I visited Trinidad and Tobago in December 2019 for four days and five nights. This is hardly enough time to properly see the island but I maximized every single second and left with my heart full, my taste-buds satisfied and my eyes happy. In the previous three posts, I documented the destinations I visited but glossed over details like the food and culture. This post will tie it all together and concludes my four-part Trinidad series, JUST in time for Trinidad Carnival 2020! In between J’Ouvert, Carnival Tuesday, Panorama and all the fetes, read on for how to enjoy the best of the country’s food, culture, natural landscape and built environment if you have only five days. Feel free to mix and match to create a personalized itinerary that suits your schedule and preferences.
What to Eat 🍽️
With just under 1.4 million people, Trinidad’s population reflects their history of Amerindian settlement, European colonization, West African slavery followed by South Asian indentureship to replace the declining labour force once slavery was abolished. All these ethnic groups play an important role in Trinidadian cuisine, most notably Indo- and Afro-Trinidadian (creole). There are also small but influential Chinese and Arab populations.
You CANNOT go to Trinidad without eating its street food. This can be had everywhere throughout Trinidad, but I highly recommend Queen’s Park Savannah and Maracas as two must-try spots. The Indian food is allegedly best in Debe, south Trinidad but I didn’t venture that far south on this trip. I had all my Indian food in Arima and at the Savannah, and I was quite satisfied. 😋
- Sizzling at every other major roadside corner is a doubles stand serving up Trinidad’s most popular street food: doubles. Doubles consists of baras (flat fried dough) filled with curried channa (chickpeas) and served with toppings like pepper, tamarind sweet sauce, and cucumber relish. It was a popular breakfast snack eaten by the Indian indentured laborers and farmers before going in the fields. It’s eaten by hand, you eat until you’re satisfied (usually after two or three) then you pay the vendor.
- Wait, we’re not leaving the doubles stand just yet. They also sell aloo pies (fried dough filled with potato), pholourie (fried dough balls dipped in tamarind sweet sauce) and kachori (basically a dense giant dough ball stuffed with chickpeas). Most of Trinidad’s steeet food comes wrapped in grease paper.
- Bake and shark is a filling sandwich consisting of a fried flatbread (bake) filled with fried pieces of shark or catfish and topped with various other ingredients and sauces. Before frying, the shark meat is either seasoned with a herb blend and breaded, or marinated in a mix of lemon juice, onion, garlic, thyme and pepper. Popular additional ingredients are lettuce, coleslaw, tomatoes, pineapple and liquid condiments such as mustard, ketchup, garlic sauce, chili sauce and chadon beni (culantro) sauce. The best place is to get it is at Maracas Beach, thank me later. 😋
- Gyros are everywhere, a testament to the Arabic influence.
- Souse is made from pig, cow or chicken feet and seasoned with onion, garlic, salt, pimento, scotch bonnet peppers, lemon and chadon beni. It is served warm (mostly) or slightly chilled (room temperature).
- Hit up the soup vendor. If (s)he has corn soup, buy it. 😋
- Chow is made with fruit, salt, pepper and various spices, most notably chadon beni, but the fruit is really the star of the show. Chow can be made with otaheite apples (pomerac), unripe mangoes, june plum (pommecythere) and pineapples.
- You must have a snow-cone from a vendor around the Savannah. It’s sooo refreshing! Once you’re not lactose-intolerant or anything, pay the TT$2 extra for one with milk added.
You know the country must have more than street food, right? The street food got me very excited, but let’s sit and continue eating our way through Trinidad.
- Pelau, a popular rice dish
- Macaroni pie
- Corn pie, made with cornmeal and evaporated milk among other things.
- Callaloo is a side dish (nothing like what we call callaloo in Jamaica!) made of young dasheen leaves, okra, crab or pigtails, pumpkin, onions, coconut milk, pimento and spices like of course chadon beni. Callaloo is often served with cornmeal coo coo, plantain, cassava, sweet potatoes, dumplings or rice. NB- There are no callaloo leaves in Trini’s callaloo y’all!
- Curried duck is popular and served with roti or rice. Local curried duck cooking competitions are often held with multiple variations being created.
- On that note, roti is common everywhere and the two varieties are buss up shot (flaky shredded roti, like a busted up shirt? lol) and dhalpuri. Roti is commonly eaten with curry.
- Pastelles, but this is more homemade and usually just at Christmas. The dough is cornmeal, the filling usually beef and is cooked inside a banana leaf. It’s like the savoury cousin of Jamaican “blue drawers.”
- Have a Carib beer and for true beer-lovers, a Stag, the stronger of the two Trini local lagers.
- Sorrel (in Jamaica we add ginger while Trinis add cloves, an interesting difference). Also, do try a Carib sorrel shandy (but Jamaican Red Stripe sorrel beer is killing the competition).
- Ponche de creme, a Trini version of eggnog with rum added and drunk at Christmastime. This was amazing!
- Mauby, a bitter drink made from the mauby bark which not even the strongest sweetener can mask. Everything else mentioned above is lovely but this one is an acquired taste I didn’t spend any time trying to acquire. In fact, I take it back. Don’t try this one or you’ll wind up becoming the amusement of Trinidadians who will laugh at you then staunchly defend their drink.
What to See & Do
Trinidad’s terrain is a mixture of rugged mountains and wide plains which lead to beautiful beaches. The Northern Range runs parallel with the north coast, and contains the country’s highest peak, El Cerro del Aripo, which is 940 metres (3,080 ft) above sea level. The rest of the island is generally flatter. The east coast is noted for its beaches, most notably Manzanilla Beach, a hatch site for the leather-back turtle. Trinidad and Tobago lies on the continental shelf of South America, and is believed to have been physically connected to the South American mainland centuries ago. Thus, its biological diversity is unlike that of most other Caribbean islands, and has much more in common with that of Venezuela, giving rise to ocelots, deer, capuchin and red howler monkeys, the caiman, iguanas and geckos. With a tropical maritime climate, the main ecosystems are: coastal (coral reefs, mangrove swamps, open ocean and seagrass beds), forest, freshwater (rivers and streams), karst, secondary forest and savanna.
Here are some sights worth seeing:
- Spend a day exploring the capital Port-of-Spain on foot. Visit the:
- Emperor Valley Zoo and feed the giraffes!
- Royal Botanic Gardens and admire the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers. Have a snowcone too.
- Queen’s Park Savannah, or just di Savannah for short. Visit just after sundown and eat all the food you can! Of course, the savannah will look different during Carnival season but I’m sure revellers eat too so the food may be even more abundant than during my December trip.
- National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA) and admire the architectural masterpiece.
- Memorial Park and have a moment of silence for the fallen Trinidadian soldiers who fought in the World Wars.
- National Museum and Art Gallery of T&T
- Maracas Beach, Trinidad’s most popular beach with the best bake and shark in the island. Maracas is beautiful but it’s commercialized and crowded.
Some other great beaches worth checking out include the Las Cuevas, Blanchisseuse, Manzanilla, Quinam and Macqueripe Beaches.
- Hike to their highest point: El Cerro del Aripo.
- Visit the Pitch Lake, the world’s largest naturally occurring deposit of asphalt.
- Visit a mud volcano. There are about a dozen to choose from, mainly in the interior and southern end of the island.
- Their waterfalls! I don’t think Trinidad has any commercialized waterfalls the way we do in Jamaica, so most if not all require a bit of hiking with a lovely reward at the end. Check out Turure Water Steps, Paria, Rio Seco, Avocat and Argyle Falls.
- Learn more about the country’s Amerindian history at the Cleaver Woods Park in Arima.
- Take a boat tour of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, especially near sunset, and admire the National Bird of Trinidad and Tobago, the magnificent scarlet ibis, in its natural habitat.
- Visit the Yerette Hummingbird Sanctuary and get a chance to view 13 of their 17 native hummingbird species. Did you know Trinidad is called the Land of the Hummingbird?
- Hit up the malls and amusement parks! I was pretty impressed. For such a small country, they have humongous plazas and malls bearing nearly every single American fast food franchise you can think of. The two I checked out were Cinnabon for their delicious cinnamon rolls and of course Haagen Dazs for their icecream since we have neither of the two franchises in Jamaica. My favourite mall was Trincity. You could literally spend an entire day there and not get bored.
There you have it, the best of the twin island republic summed up into one post minus Carnival and its history, and of course Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of Carnival so I’d love to play Mas here one day and experience the fetes and competitions which make Trini Carnival unique. Hopefully I can have time to check out Tobago on that trip along with a few other new sights in Trinidad. If you’re playing Mas this year, I hope you caught this post in time. Let me know which foods and sights are your favourites in the comments.
Thanks for reading. ‘Til next time.
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