Welcome to the tastes of Trini Flamingo

One of my earliest and happiest memories from childhood is watching my grandmother cook. I’m sure many of you could say the same, too. I would watch her whilst sitting in the kitchen doorway of a wooden house on stilts.

Even now I can smell the exciting aromas as she conjured up delicious food from vegetables, pulses and flours, which back then, weren’t readily available in 1970’s South East London .

Exotic ingredients like coriander [called chadon beni in Trinidad], scotch bonnet peppers, avocado and coconut water were, when in season, bountiful and enormous.

My Gma and I

At dawn, I’d sit on the verandah and watch hummingbirds hovering so tiny and delicate, sipping nectar from a powder puff tree[1] as the sun rose over the lush, green vegetation. Grandma would be kneading a dough to make roti [flatbread], rolling it in her hands making squidgy white balls, which she’d flatten and cook on a tawa[2] catching the edges in the flame which made them puff up like a ball.

Grandma would be singing her gospel songs while she worked swatting flies away with a tea towel in one hand while still turning the hot roti on the tawa with the other.

They’d be stacked up in a cloth to keep warm, ready for whichever passing Aunt or Uncle of mine to grab a couple with some pumpkin choka[3] for breakfast and wrap up extras to take for lunch.

Later, when everyone had gone to catch their ‘maxi taxi’[4] to work in San Fernando or Port of Spain, Grandpa would come back from working in the forest since the early hours. He’d sit on the steps outside the kitchen, smelling of charcoal and hard work. Grandma would pass him a hot instant coffee made with condensed milk and some pumpkin and roti, both in those wonderful white, blue rimmed enamel coated crockery[5], albeit a little chipped which only added to it’s charm.

And with breakfast over, it was time to start preparing lunch and dinner.

There was no supermarket. Meat was never from a polysterene  tray covered in cling film.

Either Grandpa would kill a goat, or pig or Grandma would catch a chicken. Once a week she’d flag down the fish man who drove passed to check out his catch. Vegetables and provisions[6] were picked or dug from the land. A hypnotic concoction of herbs and spices would then transform everything into a curry or stew or fried dish of yumminess served with rice and more roti. 

Then the whole process would begin again the next day.

I was a million miles away from London. I was eating avocado, chick peas and sweet potato long before it was fashionable here[7]. Coconut water featured more than coca cola (or ‘sweet drink’ as it was called there) and I ate tiny sweet pink bananas which they called figs.

Looking back, it was such a privilege and I must thank my more than remarkable mother, for enabling me to have these life experiences. Good times. I was probably only all of five and it’s still so vivid to me.

So this style of food and cooking takes me to my happy place. Carefree, innocent, untroubled by the world around me. Safe and secure, warm and content.

This is why I want to share it with you.

About Trinidad

My maternal[8] Grandparents lived in Trinidad, West Indies. The not so Caribbean of the Caribbean islands. While the name invokes images of idyllic turquoise waters and white sandy, palm tree edged beaches, Trinidad could not be much farther from that. The main export of oil and tar made this tropical land full of smoking industrial plants and a capital full of high rises, five star business hotels and golf courses.

Ok, well there are some idyllic beaches… this is Maracas Bay in the north of the island

On the east coast, there are some white sandy beaches, but the roads are not well made or sign posted, as there is no money to be made in that direction.

The north coast holds an eco-system that once sustained coffee and cocoa plantations in its’ volcanic hills and a stunning beach called Maracas – more renowned for drowning Trini’s[9]  than the usual peace and tranquillity of a beach in paradise.

Trinidad has a unique heritage, which I have inherited.

Positives and negatives, challenges and successes. The richest rich and the poorest poor. A survival instinct borne out of necessity to strive for bigger, better, best.  And underneath all of the dichotomies of life, a strong beating heart of family, food, limin’[10] and of course, cricket.

The original fusion destination

When the British abolished slavery in 1800[11] they invited Empire countries to populate Trinidad. People risked everything travelling from India and China to create a new life for themselves in a far away land.

Of course, they brought their traditions and customs along with their food. Everyone celebrates Diwali, Eid and Christmas no matter if they are Hindi, Muslim, Christian or none of the above. This is most apparent in the food, and for me the best bit, is, of course, the food.

Where else can you go to a local food hut *café* and order macaroni pie, goat curry and chow mein? Actually, in Mauritius – but I’ll pretend I didn’t know that for a bit. 

[1] It’s not really a powder puff tree, but that’s what we called it!

[2] Flat circular iron plate – a bit like something you’d cook drop scones in – not that I have ever cooked drop scones 😊

[3] Yummy dish of stewed pumpkin cooked with onion, garlic and maybe a bit of hot sauce which the roti would be torn off and dipped in as you may hummus and pitta

[4] A people carrier that was a taxi cum bus, which you could hail virtually anywhere and if you could squish in and had the money, was your commuting vehicle. Health and safety ‘kin nightmare as well as hell on earth if you have personal space issues.

[5] As a touch of nostalgia, I bought some in a shop I found in Angel, Islington to use at work and people wondered why I’d bought camping stuff!?!

[6] Provisions include the starchy foods like yam, cassava, edoes and sweet potatoes

[7] I am, like, really old, I’m talking 40+ years ago *gasp in horror*

[8] and paternal for that matter, but I don’t recall meeting them as I was a babe in arms

[9] Local name for the locals, by the locals

[10] “Limin’” is hanging out with your friends, having a good time, relaxing, a bit like a Caribbean equivalent of the Danish ‘hygge’

[11] Need to look this up as I have no frigging idea exactly