Today, November 14, is Divali, one of the biggest Hindu festivals celebrated in many countries across the world.
In T&T, in the week leading up to Divali, the largest celebration outside of India is said to be held at the Divali Nagar.
Many Hindus prayed, fasted, cleaned and painted their homes leading up to the festival of Divali. Citizens joined their Hindu brothers and sisters in lighting deyas at their homes and communities during the festival of lights.
Divali's universal message of light over darkness was even more significant this year, with COVID-19 being the viral Rawan to be vanquished by mankind.
Hindu families dressed in their elegant Indian finery distributed delicious sweets such as kurma, barfi, mithai, gulab jamun and parsad on the joyous occasion to signify the importance of sharing and serving.
Yogurt made from scratch
In T&T, roti shops went into overdrive the night before Divali cooking traditional Indian fare such as roti, buss up shut, pumpkin, channa, bhagi, chataigne, potato, plus curry meats, while home cooks also put in their best efforts.
If you are an amateur chef or would like to indulge your passion making these savoury dishes, you can try your hand even though Divali 2020 has gone. And if you are also interested, you can indulge in some Christmas fare as the yuletide season is just around the corner. In both instances you can try Chef Jassie Singh's The Culinary Heritage of Trinbago: Our Seasonal and Traditional Foods cookbook.
Singh's book has over 380 recipes and more than 20 mouth-watering Christmas recipes from ham, turkey, pastelles, paime, stewed pigeon peas, black cake, sponge cake, jamoon wine, ginger beer, ponche de creme, and a section on cooking goat for Christmas is for you. Have you heard of a 'fat roti,' lai bheli, sattwa, chalta, long water aloo, Creole fried chicken, breadruit tarkari, and citrus candy? These are just some of the recipes in her new book from T&T's culinary cross-cultural past that many people do not know about today.
Some of the traditional meals are categorised by seasons such as Divali, Christmas, Carnival, Mango/Wedding, Guava and Lenten seasons, with an icon indicating vegetarian fare and links to accompanying food that goes together.
The book takes us on an educational and cultural journey of the influences of the First Peoples, Indians, Africans, Europeans, Syrian/Lebanese and Chinese to make what has become uniquely T&T cuisine.
Table laden with T&T Christmas food
Speaking to Guardian Media, Singh said "A major concern for me is that the book captures the food we all grew up with and I was happy to be able to collate all these recipes to ensure that we don't lose them.
"We cook for our children and grandchildren, we may be busy with our jobs and may not be able to cook for them, and they would like to have the food that their grandparents cooked for them.
"They have lost that culinary link with their foreparents and want to reestablish that link with the food that nourished their ancestors. The second and third generation Trinidadians in the new diaspora long for the food we grew up with."
The author of ‘Cooking with Ackee’ in collaboration with her nephew Dean Burrowes; and co-author of ‘Kunuwaton–the Culture and Cuisine of the First Peoples of Arima, Kairi’ with Dr Satnarine Balkaransingh said the book would not have come about in its present form if not for Dr Balkaransingh's suggestion to do a book on festival foods, which was his original concept. But all of the recipes are hers, with contributions from friends, family, colleagues and people she interacted with.
Singh thought it prudent to research online for what was available in what was the largest source of recipes anywhere. She said what she discovered was quite a revelation as there was so much misinformation about T&T's traditional foods disseminated online. Her mission was to correct as much of it as she possibly could, with the task made more urgent when some members of the younger T&T generation said their comfort food was pizza and lasagna. In contrast, Singh said her favourite comfort food was the local curry duck and dhalpuri.
She said what also motivated her to get the book done was the country's staggering food import bill which stood at $5.67 billion in 2019.
Singh said she was hoping the recipes contained in the cookbook can bring people back to home and hearth and to the popularity or a resurgence in the traditional T&T foods of our ancestors.
The Culinary Heritage of Trinbago: Our Seasonal and Traditional Foods cookbook will be available in local bookstores month-end and on Amazon.
Jassie Singh teaches cooking classes at her Arima home, was a guest tutor for the bread and cake making classes at YTEPP as well as the catering class, developed ten recipes for Fermipan International, the yeast Company from Holland, and instructed vegetarian menu planning and cooking at the Swaha Hindu College in Sangre Grande.