Where roti forms part of what’s called Indian food, because of the curry and the typical ingredients and names (dhal, channa, etc.), the opposite of that – culturally speaking – is Creole food.
It’s traditionally the food of the black population, the descendants of the Africans brought by Spanish, French and British colonists to work on their plantations. Of course, there are (almost) no boundaries between these two primary parts of the population today – real or imaginary. Still, you’re more likely to find a plate of ochro rice and saltfish in a black household than a plate of curry chicken, dhal and rice. Most of it is mixed, as most people are mixed. Which is wonderful, especially for food lovers – you get it all.
Creole food, now, that’s special. It combines the worlds that collided when people from Africa were brought to the Caribbean and it combines the then and the now as well. Additionally, new influences have made their way into the creole kitchen because of the new groups of immigrants that have made their way to Trinidad over the last decades.
What you see in the above picture is the tiniest of fractions of what you can get when you go to a restaurant that specializes in creole food, or to a local friend’s mom’s kitchen. Things like stew chicken or pork, barbecue, baked or jerk chicken and more ‘extravagant‘ dishes like, for example, stew pigtail (extravagant, because when you’re from a country where ‚extra bits‘ and intestines don’t feature in the local cuisine, well, then those things require a bit of courage to try for the first time) dominate the meat portion of the creole buffet.
Sides are pretty heavy on the carbs most of the time. The number one side dish is macaroni pie (it is NOT mac and cheese), closely followed by potato pie. Or so I’ve been told. You can get all kinds of what’s called provision: cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and the likes, all fried or stewed or boiled or steamed. Then there’s usually a variety of rice available, from plain white to fried with veggies. And of course, where there’s rice there’s also beans, so you will almost always find beans and lentils as well. Salads include (surprise) potato salad and macaroni salad, but you can also get plain green or coleslaw, just depends on where you’re looking. And there’s always that one big pot of ‚chunky veg‘ for those of us who don’t want to literally stuff themselves with pure carbohydrates.
My favourite food to accompany whatever I get, however, is callaloo. I don’t know why I can’t find a picture of callaloo right now, but it’s easy enough to describe: it’s green. Like a thick soup, it is the best thing to dip your potatoes or rice or veggies into to make it all tastier and to make sure you don’t choke on it if you’ve chosen the sauce-free, dry versions. It’s a bit like spinach and the seasoning you taste most strongly in it is garlic, but I strongly advise that you just go and try it. Trust me on this one, you won’t regret it.
There’s a place called El Pecos on Ariapita that is very good for trying and tasting a variety of creole dishes, because you don’t have to settle on one plate off a menu, but can put together your own mix in a self-serve buffet and then pay by the pound. I’ve eaten there myself a few times and it was good every time and I have friends who take all their international visitors there to allow them to eat themselves through the myriad creole dishes like The Very Hungry Caterpillar through all that fruit and candy.