Those heading to Trinidad's carnival are already anticipating the fetes and the carousing, the calypso tents and the pan yards, the masquerade and the music. J'ouvert beckons and the posse at the dam that's been religiously running at 5:30 on mornings had better hope their legs are in shape. Carnival veterans know there is another reason to make BWIA's "milkrun" if you weren't lucky to get on the straight flight. Those flying South for the first time, and those trying to buy tickets this week may discover the best reason of all to visit Trinidad.
The food. Yes, food. Like its rhythmic soca music, Trinidad's food is a sensual blend of many cultures. A mouth-watering melange of Amerindian, African, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and European flavors combine in recipes that offer a healthy variety of the most exotic food in the Caribbean. Carnival is as good a time as any to savor the many delights in food Trinidad has to offer. Food shacks ring the Savannah, where much of the bachannal takes place. Street vendors, all sanctioned by the board of health, offer a broad choice in one of the safest cities in the Caribbean to buy roadside food. Doubles, saucy, curried chick peas spread between two (thus the term "doubles") lightly flavoured breads called Barahs, is an Indian-influenced street food widely eaten as a lunch on the run. Look for aloo pies, katchowrie, sahina and pollouri, seasoned breads eaten with mango or tamarind sauces, and invariably, a dose of pepper sauce.
One of the most delicious and popular foods to be found everywhere is the Roti. A complete meal, roti consists of a delicate Indian flat bread filled with curried beef, chicken, goat, shrimp or vegetables. Curried potatoes and chick peas are added and the bread is folded over everything to creat a crepe. The bread, called Dhalpourri, is made of two flat thin layers of dough seasoned with ground split peas in the middle. Dhalpourri is still baked on iron rolling stones heated over coal pots. Other breads used with the curried meats, are the paratha, aloopourri and bus-up-shot.
Rotis are the cheapest complete meal you can buy, ideal for lunch or an informal dinner. Specialty roti shops do brisk business. In St. James, along the Western Main Road, and Back Chain Street in San Juan, you'll find what might be called "roti rows." The Hot Shoppe, near the Trinidad and Tobago T.V. station, and Monsoon on Tragerete Road are reliable and popular restaurants for roti lunches. A day at the beach should include fried shark and bake.
The deep fried roll and thick fish steak are doused with ever handy hot pepper sauce, and downed with a Carib beer. These hot sauces are usually mustard or oil based, and may contain or pawpaw, lime, onions and plenty of hot, yellow variety of pepper that grows all over the islands. On Tobago beaches ask for curry crab and dumpling if you want your palate to experience heaven.
Adventurous travelers may discover out-of-the -way and often unassuming places serving serious local food: Buljol, salted codfish, onions tomatoes and hot pepper, related to the Portugese dish bacalao; Coocoo, a dumpling of cornmeal and ocra; Callaloo, pureed ocra and spinach that taste very different from what Jamaicans call callaloo; and Peleau, rice and peas spiced with cinnamon, allspice and any number of secret ingredients such as coconut milk or red wine, depending on the cook. Corn Soup in Trinidad is found everywhere, and the competition ensures that not one is disappointing.
Where sugar is produced, sweet tooths are rampant. Jamaicans know about Tamarind balls, a wicked idea invented to confuse the tongue, and Tooloom, your Bustamante balls. But in Trinidad confectionaries get real exotic. Indian inspired sweets include Kurma, a sweet dough dropped in oil and fried until crisp. Then there is Jilebi, Ladoo, Maleeda and Sawaine.
Oysters are another roadside victual, feeding Trinidadians' belief in their aphrodisiac qualities. And while health codes now prevent vendors from selling the mollusks in their shell, oyster cocktails have become as popular as the oyster plate that once allowed the aficionado to suck themm out. The oysters are dressed in a sauce of hot pepper, tomato ketchup and vinegar. So those who visit Trinidad to preview Jamaica's carnival now have something else to practice besides wining and jamming. After all, any Trinidadian will tell you there is an art to eating.