It’s a known fact that food comforts the soul, and nothing is more heartwarming than eating freshly cooked food from the country of my birth—T&T. Living in a foreign country makes it more difficult to get the local herbs, seasonings and essential ingredients that are typically used in Trinbagonian cuisine.
Although I live in New York City, Saturday is still a day for the traditional one-pot meals that I grew up eating—a fully loaded chicken soup with provisions, dumplings and seasonings or a nice, hearty pot of chicken pelau. Fortunately, I live in a multi-ethnic city so local ingredients are easy to find.
Liberty Avenue is my go-to stop for all my Caribbean ingredients and essentials to cook traditional Trinbagonian food. It offers me a similar vibe to that of Chaguanas Main Road, so I feel right at home. I get hot peppers, pimentos, bandania/chandon beni (the Spanish stores have it as “recao” and “culantro,” the Chinese call it “ngo gai” and the Thai call it “sawtooth coriander.”) I also get dasheen bush (bhagi), breadfruit, chataigne (breadnut), and almost all the ingredients needed for traditional dishes. Once, I went into an Asian store and asked a worker if they had “carapoulay” leaves and “fever grass” and the guy looked totally perplexed. Luckily, I knew the other names for it—curry leaves and lemongrass, so he was able to help me out. It is always great to learn all the names so that it is easier to find a seasoning or ingredient. In some cases, if ingredients are not available, there are various substitutions that can be used in place.
My first tip for finding local ingredients is to seek out the ethnic, Caribbean, Latin American, or Asian grocery or market in your city. Stay connected to other Trinbagonians around the world via social media and join food groups so you can interact with other Trinbagonians who live in your city.
Secondly, make Google your best friend. There are many online stores that sell local ingredients. If you are fortunate to be able to plant trees where you live, then buy the plants or seeds online or from your local nursery, and make your own Trini garden.
For my third and last tip, I suggest moving to a multicultural place that offers a variety of ingredients. I know it’s not really a “tip”, but it is the most convenient way. If you have the opportunity to control where you live, that’s your best bet. The ability to find Trinbagonian ingredients or to be able to grow my own ingredients will determine in which city I choose to live in the future (if I decide to move out of New York).
Food is the connection to my culture and family and it is everything that I am. It is my right to preserve it for future generations. No matter where I roam, T&T will always be my home.
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”- James Beard
Taste of Trini, @tasteoftrinbago