Tempting Caribbean Cuisine

The Cuisine of Tobago

Tobago's cuisine is a unique blend of African, Indian, Chinese, European and Latin American influences, overlaid with tones of countries as diverse as Syria, Lebanon and Italy. This fascinating culinary fusion replicates the diverse multicultural, multiracial population of Trinidad, and is far more interesting than the typical fare found in other Caribbean destinations. To many people the food is one of the highlights of any visit to Tobago.

Curry and roti are national favourites. Roti originated in East India, but, like all West Indian curry dishes, has now been thoroughly localised and is quite different to the East Indian variants. It is basically a thin flat unleavened bread (flour pancake), not dissimilar to a tortilla. Generally known as a roti skin, or roti wrap, it is traditionally wrapped around a meat and potato curry. Other popular fillings are curried chicken, goat, shrimp or conch with potato chunks and channa (chickpeas). Vegetable roti is popular with vegetarians. A more expensive variant is the paratha roti which has a crisp crust but is light and fluffy, whilst soft on the inside. They're all rather messy to eat, but don't be afraid to use a knife and fork. Totally delicious. Must be tried!

Crab and Dumpling is a local speciality. With all due respect to the people of Tobago, who I love dearly, this is one dish that I shall never attempt again. The crabs on Tobago are small and have very little meat. The dumplings are generally wet and sticky, so the appearance of the dish is reminiscent of the contents of a baby's nappy. Tasty, maybe (the crab and dumplings, that is), but to my mind it's a lot of work for very little reward. Maybe I'm just not adventurous enough. Many people rave about crab and dumplings.

Seafood is highly popular on Tobago with fishing being the nearest thing to an industry in Tobago. You won't get fresher fish anywhere else.

Away from the international restaurants found in the more populated areas of the island, virtually every restaurant serves variations of the same basic spicy Creole cooking. Printed menus are virtually unknown. Diners are simply offered the choice of meat (chicken or goat), fish or prawn.

Vegetarians are well catered for. There are two major groups of vegetarians on Trinidad and Tobago - devout Hindus and Rastafarians - so every restaurant will have options.

Turning to alcohol, rum is the most popular drinks. Beware of rum punches - they will contain at least a triple measure of rum and you'll be under the table before you know it. The two most popular locally (Trinidad) brewed beers are Carib - a good thirst quenching light lager, slightly on the sweet side, with an alcohol content of 5.2%; and my own favourite, Stag - slightly drier and stronger, at 5.5%. There is also a locally-brewed version of Heineken. Remember, the heat speeds the effects of the alcohol.

We list below some of the interesting dishes that you might come across. Try them; you might be very pleasantly surprised.

benne A popular confection made from sesame seeds that will test your dentures.
black cake A rich cake made with dried fruit, cherries, brandy and rum, iced and decorated as the traditional wedding cake.
blue food Any root crop - such as dasheen, eddoes, cassava, yam, sweet potatoes etc
brown down Spicy stewed chicken, beef, pork or fish
buljol Salted codfish often served in a coconut bake (type of bread) and seasoned with peppers, onions, tomatoes and olive oil.
callaloo A soup made from spinach-like dasheen leaves and okra, with various other ingredients such as coconut. A staple of Creole cooking.
coconut bake A type of bread made with grated coconut and generally served for breakfast with buljol or cheese.
cou-cou A mixture of cornmeal, okra and butter, boiled and stirred till firm then sliced. Normally served with steamed fish and callaloo.
crab 'n dumplings Crab stewed with curry and coconut mils and served with flat flour dumplings.
dhalpuri roti A thin roti made with split peas.
doubles Curried channa (chickpeas) served between two baras (fried flour and split pea bread). It is normally served with hot mango kutcheela (hot pickle) - be sure to tell the vendor you want "slight pepper" because the kutcheela is HOT.
hops Filled crisp bread roll, as in ham 'n' hops
kibbies A mixture of meat and corn wrapped in pastry and deep-fried
oil-down Breadfruit, boiled down in coconut milk with salted meat.
paratha roti Also know as buss-up-shut, paratha is more flaky and served shredded and used to scoop up accompanying dishes.
pastelles Spanish-style filled pastries, normally served in a banana leaf wrap.
pelau Pigeon peas and rice cooked with meat and often flavoured with coconut milk. Delicious - one of my favourites!
phulouri Small deep-fried balls made from ground split peas and flour and served with a spicy chutney.
roti A thin round Indian bread cooked on a hot griddle and known as a wrap or skin around various fillings.
shark-and-bake Seasoned shark, dipped in flour, deep-fried in a wok and then placed in a fry bake (leavened bread).
souse Boiled pigs trotters, served cold with a salty sauce. Not for the weak-heated!