Now that we’re back in St. Thomas, I’m once again disdainful of folks on cruise ships. (Of course not our friends and relatives. Or yours. Or you, if you’ve enjoyed a cruise ship.) Some of us sail just because we love to sail, but most of us sail as a way to visit new places, close to home or far away. EW and I have always enjoyed meeting new people and having new experiences – from a hike on a remote, uninhabited Maine island, to snorkeling among the sculptures in Grenada, to taking the Taste of Trini Tour in Trinidad. Only one of those opportunities (snorkeling in the Grenada sculpture park) would be available to people from a Cruise Ship. And we rarely have to stand in line to join a tour.
We had read about the Taste of Trini tour before we visited Trinidad, and we were encouraged to take the tour by the many cruisers who have enjoyed the adventure. Only one seemed a bit put off by it. “If you like sitting on a bus most of the day, eating off paper plates with strangers, I guess it’s OK.” We were not deterred and delighted with this choice of our one adventure while hauled out in Trinidad. (We know there are many other places to visit and tours to take in Trini and fully intend to do so when we return there.)
The premier cruisers’ tour guide and taxi service of Trinidad is owned by Jesse James. He’s smart, an excellent business man, entertaining, and very proud of his country. About six years ago, one of the cruisers suggested he put together a drive around the island incorporating as many of the different Trinidadian foods as possible. Jesse liked the sound of that, and the idea really took hold when he was on vacation in Canada that year. He, his wife and daughter visited the north in the autumn and one of their stops was at an apple orchard. Jesse had never seen an apple tree, and certainly not one laden with bright red ripe apples. His wife snapped photos as Jesse picked and ate a crisp, juicy, tart apple. “Man, that was something,” said Jesse with a big grin. “I thought of al the wonderful foods we have here in Trinidad that you folks would love to try like that and knew this was a good idea.”
Jesse picked us up at the entrance to the Peake yard, and we boarded a lovely air conditioned bus to join eight other sailors for the day. It was a marvelous, international group, with folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, and Scotland. Jesse drove while he talked glowingly of his native country. Trinidad is more multicultural than most other Caribbean islands. According to the Best of Trinidad website,
In 2000, there were approximately 1.3 million people in Trinidad, the majority of whom (80%) had roots that could be traced back to Africa (40%) and India (40%). The remaining 20% was primarily made up of people with roots in England, China, Portugal, Syria, and Lebanon.
Everyone has contributed something to the island’s cuisine. Trinidad’s soil is almost as fertile as Grenada’s so locally grown fruits and vegetables are plentiful and excellent quality, and those plants introduced to Trinidad long ago, such as mangoes, breadfruit, and brazil nuts, have flourished.
Jesse told us that cruise ship passengers never get to do this tour because the folks on the cruise ship won’t book tours with stops. They want the bus drivers to take passengers to one location for fun in the sun and return them to the ship. Of course, cruise ship passengers could arrange for their own tours, but most don’t. This is why we sail.
This day was about eating. We had been told by other cruisers to have no breakfast, but EW and I settled for a tangerine each as we were up and active more than two hours from the start of the trip. Announcements on the cruisers’ net had started an informal competition for each trip regarding the numbers of different foods devoured, so a count was kept by three of us. Jesse’s rules are that every food must have been made in Trinidad and he prefers that the major ingredients are from here. Nutmeg ice cream tops strawberry ice cream even if both are made locally. Peanut juice is allowed, even though the peanuts are imported. OK? Here we go:
1. Salt fish - 2. Smoked Herring –3. Bake “Fish and Bake” are traditional breakfast foods for many of the islands. Salt fish is a staple here. The bake part is a soft bun, slightly yellow in color.
(By the way, we didn’t eat a whole serving of anything. Jesse purchases generally one serving of each item and portions it out on each plate. While we ate a lot of food, this was manageable for most of us. I certainly ate my share all day long.)
4. Cane syrup or juice. Made from sugar cane, of course. Sweet and cold. Delicious.
And then we stopped for “breakfast”, the previous morsels were called “pre-breakfast”.
5. Sada Roti Skin (one of the many types of roti – an Indian flat bread) – 6. Curry pumpkin – 7. Curry Boti (green beans – very, very long green beans – cut up) – 8. Roast tomato (choka – the Indian word for “roasted vegetables) - 9. Roast Eggplant This was delicious and you can see the portions are small. That’s good because there was a lot more food before the real lunch.
10. Cow Heel Soup. Yep. Other islands call it “cow foot soup” and yes, they mean it. This is one of those foods other cruisers like to warn you about, just because it sounds so disgusting. It’s actually tasty. The “heel” part is that stuff they make gelatin from – and it looks like it. The texture is about what you’d expect. Jesse made sure that everyone got a bit of what one of our team called “the slimy stuff”.
11. Beef pies. The patties from Jamaica have made it to Trini, where they’ve made them their very own and very tasty. At right, Jesse is portioning out a large number of beef pies. He hadn’t eaten until this point and had one for breakfast.
12. Sapodilla a fruit
13. Portugal Tangerine – we bought those often while in Trini. Best tangerines I’ve ever had
14. Corali I’m not sure what this is. Sorry.
15. Potato pie – sort of like mac and cheese but with potatoes.
16. I missed this one. Called it Pig Tail in my notes, but know that occurred later. It was meat. Remember, this was all “pre-lunch” and things were running together a bit. Plus we cruisers were all talking a lot and getting to know each other – and asking Jesse questions – and laughing – and generally having an excellent time.
17. Chicken Palau with 18. Rice
19. Chow mein
20. Cassava pie. The Cassava is a starch fruit – they make bread and crackers with it. In St. Thomas I’ve found a gluten free, cracker made of Cassava. The pie had more taste.
22. Stewed pork
23. Callaloo This is a staple green, particularly in Grenada and Trinidad. It is very tough and must be cooked for a half hour, so it is not like spinach, but it is very nutritious and tasty. We’ve had callaloo fritters, soup, and other treats. In St. Thomas, the one local foods restaurant we’ve found uses spinach, proving St. Thomas is now a Caribbean wannabe. The greens in the middle are raw callaloo.
24 – 25 Two types of bananas. You have no idea how many types of bananas exist – and I’m not talking plantains, but bananas. There are some bananas that are only palatable when cooked. These two were smaller bananas, and very sweet. One was called a “chicatoe” or “small toe”.
26. Doubles! I love doubles. There was a roadside stand in Grenada that offered them but we hadn’t been able to get there when she was open this year. Doubles are a true Trini dish, so I looked for them whenever we left the yard in Trini, and we had them twice outside of this tour. Jesse introduced us to the best doubles on the island. Doubles are stewed chick peas, with a spicy/sweet sauce, served in a roti skin, generally served on wax paper. This stand had puffy skins, yellow with “saffron” (That’s what they call the turmeric root in the islands. It is an acceptable substitute.) These doubles were spicy and wonderful, and like all good doubles, very messy. I loved that this stand had a full sink next to the parking lot so we could clean up after indulging. Note, the appropriate way to eat doubles is to stand up and bend over, so less of the juice reaches your person. It’s worth it.
28. Eggplant Kitchorie – 29. Peas Kitchorie both are Trinidad’s answer to Peas ‘n Rice. Every island from the Bahamas on down has a vegetarian beans and rice dish. These were delicious.
30. Brazil nut – More about that in an upcoming post.
And finally – after all that – we stopped for lunch. We’d had what Jesse charmingly calls a “pee break”, when he had stopped at a local take out restaurant and loaded up for lunch. When we had stopped for the fruit, he had purchased a lovely, fresh pineapple, which will be featured later. Once he decided we were well-provisioned, he took us to a national park/beach, complete with dogs, families swimming, facilities, and picnic tables. Jesse let us know that, “As of this point we have not been eating, we have been tasting.” Wow. I certainly felt as if I had been eating. For lunch we had:
31. Roti - 32. Bust up – 33. Curried Goat – 34. Curried Chicken – 35. Chicken Gizzards – 36. Curried beef – 37. Curried mango 38. peanut punch – 39. sorrel juice – 40. Passion fruit juice – 41. Black balls (Toolum) – 42. Green balls (Paw Paw Balls ) – 43. Suger Cake with large pieces of coconut. OK – A “roti skin” is the bread like thing, a “roti” is that skin filled with curried something – from all veg, to chicken, shrimp, fish, beef – whatever. A “Bust up” is when they serve a different kind of flaky roti skin next to the roti filling, instead of wrapped around it. In the Caribbean, locals always prefer “bone in” rotis but most establishments make them without the bone for us picky white folk. It takes practice to eat a bone in chicken roti on the fly. Curried mango is to die for. The balls were basically fruit and sugar, so of course they were delicious. The tart which came later that uses grated coconut.
Down the road from the beach, we stopped for 44. fresh watermelon. EW and I were delighted with the relaxed salesman. We were even more delighted with the sweet, just off the vine watermelon. I’ve never had better. Let’s take a break in the narrative – just as we did for lunch on the beach.
This boat was anchored in the surf. It pulled hard on the anchor but stayed off the beach.
These ladies were fishing for these tiny crustaceans, called Chip Chip. Jesse said they are a delicacy but very labor intensive. “They are never served in restaurants. Only homes. They are a labor of love.”
The real lunch.
Black balls and green balls are aptly named. Paw paw is papaya, of course.
After the watermelon, there was a short break from eating, as Jesse drove us first south and then west back across the island. He stopped where a river emptied into the Atlantic ocean, and told us about Trinidad’s history, agriculture, and a few policies he didn’t like. He’s dismayed by how rapidly Trinidad has grown, by how many fertile fields lay unused, and by how many of the young people prefer Kentucky Fried Chicken to chicken roti. There seems to be a million Kentucky Fried Chicken locations in Trinidad and that country has the record for the biggest sales day at one of the stores. Ugh.
Seemingly to remind us that we were still in a mostly rural country with ways not like ours, someone pointed out that we had passed an opportunity to purchase armadillo. Jesse backed up to where a few men had killed, skinned, and cleaned a number of armadillos and had hung them on display. It was armadillo season in Trinidad. We did not partake.
Just as we were getting sleepy – Jesse pulled into a bakery for an afternoon sugar boost. From there we had:
45. Bread pudding - 46. Spicy something – 47. pear something – 48. Rock Cake - 49. Sweetbread - 50. Coconut Tart - 51. Bal something, which is Coconut Tart with Food Coloring. Honestly I tried everything but this was a lot of sweets to consume at once. I was flagging, and my already iffy penmanship was even more wobbly.
With that he said, “Time for beer, now! Time to change your flavors to get ready for dinner.” EW chuckled, and the other men on board perked up. Karal looked a bit stunned. “It’s not like I want a beer. It’s too filling.” I replied, “Sure now you worry about carbs?” We cracked ourselves up. This stop at a water park with a bar also included a “pee break”. This is the only place we spent money as Jesse doesn’t buy the alcohol. Folks had beers and mixed drinks, did their business, and got back on the bus, ready for pre-dinner.
Jesse’s idea of pre-dinner was more sweets in the form of 52 Goolab Jamoon - 53. milk fudge – 54. Barfi EW proclaimed Barfi, a type of Indian fudge to be a “good thing”, he also liked the coconut tart from above so much that he requested it for his birthday treat.
Now we entered an area of plantations, particularly cocoa plantations. Jesse looked furtive, and said that he’d need some look-outs up ahead as he was going to pull in to the edge of a plantation and “steal” some cocoa pods for us. Jesse is very, very proud of the cocoa grown in Trinidad and considers it to be the best – mainly because the Mr. Mars – of the candy company – once visited on a large yacht. Jesse was tasked with taking his group on a tour and found out that Mr. Mars was thrilled to be in Trinidad. Evidently years ago there was an insect or blight threat to the world’s cocoa plants and the university in Trinidad saved the industry. Mr. Mars believed the cocoa from Trinidad was the best available. No offense to Mr. Mars or Jesse, but if Mr. Ghirardelli were to say that, I’d be more impressed. Having made that slightly snarky comment -- we all know how I feel about Mr. Mars' Dark Chocolate Peanut M & M's.
Jesse, really wasn’t stealing – and that was good because we made lousy look-outs. Jesse’s uncle is the caretaker for the plantation we visited, and Jesse actually gave him an accounting of the items we had “purloined”. On the plantation we ate: 55. Grapefruit – 56. King Oranges – 57. Cocoa Pods Like the watermelon and tangerines, this is the best grapefruit I’ve ever had. EW and I enjoyed them much better than the oranges, which were good. EW tried the orange after having half a grapefruit. “That’s good, but it’s no grapefruit.” Seemed funny at the time. We were gifted with two of the grapefruit in case we ever wanted to eat again after that day.
Jesse stopped a couple of times to show us the view as we headed north back to the city of Chagauramas. There, he stopped at a restaurant to pick up dinner:
58. Barbequed Pig Tail - Other cruisers had gleefully mentioned cow heel soup and this pig tail, trying to scare us, I guess. It’s pork. Cleaned and cooked, with a bit of bone and gristle. Not my favorite but not disgusting. 59 – Green Fig Salad – 60. Jerk Chicken – 61. Jerk Pork – 62. Grilled Fish – 63. Plantain – 64. Festive Rice
Jesse likes to finish the day with ice cream and prefers one shop that uses only local ingredients. She was closed – too bad because we love nutmeg ice cream – but we enjoyed the locally made 65. 6strawberry ice cream he found to substitute.
For the life of me, I can’t remember where we ate 66. Pineapple a la Jesse While we had been partaking of the luncheon main course smorgasbord on the beach, Jesse peeled and cut up the pineapple, adding salt, chives, and cut up hot pepper, and lime juice.. He put it in a plastic container, shook it occasionally, and let it sit for a while. At some point, he served it. I loved it. Others thought he had ruined a good pineapple. It was a good reminder that folks learn to make savory and sweet dishes out of most fruits and vegetables down here. I would serve it as a side to a local dish.
And that was it. A previous trip had achieved 67 items, the trip immediately after ours bargained with Jesse to reach over 70. They asked him to purchase smaller portions and more variety. I was delighted with our trip and certainly didn’t feel cheated in any fashion.
So – here’s a question for you. If you had to come up with a Taste of (insert your state/province region here) what would you offer and how many food items could you come up with? Think locally, now.
If you made it all through this incredibly long post, I salute you. I thought about breaking it up into two, or even three posts, but decided that if I had to eat all of that in one day, you had to read it in one day. Now you know why I’m dieting in St. Thomas.
Finally: Books. If you want to cook some of this food for yourself, do what I did. When in Trini we purchased the Naparima Girls' High School Cookbook. My friend, Diana, had told me about it. And remember - if you like this blog and haven't read the book -- it's available on ebay for less than three dollars! Harts at Sea - Sailing to Windward.