Trinidad’s Kitchens

Clients should get off the beaten path and try the Caribbean’s melting pot

By: David Swanson

Of all the Caribbean islands, perhaps none is prouder of its cooking than Trinidad and Tobago. For an exquisite dining experience on any budget, these sister islands offer a scrumptious selection of traditional delicacies. Although the country has some of the preparations found on neighboring islands, Trinidad celebrates its culinary heritage with home-grown dishes found nowhere else in the region.

The national dish, pelau, gives new meaning to the term “melting pot.” A stew of peas, rice and meat, simmered with coconut and pepper, pelau is a staple of island cooking. It’s served at home, taken to Maracas Bay for beach picnics, and prepared at some restaurants in Trinidad’s bustling capital, Port of Spain, including Veni Mangé, an establishment owned by television talk show host Allyson Hennessy and her sister Roses Hezekiah.

“Of course every Trinidadian thinks they’re the best maker of pelau,” said Hennessey. “But you could get 20 different people to cook it and it would come out 20 different ways no two are alike.”

Other indigenous dishes commonly prepared in Trinidad’s kitchens include oil down (pork or fish in reduced coconut milk); callaloo soup, a hearty concoction made from dasheen leaves; and roti, a pancake stuffed with stew or curry and sold by street vendors.

For down-home cooking, tell your clients to head to the Breakfast Shed, a Port of Spain institution located next to the cruise ship dock. Here, more than a dozen vendors under the same tin roof offer similar, simple menus, all of them made fresh on the premises, right down to the hot pepper condiments. Fish soup, smoked herring and “fry bake” (bread) are breakfast standards, while lunch offerings include stewed chicken, steamed fish and cow heel soup. The ambience is raw, but appealing; the food, delicious.

Recently, Port of Spain is increasingly home to restaurants that cater to an audience well beyond the typically cultured Trinidadian foreign embassy workers, government officials and others who use these places to entertain visitors (although fine-dining prices are well below those of other islands).

Gerard Mouille of Brittany first came to Trinidad with his wife in 1993 and loved it enough to move to the island, opening a brasserie three years ago on Ariapita Avenue, the city’s restaurant row. Today, A la Bastille is Trinidad’s leading French restaurant, and Mouille seems invigorated by the challenges his venture presents.

French cuisine also provides a platform for Khalid Mohammed’s hot new restaurant, Battimamzelle. The Trinidad native trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, then worked in restaurants there and in Florida for six years before returning home to develop his “contemporary Caribbean” cuisine.

“It was hard to think of local food as posh, as something that could be served in fine restaurants,” explained Mohammed. “But anything I do I go about it with a French technique. I think we’re in the budding stages of becoming a restaurant destination.”

Dining: Port of Spain and Suburbs

Coblentz Inn, Cascade

The name means dragonfly and, situated in an unassuming business hotel, this is the current star of the island’s restaurant scene.

Veni Mange
Ariapita Avenue
Port of Spain

Noted for its colorful local art, friendly welcome and a small but vibrant selection of Trinidad favorites. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner on Wednesday and Friday only.

A la Bastille
Ariapita Avenue
Port of Spain

Classic French with island accents: the carpaccio is prepared with local fish, then served with ginger, turmeric and a grapefruit vinaigrette. On Saturdays, the restaurant becomes a creperie. Inquire about live performances.

Breakfast Shed
Docks, Port of Spain

An island tradition, popular with the working crowd that swarms in for breakfast and lunch. The surroundings are Spartan but clean, the prices blue-collar cheap.

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