In the past few months I’ve gotten to know so many fine food blogs. After a while of reading a blog regularly I find that I also start to become curious about the mind and history of the person behind it. That’s why I decided that I would start a feature that I’m calling ‘Nyam’. ‘Nyam’ is Jamaican for eat/chew, esp. when the consumption is hearty and joyful. By posing some of my favorite food bloggers with the questions that their blog has raised in my mind I hope not only to give my curiousity something to ‘nyam’ on, but also yours
For this first installment of ‘Nyam’ I thought I’d turn the spotlight onto a Trinidadian food blogger who has been really friendly and supportive towards me and TriniGourmet from the beginning I have ‘borrowed’ her pictures more than a few times to illustrate my posts and it seems only fair that I now launch this platform by further highlighting her and her excellent blog Lifespan of a Chennette. Like all subsequent participants will be, she was first asked to submit a photograph that represented her
Silly me though, I never thought to ask her why she calls herself ‘Chennette’ (the local name for guinep)
1. What is this picture of, and why do you feel it represents you accurately?
My picture is sugarcane on the road. This is one of the major roads in my area, all through the sugarcane fields in Central and when the cane is in arrow I always feel for certain that I am coming home. Living in the sugarcane belt in Trinidad, coming from Central, but working and studying in the North (and “East”) and having to commute to home, have all shaped who I am as a Trini. So I love this picture because it speaks to me of home, family and my personal history. Which are all connected to my food history.
2. Describe your foodie evolution. When (and how) did you become interested in cooking and food culture?
I think I have always been a foodie. I grew up being a little server girl at Mom’s dinner parties (Mom is incapable of inviting less than 25 people over). She always cooked with us in the kitchen and she tried new things all the time, we helped to bake cookies and pick seasonings. It was part of my earliest memories being in the kitchen and waiting for goodies. All Mom’s family are good cooks, so I guess it’s hereditary, although they each have their specialties. And Dad (no matter what Mom says) always tries new things you make (with appropriate and sometimes snarky commentary) so there was always an appreciation of good food in the house.
We all love food and growing up with Trini, Indo-Trini and Syrian food cultures and then occasional trips to the US (where we encountered Indian, Arab, African families on various campuses) just widened the appreciation of new foods. Even if we didn’t always actually like them, or know what they were. Of course the actual learning to cook was not as smooth, since Mom, for all her good intentions, is a Kitchen-Comptroller. “Showing” you how to do things the right way all the time, but with great great difficulty letting you get brown spots on the dhalpuri or roll out a square paratha. Great great difficulty. Her mother was clearly a perfectionist as well.
Although I always liked cooking, my actual varied cooking skills came when I was in UWI [University of the West Indies] and was forced to cook without the maternal net. Cook real food, not just cookies and pasta. And I missed the food so much I started to make roti, despite insisting to my mother the year before I was a rice eater and would not need to know how to make roti. My roommate and I tried sada roti, paratha, aloo pies, pholourie etc etc. Maybe that’s why I like cooking with people around more than by myself. Not only do you have company, you also get people to eat all the food you end up making! But cooking as a student means that cooking for me was my relaxation and procrastination. Anyone who’s lived with me knows that I cook when I am stressed, or if I have a paper due that I am trying to work out in my head.
3. The cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago is so varied, how have you traditionally explained it others?
I think coming from Trinidad and Tobago was a big part of making me a foodie – many countries may have a variety of foods from different cultures, but in T&T there’s a enormous level of assimilation and adaptation. Everyone makes pelau, and callaloo and dhal and curry and fried rice and noodles, bake, roti etc. And the foods you crave when you’re away have nothing to do with your ethnic or cultural background. But this, to me, is T&T. I usually tell people that Trinis take food seriously, so there’s no way we are going to marginalise or sideline any food item or culture that could satisfy our bellies. So, if something is good, we make it, we sell it, we buy it. And that has been historically the case. There’s also an aspect to a Trini personality that’s important. It could be good or bad, but we’re relatively easygoing (or fun-loving, see Carnival). When we had no Parliament for effectively a year, there were no riots or serious disturbances; people went about their business like normal. Now, we could do with some more activism sometimes, but does mean we’re not a society that will reject each other violently and certainly not when it comes to good food. So we assimilate and adapt.
4. What are your Top 3 local dishes and why?
This is hard to determine. But I am going to choose 3 by the dishes I make sure to get whenever I touch down after a long absence. There are many more, but…
1. Pelau. I love pelau. I can eat it anytime and it’s as distinctive as its maker. It’s a complete balanced meal in one pot. Mmmm.
Trini ‘Doubles’ – the ultimate street food
Photo taken by the lovely and generous Chennette
3. Bake and Shark from Maracas (that’s not just the food I suppose, but the beach eating and the sand and wind)
Is Macaroni Pie a local dish?
[TG Responds: The amount of searches I get a day for Trinidad Macaroni Pie makes me wonder that too. When I lived in the US and made it for American friends none of them had had anything like it, though they said it was such a natural evolution from Mac n Cheese they don't know why they hadn't come up with it too. My (Jamaican) mother usually makes hers in a very un-Trini way, so I do think there is such a thing as a Trini Macaroni Pie and I'll be making that soon, so look out for it!]
5. Your blog entries often mention the celebrations and traditions of the Muslim calendar. Are there any local Muslim dishes and/or traditions that you think of as distinctly Trinidadian?
Sharing sawine [my link is to a recipe called semiya that looks and sounds almost exact in description to Trinidad sawine] on Eid day from glass jugs, a tray with glasses of sawine or buckets to your non-Muslim neighbours (I know my family has progressed to using styrofoam containers for convenience, but it’s based on the same principles). After Eid prayers, making the rounds house-to-house to all the Muslim homes in the village eating and trying out people’s specialities.
As for distinctive Trini Muslim dishes – that’s always difficult, because I don’t know the whole cuisine of India and some of our dishes that I haven’t seen elsewhere may actually be found in some regional Indian cuisines. But our Gulab Jamoon maybe – Barfi with SPRINKLES!! Halwa from rice flour, cream of wheat, or wheat flour – made a bit differently I think than Indian. Goolgoola (banana fritters). Googia (coconut roti or fried coconut pie).