Why is Great Food So Hard to Find?

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Quick. List ten places, in Trinidad and Tobago, where you can find food that makes you want to forget your table manners, lick your fingers, and suck the juices from the bones on your plate.

Trinidad and Tobago has the best food in the Caribbean. Right? Ask any native, myself included, and that’s the boast you’ll hear. But within recent years, I’ve found myself disappointed with the food I buy, and hard-pressed to recite a long list of eateries that give you culinary orgasms.

“Girl too much people want to get rich fast and giving yuh ah set ah hurry food to eat.”

Maybe it’s because selling food is such a lucrative business that people focus more on quantity than quality. Maybe it’s because food joints realise that people are too busy to cook their own food, and will continue to buy whatever’s available, even if the quality has decreased. Maybe my friend Marsha is right, “Girl too much people want to get rich fast and giving yuh ah set ah hurry food to eat.”

Or…maybe it’s because some cooks can only make food ‘lash’ (South slang for taste good), if they’re cooking small portions. Bulk food means ‘buss’ food for them. Maybe it’s because some vendors are cooking for the tourists, and assume that they don’t know what well-seasoned food tastes like. Whatever it is, I’m more inclined to think about eating before I leave home, because I’m not assured of easily finding great food around ever corner I turn.

Remember back in the day, when most places sold ‘bess’ food? When you could easily list more than two places, within a reasonable distance, that made you salivate just thinking about what to order?

When last yuh eat a mouth-watering chinee food, roti or bar-b-que?

When last yuh eat a mouth-watering chinee food, roti or bar-b-que? Now, the fried rice is only browned, and you’re lucky if you get real carrots and other vegetables in it, or that it isn’t so soft that your granny can eat it with her dentures off.

Of course, there are some places where you can still find great food. Thank God, for people like Dubby at Carib Clippers Bar in Lopinot Junction, whose fried chicken often sells out by 8 p.m. on a Friday and Saturday night, La Romain bar-b-que (though that drive is a once-in-a-blue-moon adventure for me), or the lady, selling Creole food, on the corner of tenth avenue in Barataria.

But finding good…wait…great food is like going on an expedition. The other puzzling part is seeing some places filled to capacity, and you know that when you sampled the food, it tasted like mess. How could people be ‘nyammin’ it down so?

Some people, like my friend Kijana, think finding good food is even harder, if you’re more conscious about eating healthy. “More often than not you end up with a choice between unhealthy, unhealthier and unhealthiest,” he says.

Food is a subjective topic. What I think tastes bad may taste absolutely delicious to you. I’ve heard some people rave about Highway Roti, just off Solomon Hochoy Highway, and I’ve heard others say, “I doh know what’s the big deal. It doh taste so hot.”

I’ve found that some of the best food comes from someone who sells food from home, or a little ‘hole in de wall’ place.

One of my favourites was a Chinee man, operating next to the pet store on the Eastern Main Road in San Juan, opposite Republic Bank, who said he cooked with the hands of God. His supernatural abilities would have you waiting for at least 15 to 20 minutes for some fried rice, chicken, and mixed vegetables, while he talked…and talked…and talked. I’ve even waited 40 minutes, after ordering something that wasn’t on the usual menu.

Despite all the telepathic cusswords we sent his way, my co-workers and I would always say the wait was worth it. It didn’t matter that he operated from a “hole-in-de-wall” spot. Plus, you saw everything he was doing right in front of you, so you felt comfortable eating his food.

His dishes never needed soy sauce and ketchup. He didn’t even offer condiments. He cooked his food in a special sauce, and insisted on giving you his homemade pepper sauce, claiming it improved one’s sexual prowess (I told you he used to talk…and talk).

Sadly, he closed the spot back in 2009.

If we want to boast about having the best food in the Caribbean, I want to find great food almost everywhere.

I want to find more spots like this, but please don’t make me travel miles upon miles to find it. Don’t make me ‘buss’ my brain about what options I have. If we want to boast about having the best food in the Caribbean, I want to find great food almost everywhere.

Even Trinis who live abroad sometimes complain about not getting their food cravings met, when they come home.

“I’ve come to the realization that I am better off eating at home than eating out,” says Jenilee. “I remember missing a KFC cruncher so much that I would ask anyone coming up to bring me one. Now, most times I’m satisfied with a pack of kurma to eat while drinking my tea.

“The crave to eat out is gone. Mario’s pizza is no longer what it used to be…Long Tang and Chinese Wok are gone, the hole-in-the-wall burger place on Frederick street is gone…UWI doubles is no longer worth piling up in the van to go get. There are some places where the food is pretty good, though, for example, El Pecos.

“But it seems that Trinidad has moved away from local cuisine being the thing to have. Now it’s Wendy’s, or sushi, or breakfast at the Hyatt, as opposed to breakfast at the Breakfast Shed. I am more inclined to stay home, have my aunt make me some buljol and some piping hot fry bake, just the way I like it, and feel satisfied. And there is always Richards’ bake and something…dat eh shark…that still hits the spot.”

My friend Latoya feels the same way, and says, “It’s almost as if Trinis don’t like Trini food anymore.” Every time she wants to lime, people suggest the American-type restaurants, and she has to insist they find real Trini food – especially if she brings her American friends along for the ride.

Franka, a food connoisseur, and foodie blogger, in her own right, says: “I find the standard in some restaurants is very high, but there are lots of people opening restaurants that are long on glitz, but short on substance. The most affordable and best tasting food is surely at the ‘lower end’ of the market places. I had a few fantastic meals at the Breakfast Shed when I was at home last…But I have to admit that when I found things that I was craving they were usually less good than I expected. Case in point Guinness ice cream. I had been craving it and when I finally got it, it was too sweet and lacked any spice.”

See…it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve been surrounded by great cooks all of my life, so I know that my taste buds know the difference between great food, and food that’s only meant to stave off gas pains. I want to go out and have a wealth of options. Make me act greedy nah! It probably won’t help my waistline, but it won’t lead me to walk around, grimacing through gas pains, because I can’t stand the thought of spending my hard-earned money on dishes that obviously weren’t cooked with love.

I still believe that Trinidad and Tobago has some of the best food in the Caribbean – especially because of our multicultural makeup and adventurous approach to cooking. But tell me if you share my view. Do you think that the quality of food has decreased in the past few years? What are some of the places that still hit the spot for you?

 

Image courtesy Richard Jobity.

Karel Mc Intosh

Karel Mc Intosh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Outlish Magazine. She's also the Lead Communications Trainer at Livewired Group, where she conducts workshops in business writing, social media, and other communications areas. A real online junkie, when she isn't surfing the Internet, she's thinking about surfing the Internet. Find out more about her here or tweet her @outlishmagazine.

14 Comments

  1. Jacqueline

    May 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Shiann’s for excellent curry, dhalpuri, curry crab and dumpling… Her curry shrimp is amazing.

  2. Gayletrini

    May 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    I am not a foodie so I really can’t comment. I do think that Trinidad and Tobago still has the best food to offer! I still vividly remember the gyro I had over the Carnival on The Avenue. I hadn’t eaten one in years. For me I have to have a doubles and a bag of phoulourie when I come home and it really doesn’t matter from who.
    I think because I don’t get it I enjoy even the lame attempts at traditional food but that is just me.
    Loved this article well written and engaging as usual Karel

  3. Nicola Anne Williamson

    May 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    So true. When I was younger the roti skin was tasty, rolled out the perfect thinness,, made with pride. Now it’s this thick,commercial, rubbery stuff. There might be a generation of Trinis who never learn how good our food really can be.

  4. Q D Ross

    May 28, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    “Remember back in the day, when most places sold ‘bess’ food?”

    i would say yes. i remember when we used to cook food home most of the time and the only things we would spring for were places offering a level that we couldn’t achieve at home. like mungal’s roti. and early moonlighting bbq.

  5. Semoy Piggott

    May 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I remember growing up in ‘bago when there were virtually no fast food restaurants, and Mummy’s food was (and is still the best) the best. Her Sunday lunch has me drooling…her aweetbread and pone are out of this world delicious! The only thing we would drop money for was stuff we didnt do at home, like sno cone, but my godmother, my god sisters and I made our own mango, chenette, and pommecythere chow and our own chilli-bibbi/sam-sam…candy like paradise plum and strong man toffee, and maybe sugar cake we would buy at the parlour close to school. I can go on and on about what we made ourselves : fudge, ice cream, etc….now you people at Outlish have me reminiscing…*drools* :)

  6. Semoy Piggott

    May 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    *sweetbread

  7. Cassia

    May 28, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Sorry but I can’t relate to this post. Maybe because I am from south. I know where to find my lashing roti, chinese and bar be que. Jus had some lashing bar be que on SAturday evening and went to bed smiling. Sorry to say maybe its a north thing cuz wen I come to town is really rush food I find myself eating so I dont bother and go down to the waterfront and eat there. I dont want to waste money taking a chance buying form the food courts in POS, its quite disappointing.

  8. Tricika Beckles

    May 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    1) Home by mummy. 2) by granny. 3) by any Aunty/ or friends mummy also called aunty. I say yes to fry bake and acra. Coco and callaloo with fry fish

  9. Cheryl Metivier

    May 28, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Shainn’s – Corner Woodford St and Tragarete Rd….mmm mmm

  10. Q D Ross

    May 29, 2012 at 9:54 am

    “Sorry to say maybe its a north thing”

    nah. i think it’s a knowledge thing. what i would say north people do a lot is follow the “if plenty people there it good” theory, which is not very accurate. but there are a lot of good spots to eat around this side. living in aranguez though, i would say when it comes to taste and value for money, i set.

  11. Savi

    May 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Nice article Karel. You do have a point abut the taste factor in our food, it varies from one place to another.

    Also, when your friend Jenilee spoke of “kumar” I think she meant “kurma”, as the former is the name of a person while the latter is the Indian sweet we Trinis are familiar with. :)

  12. Hello World

    June 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    On the Kumar/Kurma thing, I’ve seen/heard both even on packaged products. Also, I’ve also seen both ANchar and AMchar on packages but know it as ANchar

  13. Cory Belfon

    June 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Test

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