Growing up in London within a vivid mixed Caribbean family I often assumed the cultures and norms from country to country were all a singular entity shared across the board 'back home'. For the broken families who came to the UK, including travellers of the Windrush generation, it was quite commonplace that they bonded and merged. Many of the people who they encountered in Britain perceived them as the same in any regard.
Through this, although there was a shared pride of a collective Caribbean heritage, the people hailing from countries like Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago all sought to preserve, celebrate and demonstrate their respective cultures in this often grey and rainy new home.
As I became older, I started to realise how stark the differences between the sub-regions were. Reggae and dancehall at Bashment parties were very much a bastion of Jamaican culture, while at my Trini family affairs and fetes you were more likely to hear calypso, soca and chutney. When it came to food, this held just as true. Jamaican go-tos like jerk chicken and patties were an afterthought for the Trinidadians, who instead preferred local delicacies like roti and hot doubles.
Having spent extended periods living in both Jamaica and Trinidad in recent years, the differences between the two countries have become increasingly apparent. The Caribbean is comprised of a wealth of cultures, running from descendants of West African slaves to indentured Indian and Chinese peoples. Their legacies all shine through today. What’s amazing about Trinidad is not just this mix, but how people have adopted, celebrated and reimagined other cultures. From the south of Trinidad in Moruga up to the capital of Port of Spain, across its many famous food corners, like Debe and San Fernando, you’ll see Afro-Caribbeans running Indian-style roti shops and Indo-Caribbeans running barbecue and fried chicken shops, with Chinese food sprinkled across everyone’s menu. This is really just the lid of the theoretical melting pot that is Trinidad.
At Trini family affairs and fetes you were more likely to hear calypso, soca and chutney
I’m loath to give dining suggestions as there’s so much excitement involved in treading your own path. Not only that, but I’m a little biased by the fact that I believe everyone in the Caribbean is inherently an incredible cook. Whether you’re at the beach, in a taxi, at the hospital, at a funeral, or at work, food is almost always the discussion. That said, most countries in the world have their own famous dish commonly associated with a certain place or region. In Trinidad, said renowned spot is Maracas Bay, the site for the lauded staple of bake and shark, which is 100% a must-do if and when visiting Trinidad. Even if it means a trip over from Tobago.
Whilst you can get bake and shark (a fried fish sandwich of sorts) on pretty much any high street in Trinidad and neighbouring countries like Guyana, there’s absolutely no substitute for a road trip up and down the northern range. Driving under the cover of mountainous canopies you eventually emerge onto a cliff-edged road where the beaming aqua-blue ocean runs parallel as you meander downhill toward Maracas Bay. Here, a long golden sand beach is lined with titan-tall tropical trees that cast shade on the numerous huts that have peddled the famous culinary duo of bake and shark for nearly half a decade.
Big names on campus like Richard’s and Vilma’s serve up the wondrous fried fish that nestles perfectly inside fluffy but subtly crisp fried bread, confusingly to some, called “bakes”. Expect a dizzying amount of self-served add-ins; from sliced pineapples and salads to hot sauces that range from harmless to hellfire, as well as cream or garlic mayonnaise to quell the flame.
There seems to be a growing rumour that, due to the cost of shark being so prohibitively expensive and the social and environmental stigmas around fishing it, many vendors are now using alternatives such as catfish. At some point, depending on who you are travelling with, a cold brew or rum and coconut water will be foisted upon you no matter how much you protest, and day will swiftly evaporate into night. Here, you’ll find yourself ‘liming’, a sort of art form of socialising in Trinbago.
You don’t necessarily need to move much (you may struggle to do so if you’ve eaten your fair share of bake and shark), but you can still expect to have a raucous time into the twilight hours of the morning. Here, Caribbean magic is best experienced. It’s a place where food and drink, work and play, and night and day all blend beautifully.