Food in Trinidad and Tobago
Because of its diverse past, Trinidad and Tobago offers excellent and varied food options. The Indian roots in particular have produced some of the best dishes of any country in the world. If you cannot tolerate extremely hot and spicy food, you should tell the cook or waiter in advance.
Delicious rotis, Indian flatbreads filled with channa (chickpea curry), usually with meat and other ingredients (green beans, pumpkin, mangoes, etc.) are popular in Trinidad. There are several types of rotis in Trinidad: sada, which resembles pita or naan; dhalpouri, which is filled with ground yellow split peas; and buss up shut, a heartier bread with a silky texture. Cheap breakfasts of sada roti and “choka” – vegetables of all kinds – are available for around TT$3-4. But the most popular fast-food snack is the double. A famous place is the “GEORGE DOUBLES”, located in Woodbrook in front of the all-famous “Brooklyn Bar”. Doubles are curried chickpeas wrapped in two pieces of toasted bread and served with spices of your choice. It’s a roadside snack available everywhere for around TT$2-$4. “Ali’s Doubles” is a chain that sells doubles. There are a few establishments in Trinidad, mainly in San Fernando. Eat hot.
Phoulourie is another popular roadside snack. Phoulourie is a small ball of flour and fried chickpeas. These and other popular snacks such as roasted corn, cow patty soup, aloo pies (fried potato pies) and saheena (spinach dipped in batter and fried) are often available from street vendors, especially in the Savannah area.
Trinidad and Tobago is also famous for its callaloo, a soup made from green leafy vegetables, such as spinach or kale, sometimes with crab or pork tail (vegetarians beware!). Callalloo is not the most appetising dish around, but it’s certainly worth a try.
Another T&T staple is the famous “Bake and Shark” or “Shark ‘n Bake”. Most readily available on the north coast, near Maracas Bay, the shark pieces are fried, served in sliced fried bread called “fried cake” and accompanied by a variety of sauces, the most popular of which is a puree of shade beni (an herb similar to coriander).
Another popular food traditionally associated with beach limes is pelau, usually accompanied by coleslaw. However, pelau is not available for purchase on the beach, but you may be able to find it in a Creole restaurant.
If you have a sweet tooth, there are many local sweets and candies to enjoy, such as Toolum, Tambran Ball, Guava Cheese, Sugar Cake, Paw Paw Ball, Benna Ball, Jub Jub, Kurma, Barfi, Ladoo, Peera. Many of them are available on the way to Maracas beach, and already packaged in some supermarkets.
There are a few American-style fast food chains, including KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut and Burger King. There are also a few franchise restaurants, such as TGI Friday’s and Ruby Tuesday. There are a few local chains like Royal Castle (chicken and fries) and Chicken Unlimited. These local fried chicken chains have a different taste than American or European fried chicken chains. Pizza Boys and Mario’s are two popular local pizza chains. The pizza is very different from American or Italian pizza.
Chinese food is available in many places in Chinese takeaways. It is Cantonese style, but the spices are typically Trinidadian.
Grilled chicken is another popular dish in Trinbagon. It is similar to American barbecue but with local spices. There are roadside barbecue stands selling a box of grilled chicken (quarters) with chips, salad and garlic bread. A popular place is the Barbecue Hut, an outdoor tent where customers buy barbecue to sit and eat or take away. It is located on South Trunk Road in La Romaine, South Trinidad, near the Gulf City shopping centre. Be aware that it is run by Muslims and alcohol is not allowed on the premises.
Condiments available in Trinbagonian restaurants include ketchup, regular mustard, garlic sauce, shadon-beni (a coriander-like herb), hot pepper and many others, depending on the location. Soy sauce is available in Chinese restaurants, as is an extremely hot Chinese-style chilli sauce. If you use chilli as a condiment, be warned! It is extremely hot! You may see locals putting a lot of chilli on their food, but remember they have been eating it for years and are used to it. It’s best to try a little and if you feel comfortable, add more. If in doubt, avoid it. Salt and black pepper are not usually present as in American restaurants.
Local bakeries sell pastries such as beef and chicken pies and sultana buns. They also sell hop bread, buns made from white or wholemeal flour. Hop bread is eaten hot and can be eaten with cheese or butter for a quick snack.
The grocery shop
Grocery shops sell a wide range of packaged goods and fruit and vegetables. However, for really fresh produce, you can go to the market. In the cities, there is usually a market day (or several) when vendors, usually local farmers, offer their products for sale. The government publishes prices for products, but it is possible to negotiate a better price. Again, although weights and measures are officially expressed in the metric system, most vendors use imperial units.
Halal food is available in most retail outlets, which usually have signs. Fast food outlets such as KFC and McDonald’s also serve halal food. Many supermarkets also stock a wide range of fresh and processed halal meat.
Drinks in Trinidad and Tobago
The most refreshing drink on a hot sunny day is a tall glass of a delicious, very cold mauby, a drink made from the bark of the mauby tree and spices such as aniseed and cinnamon. It is very refreshing and cool, but can be an acquired taste as it has a bitter aftertaste.
Cold jelly coconut water – available on the streets – costs around TT$3-4. And don’t forget to try the variety of local fruit juices, available slightly chilled in most grocery shops.
Sorrel is a popular drink available during the Christmas season. It is made from the boiled flowers of the roselle plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa). It has a red colour and is drunk cold. It also has nutritional properties.
Soft drinks are sweetened with cane sugar and not high fructose corn syrup as is common in North America. This gives soft drinks a different taste, which some say is better.
Malta is a popular drink made from malt and hops and available in local bars, restaurants and supermarkets. It is rich in calories and B vitamins and is best enjoyed ice cold.
A former sugar cane colony, Trinidad and Tobago is famous for its rum. Popular rum brands include Fernandes’ Black Label and Vat 19, as well as Angostura’s White Oak, Old Oak. In some bars you can buy single rum drinks, whether it is straight rum with or without chaser or blended rum. In some bars you can buy a whole bottle of rum, or a “demi”, which is the equivalent of half a bottle. Some bars sell a “nip”, which is less than half a bottle. You can also buy bottles of rum to take away in the shops at the airport and in the duty-free shops. Puncheon rum is a stronger type of rum (not less than 75% alcohol). It’s not quite like moonshine, but definitely stronger than regular rum. It may not even be legal to take it with you. However, it is legal in Trinidad and Tobago and available in many local bars.
Beer is available and very popular. The two most popular beer brands are Carib and Stag, which are brewed locally. In addition, some imported beers such as Miller are available. Other locally brewed malt beverages include Smirnoff Ice and various stouts (Mackeson, Guinness Export, etc.). There are no microbreweries in Trinidad and beer lovers might not like the local beers. However, there are a few bars that import a wider range of beers. Of particular interest is the All Out Bar at the Queen’s Park Oval cricket ground in Port of Spain (94 Tragarete Road). You will find a reasonable selection of English beers on tap here, sold by the pint.
Wine and other spirits
Wine, vodka, tequila and other spirits are usually imported. There are no vineyards in Trinidad and Tobago, as the tropical climate is not conducive to growing grapes. However, many restaurants serve a range of imported wines, and wine bars, such as More Vino in Woodbrook, have opened in recent years.
Not surprisingly, drinking in public is not frowned upon in Trinidad and Tobago. It is legal to drink alcohol in public. Public drunkenness can only lead to arrest if you engage in disorderly conduct. The legal drinking age is 18. However, on election day, the sale of alcohol is prohibited and may not be conspicuously displayed.