As it’s hurricane season, I’ve been thinking back to my time in hurricane countries. When I was in Port of Spain, I enjoyed mornings watching the ships. One day I watched this and I wondered, how do you parallel park a ship?
Well, you don’t. You push it in with the help of “tug” boats.
One thing that I didn’t expect to stumble upon here was an organic/Italian bakery. But I did, right on the main street. They even have a grinder for fresh almond butter. It’s not a shop that I expected to find here.
Sadly, I didn’t actually like their cake or gluten free cake, but I have to give them credit for trying. They also have other items so maybe those are better.
I’ve heard lots of people tell me that Lima has the worst traffic… but then, Cairo, Dhaka, Bangkok, Delhi, LA, Santo Domingo, and a few others all claim that title. Even in Port of Spain, they claim to have the worst. I was inclined to say that Dhaka still holds the title. But, there are certain elements to Lima traffic that make it a contender — fear and boredom. In almost all cities with bad traffic, the “me first” aggression is the only way to get ahead, and in Lima, this is readily visible every time you step outside. During rush hour, the sheer numbers of cars all trying to go left from a right lane, or right from a left lane, or through red lights, is normal. There are many traffic cops and they will often override the traffic lights with their light sabers and whistles. The chances of getting in a traffic accident are high.
Then there’s the boredom. The hours spent in traffic (the painting above shows a day with light traffic). It can take an hour to go five miles. Apparently, Lima has grown as a city (9.5 million and counting) with commercial growth in the urban areas instead of expanding outwards. There is a business area to the south of the city but that seems to be it. Everyone else is commuting in to the city. When I say that it’s boring, I mean only if you get carsick from using your smart phone. Otherwise, if you keep your phone out of sight, and keep your wits about you, then…also, the traffic sights are not as interesting here. No camels, colorful rickshaws, overloaded carts, cattle, beggars, and so on. Just cars ad libitum. Ha.
Another extremely short list. There are vegetable markets in most of the towns in Trinidad, but it’s not a “thing” to do here. I like exploring markets and I managed to express my interest to the driver.
The yuppie market is the Green Market in Santa Cruz. This market is on the way to Maracas Bay. The market has vegetables, meats, food stalls, musicians, massage booth, and artisan stalls (soap maker). Apparently, this market was the brainchild of a Trini who had lived in the U.S. and decided to bring back the idea of the farmer’s market to Trinidad.
The biggest market is Central Market. Most of the stalls sell vegetables and fruits. There is a food “court” down in the corner of a large hall. Most of the vendors prefer to set up their stalls outside where the cars can drive past and use them as a drive thru, leaving most the dark interior stalls empty and boarded up. Many of the items for sale were breadfruit and coconuts. Some of the vendors made me some blatant offers which were not on the regular vegetable selection.
The one I liked the most is Tunapuna in the town of Tunapuna. It was lively and busy. The locals were busy shopping and ignored me except when they treated me like any other customer. This market also included some ferocious clothes shopping.
Trying the food in Trinidad requires learning the vocabulary:
Pepper (said, “pehpah”) sauce: made from pureed Scotch Bonnet chili peppers. In the lingo of the today, “they don’t play” in “scoville” here. This pepper sauce is flame-thrower hot. Tread lightly. When ordering pepper sauce, it’s “light, medium, and heavy.”
Doubles: this is the most famous of Trini foods. It’s eaten for breakfast and is comprised of two (hence the name) pieces of fried flatbread topped with cooked chickpeas (garbanzos) in curry, with sauces (see one in hand in photo above). Some of the sauces are pepper/chili sauce and some vendors have their own tamarind sauce to add a sweetness to the mix. At most doubles stands, there are two lines. One for eat-in and one for take-out. The take-out line takes longer as the doubles are wrapped in wax paper. The eat-in line is faster partly because some people will eat six to seven doubles at one time. Now, apparently, there are places serving “triples.” You pay after you have eaten.
Buss up shut: A dish of Indian origin with a large stretchy roti in two layers (inside is a think powdery layer inside) which is ripped up to resemble a ripped shirt. Hence the name.
Roti: is a flat stretchy bread. Eaten with curry (curry goat, curry chicken, etc.).
Callaloo soup: Also very popular. Callaloo is a vegetable. The soup is fairly thick and looks a bit like stewed collard greens.
Crab and dumpling (it is a large pasta piece, no filling). See below. In a curry sauce.
Bodi: is the Indian name for long green beans.
Channa: is lentils.
Dasheen bush choka: dasheen is another name for callaloo and when it is stewed, it becomes a dish called choka.
Fry Bake: is fried flat bread usually served as a breakfast sandwich with dried salt cod or smoked herring. Both taste slightly fishy so I’d recommend getting them with a good amount of pepper sauce.
Bake and Shark: is a fish sandwich like a po’ boy in the U.S. The most famous place for this is Richard’s in Maracas Bay. Stop for some pineapple chow.
Chow: is fruit in a slightly spicy brine.
Oil down: is a stew much like chicken and dumplings in flavor but often made with pigtail. As seen here, it is served with “provisions” which are dumplings, plaintains, breadfruit, potatoes, and other carbohydrate-rich foods.
Macaroni pie: like mac and cheese but cut in squares.
The drinks of Trinidad and Tobago are plentiful. They drink rum and more rum. I was told that the best rum here was Angostura. They also have a ‘punch’ which is made up of all kinds of other alcohol so strong enough to punch you down for a day or two. One person I talked to told me that he had something to drink that was so strong that it made him stop drinking! Again, the national pastime seems to be “to lime” which is to hang out somewhere to drink.
I did not have cow heel soup which is also a famous Trini food. It’s a thick soup made with cow hoof.
Probably the most famous outing from Port of Spain is the beach at Maracas Bay. It’s about 35 minutes outside of the city along a windy hilly road.
The view from the viewpoint is not the only reason to stop. There are chow stalls where you can try the famous “pineapple chow.” Chow is a dish of fruit in a brine with shadon beni (culantro) and chili peppers. They also make chow with green plums, mango, and cucumber. The pineapple is the best with its contrast of juicy sweetness, salty brine, and slight spice. All the basic electrolytes in one bite!
Maracas Bay is a popular beach for the locals and it’s a good place to hang out. There are lifeguards on duty, a good thing considering how fierce the waves the day we went.
For a foodie, the reason to go to Maracas Bay is to eat “bake and shark” or a fried fish sandwich. This sandwich was made more famous by Anthony Bourdain. The most famous place is Richard’s with the many condiments including pineapple chow. Uncle Sam’s is on the beach side and overlooks the beach. You buy the fish sandwich and then put on the condiments of your choice from garlic sauce, tamarind sauce, pepper sauce (pureed scotch bonnet peppers), slaw, pineapple chow, mayonnaise, etc. The sandwich reminds me a bit of po’ boy sandwiches.
This post is not about the best of Trini speak. I haven’t heard enough yet to know what the best phrases might be. What I do know is that I don’t understand the English here in Port of Spain. I’d say that my comprehension is on par with my Spanish comprehension… well, they might be neck in neck. (I almost felt relief when talking to a guy in Spanish! If three sentences counts as talking.)
The Trinis tell me that it’s because they speak fast. No, they don’t. They use different vocabulary, different grammar, different spelling, and they have a different cadence. In other words, a different language. They remove “then” and other prepositions (is that what they are called?). Or how about “the best food in tongue” which must mean “best tasting” or not?
Other than terminology like “lime” and “whine” there are many other words in daily life that are used which I can’t recall right now. I wish I could. One phrase that I wrote down was, “A good bit of us” for “there are a lot of us.” Sounds like British but without the accent.
The food vocabulary is easy to learn (bodi is long green beans) as that’s a matter of memorization, and many of the words have an origin that is typical of Trinidad’s cultural influences. Bodi probably originates from the Hindi word and was likely introduced by the South Asians.
And then there’s the spelling. See that “best” is now a woman’s name, “bess.” And “ah” for “of” as can be seen in the soup sign.
Linguists could have a field day.
Ya dam right gee. For de bess ah tongue.
Or something like that. I have no idea! Habla espanol?
If Cinderella sold coconuts… she’d do it from her chariot, right? In Port of Spain the coconuts are sold from gold chariots. I’m not sure why. But that’s how it is in this nook of the West Indies.
It costs ten Trini dollars (about $1.30) for a coconut. If you like the water to be sweeter, get the “jelly” coconuts. These are pale green on the outside. They have less water and the flesh is like jello. After you’ve drunk the coconut, the salesman will split open the nut so that you can scoop out the flesh with the “spoon” that he’s already cut from the husk. If you prefer more water, get one of the more mature ones. They are more brown on the outside.
These chariots are open for business in the afternoons. If they can find someone who’s the right fit.
Truth is that it’s not carnival. That’s in February. But, it’s a small taste of carnival. With chocolate. You don’t have to get covered in chocolate but you certainly can if you want to.
The truck/float/group called Cocoa Devils have a party in July called “J’ouvert in July” to celebrate their trucks. It cost 650 Trini dollars ($100 U.S.) for one-night party that starts at midnight and lasts till daylight. For that price, you get a t-shirt and a drinking cup. Plus endless beer, tequila, wine, and food.
Aside from the main DJ truck, there are drinks trucks, supplemental speaker trucks to blast out the music, and food trucks. At one point, the trucks drive around the stadium providing a drunken parade for revelers to follow.
The food is hotdogs, beef pies, and “doubles.” Good drunk food to sop up the alcohol.
By 2 a.m., the party was well under way. Apparently, Trinis like to “wine” and “lime” which are to twerk and to drink. Actually, they like to do it in reverse: lime’n and wine’n.
What amazed me was the creative ways that people (mostly women) had altered their t-shirts into outfits with various forms of holes and tailoring.
The whole event is well organized with lots of security, toilets, and first aid. While it looked like debauchery, it was actually very neatly done.
The music was so loud that I wondered if my ears would bleed.