Ismail Merchant’s Trinidad


Trinidad food stand

Several years ago Food & Wine Magazine did a feature on Trinidad’s food culture. The piece was taken in the context of the late Ismail Merchant‘s film adaptation of V.S. Naipaul‘s book “The Mystic Masseur” which was being filmed on location. In it, Food writer Tama Janowitz states:

At last we’re seated and platters of food begin to arrive, two portions of bake-and-fish and several gigantic bowls of fish stew with bananas. I don’t see how I can eat fish stew at 9 a.m., but after one bite I’m completely hooked. The bananas don’t taste like bananas; they just add their rich, starchy sweetness to already sweet chunks of fish. “Delicious,” Ismail pronounces. “It’s a challenge to bouillabaisse. The French will have to think about their recipe and come up with a new one, as the Trinidadian version has surpassed all bouillabaisse in the world.

“And this bread, the bake – it’s Indian, an adaptation of a South Indian crusty bun, which also has grated coconut, but not the fish on the side,” Ismail, a native of Bombay, says appreciatively. “It’s so interesting that a recipe brought here hundreds of years ago by Indian workers has, over time, become quite different from the original.”

Ismail gets into a conversation with the man sitting next to us, who explains that we are eating what, on the island, is called “African food.” Over the centuries, Trinidad has been inhabited by a wide range of people – Spanish, African, French, British, Indian, Portuguese, Chinese, Syrian, Lebanese, Venezuelan – and both the culture and the food manage, remarkably, to reflect all these influences. “The different cuisines have been blended together, so you find everything made in new ways, with the addition of local products,”

Overall I think it’s a good read!

Continue Reading: Merchant Ivory: Ismail Merchant’s TRINIDAD

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