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For the Love of Meh Belly

Monday, May 14, 2012

When ah tell allyuh, I missed Trini food while in London. And I love to cook as much as I love to eat. So I missed not only the ready-made dishes and treats, but also our ingredients. I mean, yes, I could find pretty much anything I wanted over there that should have replaced the familiar with the new. Sushi. Dim sum. Thai. African. Mexican. You name it, that city has it. And yes, I enjoyed it all. But I missed my home food. My Trini food. There were several Caribbean restaurants as well, but they all centred on Jamaican cuisine. The few that were 100 per cent Trini were roti shops. These shops sometimes offered other treats from home, which I always enjoyed. But it was never enough. Never as good as being home. Never as good as having it on tap. I remember once feeling like I won the lottery when I was able to order a breadfruit via a Web site, along with green seasoning, pepper sauce, canned pigeon peas (gungo peas in the UK) and a tawa! Delivered to my door too. I opened the box like a kid at Christmas and couldn’t wait to prepare, cook and serve the oil down that Sunday. Then there was my shiny new tawa. 

You see, I’ve always been able to bubble ah pot. Stewed chicken. Callaloo. Pelau. Curry. Coo-coo. But then there were things that while in Trinidad, I purchased, because it was easier and these items were readily available. Doubles. Aloo pies. Corn soup. Shark and bake. Roti. I missed roti, and while I knew where I could get it, I felt that it was some watered-down, imported, been-around-the-world-in-80,000-days roti. I was inspired to try meh hand. Hence the tawa. On my first attempt, my paratha was a success. Coupled with my curry, perfection. I realised that once one is a good enough cook, he or she could really cook anything. One Christmas, I knew I had to try making pastelles. I grew up watching my grandmother, mother and aunt toil to make a few hundred every Christmas and knew that I could too. Albeit not a few hundred, but enough to keep my family happy and even introduce a few of my non-Trini friends to this festive delicacy. It worked – they were fabulous. Then came the ultimate test, one that I was determined to pass with flying colours. 
Doubles. The street food of choice here in T&T and one that I adored and missed dearly. Again, I emerged victorious. My doubles were a delight. I was extremely proud of my bara. I conquered aloo pies shortly after. My non-Trini friends not only enjoyed my Trini cooking, they came to expect it when they visited and were always curious of the spices I used and the overall method. Pelau, doubles and callaloo were landslide favourites. Now for me, Trini food isn’t only what I could cook to remind me of home; there were also the little things. Snacks for instance. I remember once walking into a Trini roti shop in east London, run by a rastafarian guy from Pleasantville, and seeing packs of Chee Zees in the glass case. Again, I had the lottery-winning feeling. I bought a few packs and hurried home to introduce them to my son. I laughed as I saw him crunching away in glee and soon his fingers and teeth were orange. Now that I am home, outings to the grocery are a sheer joy. I always say I am going for one thing and emerge with a few bags. I’m all about being as local as possible.  I see other shoppers going for the strawberries and houmous. Or the asparagus or the artichokes. These foreign items are just not interesting to me. Well, at least not yet. The novelty of being around home food is still there and I do not anticipate it wearing off any time soon.
Our cuisine is a representation of our history and the different tastes our forefathers brought with them. Over time, most have been creolised—Trinified even—to make them ours. The funny thing is, I am not cooking as often as I used to in London, which would be three to four times a week. It’s just so easy, now that I am home, to let someone else do the cooking. I suppose I will get back into cooking regularly. For now, I still get butterflies when I dig into some doubles or bite into a saucy beef roti. A Richard’s bake and shark is a mere 30 minutes away. I can get a good Sunday lunch any day of the week. I just hope I don’t overdo it and become a fatty. On that note, what’s for lunch?



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