of Trini Tour and thank Jesse James of Members Only Maxi Taxi for introducing us to the flavors of Trinidad.  This was a long driving tour covering the island from the northwest tip at Chaguaramas, completely across the island west to east, then south, again west, and back north to origination point -- about 150 miles. On island roads, not the highways of home.  It had to be tiring to drive this much as it was tiring for us simply riding.  Excellent job, Jesse!  The record number of foods sampled on a Taste of Trini Tour is 99.  Our group tasted only 76.  And not a single one of us could have tasted another bite of anything, regardless of how delicious it might have been.  We were full!!!
Anyone planning to visit Trinidad can contact Jesse; he can assist you in innumerable ways: