OK, so there is a beach or two... here I am at Maracas Bay
My maternal 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's main income is not through tourism. The main export of oil and tar made this tropical land full of smoking industrial plants and a capital full of high rises, 5 star business hotels and golf courses.
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. It has strong undercurrents that have caught many Trini's and tourists by surprise, so is not the usual peace and tranquillity of a beach in paradise.
Trinidad has a unique heritage, which I have inherited through my parentage.
The island boasts are 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, fun, cricket and of course, food.
One of my earliest and happiest memories from childhood is watching my Trinidadian grandmother cooking, in their wooden house on stilts, in a tropical countryside. These were times before they had electricity, running water and an indoor flushing loo!
Food was based on either what they had growing around the house – cassava, carrots, peas – whatever was in season; or walking on their land – chickens, goats, pigs.
With an increasing awareness of food seasonality, origins, eco footprint, organic, sustainability, veganism; I feel that now is a great time to relate my experiences from 30(+) years ago. A time where all of these concerns were not issues, because you just ate what you grew, what was in season, cheap and didn’t need refrigerating.
My gorgeous Grandma and I
Coconut water, avocado’s, lentils, goat, sweet potato and chick peas have been part of the every day diet in Trinidad for hundreds of years, but the traditional dishes have not made it over to mainstream cuisine in the UK, despite thousands of Trini people making that journey themselves.
I want to bring traditional, Trinidadian, home-cooking to food lovers in the UK. To share the subtle – and not so subtle! - range of flavours from the simplest (and sometimes cheapest) ingredients. Food that is flavoursome, fresh, nutritious and comforting.
Tasty stews. Vegan dips and breads. Vibrant salads and salsas. Hot and not so hot curries. Marinated grilled meats. There is something for everyone.
With influences from South America, India, Sri Lanka, Spain, France, China – Trinidadian food is the ultimate in ‘fusion’ .
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. There’s something very evocative about the magic of the smells and conjuring up delicious food from exotic ingredients.
My experiences are based on watching her while sitting in the doorway of a kitchen in a wooden house on stilts. I’d watch hummingbirds hovering so tiny and delicate, while they sipped nectar from a powder puff tree as the dawn sun rose over the lush, green vegetation. Grandma would bekneading a dough for roti, rolling it into squidgy white balls, which she’d flatten and cook on a tawa , catching the edges in the flame, till they puffed up like a rugby ball.
Grandma would sing her gospel songs while she worked swatting flies away with one hand while still turning the hot roti on the tawa with the other.
She would then stack them up in a cloth, ready for whichever passing Aunt or Uncle of mine [of which there were seven] to grab a couple with some pumpkin choka for breakfast or wrap them up to take for lunch.
Later, when everyone had gone to catch their ‘maxi taxi’ 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.
Some vegan delights! Pumpkin, chickpeas and roti
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 , albeit a little chipped which only added to it’s charm.
ingredients for making meat pastelles
charity event at my local pub
the finished pastelles
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’dflag down the fish man who drove passed to check out his catch. Vegetables and provisions 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 . 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 Den’s Roti Shop with you.
When the British abolished slavery in 1800 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.
Our events will be supper club pop-ups in venues across South East London.
There is a fixed price menu for a three course meal with a tropical cocktail (non –boozey options too) to get the party started.
The vibe will be laid back, communal eating, with sharing plates, chutneys and salads to compliment the dishes.
Oh yes, and there will be rum.
Lots of rum.
Did I mention the rum?
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