Jesse James, Taste of Trini Island Tour and Trini Foods
Taste of Trini
Jesse James of Members Only Maxi Taxi and Tour Services is our guide for this trip. He has been providing services to the Cruising Community in Trinidad for many years. A number of years ago, he came up with the idea of getting the cruisers out of the marinas in Chaguaramas and introducing them to local foods that Trinidadians eat, and along the way have a lot of fun.
The tour begins before breakfast in Chaguaramas and continues east through Port of Spain to the east coast of Trinidad at Manzanilla Bay. It then turns south and follows the east coast to the town of Mefeking and turning west through the central mountains to intersect the Southern Main Road. Then north to Port of Spain and home. With plenty of stops to gather food, we finished by early evening and consumed 80 or more dishes along the way. That number may seem daunting, but many dishes are just one bite samples. Though, pacing oneself is the order of the day.
In 2015, we persuaded Jesse to do a southern route Taste of Trini. We enjoyed many different foods and scenery that many of us had not seen.
A Recent Tour (October 2018)
We start the morning in Chaguaramas. The morning starts early as Jesse picks up folks at their boatyard entrances. It's best if you don't eat breakfast prior to coming. The maxi taxi is now transformed into a gourmet foods on wheels while traveling the country side with stops along the way of a variety of restaurants, fruit and vegetable stands with takeout delights by the road side.
Breakfast starts off with some smoked herring, salt fish, soft cheese paste and a nice little roast bake, that is like a roll. Your plates are seldom empty as they will be in your lap during most of the journey trying samples at every stop along the way. While en-route, we are being served with Bean Bodi, complimented with some corned beef and a fried bake. Bean Bodi is cut string beans cooked in spices with a bit of curry and pepper flavor to it. A fried bake is a flat disc shaped bread that is fried in oil to a golden brown. It can be cut in half to put your Bodi inside. Kind of like a sandwich if you wish or served to the side.
The first stop is in Carenage. Carenage is the next town adjacent to Chaguaramas and offers many conveniences such as health center, supermarket, stores, restaurants, ATM banking, gas, and shops close to cruisers in the Chaguaramas area. We step out of the van to find a vendor on the road side with an umbrella and food containers of the famous Doubles. If you've never had Doubles you're in for a treat. They are double warm soft bread rounds filled with a chick pea filling and sauces flavored in cucumber sweet sauce, Cilantro also known as Beni and pepper sauce, if you so desire. They're served wrapped in paper and placed in a small brown bag to go. It's finger licking with Doubles as they can be saucy holding them. It is an acquired art to eat a Double without wearing it.
Port of Spain
We continue east, on the Western Main road, our next stop is Port of Spain. Port of Spain is the Capital City of Trinidad and Tobago. The City bustles with highways, shopping malls, businesses, buses, and busy people. It's the main port and hub of transportation. At or our next food stop, we enjoyed some Saheena, Callaloo Root and split peas. They are delicious with all the spices. Saheena is made with split pea powder and flour combined with chopped Dasheen (a green leaved vegetable also known as Callaloo originating from west Africa) saffron and spices rolled into a round ball then fried and complimented with sauces like a Tamarind sauce or pepper sauce to add flavor. Callaloo can be found in your markets and produce section of the grocery store.
People immigrated here to Trinidad bringing with them their own foods and cultures. The resulting mix has produced a unique fusion of tastes. Ameri-Indians were originally in Trinidad. The African slaves brought here as workers for cocoa, sugar cane and Rum, had their own unique foods. These were blended under the influence of the British, Spanish and Dutch. The India indentured servants, brought to replace the slaves, came with many unique Indian dishes. All these cultures blended together have produced a multi cultural flavor base of spices reflected in the foods unique to Trinidad. Many foods and spices vary from village to village.
Moving on we take the Eastern Main Road. We're driving across the country west to east along the base of the Northern Mountain Range. Our destination is the east coast for lunch. Jesse had more food for us in mind before lunch, however.
Along our way we stopped in the towns of Valencia and Sangre Grande. We learned the history of Sangre Grande which stands for a river of blood seen in the streets when Spanish soldiers slaughtered the village of Ameri-Indians many years ago. There, we sampled sada roti, baigan choka, potato pie, cow heel soup, coconut pie and Gnipe. Sada roti is a plain roti, made of white flour. Because it is the simplest roti to make, it is the most commonly consumed roti in Trinidad. Baigan choka is a robust flavored Trinidadian side dish or vegetarian spread for flatbreads made from eggplant. As we were traveling, we stopped by a fruit and vegetable stand where we sampled custard apple, three types of bananas and a strange looking shell that houses the Brazil nuts. Driving along, Jesse is speaking the whole time about the culture, the food, the history of the towns, and people.
Lunch on the Beach
We stopped at the beautiful Manzanilla Beach for lunch. This is across the island, from where we began, on the Atlantic Ocean side. Lunch at the beach was surrounded by the beautiful waving palm trees and soothing sound of the ocean waves. Lunch was Paloe, Macaroni pie, Sasheen with stewed pork. Most of us on the tour are pretty much full by now.
Enjoying the beach and the facilities there was lovely. With our group hopping back into the Maxi Taxi van, we started driving on down the east coast area of Trinidad. Heading south, we pass the Nariva Swamp to the right and the ocean to the left with only a narrow strip for the road in the middle. The swamp drains in several rivers into the Atlantic Ocean and the area is pristine with beauty. Mangrove trees in the river are rooted well into the riverside before the river winds into the Atlantic Ocean. There are a few places with local watermelon stands catering to folks driving through. The area there is known for growing watermelons. So we have to make room in our bellies for watermelon as we stop at a watermelon stand that Jesse knows.
Jesse knows many of the folks we visited along the way, as he's been here all his life and grew up in one of the small towns of Trinidad. People along the way all look for Jesse, because they know him and he knows them. This makes the trip a very personal and friendly experience.
Turning Back West Again
Leaving the watermelon stand, we drive south through Mayaro where we turn west, leaving the Atlantic behind. Our route follows the crest of the Central mountains (hills). Sampling beverages, we had the Mauby drink made from bark of a tree and Sorrell (Hibiscus) drink with ginger. Refreshing and delicious, these drinks are found in the coolers of restaurants and shops and are made here in the West Indies. Another delightful flavor drink was the creamy Peanut punch.
Moving into the courses for dinner, we stop in Rio Claro for fried chicken with a flavor contagious you can't stop at one piece. In Tabaquite there's Harry's Water Park. A lovely area well suited to stretch our legs and choose our beverages of our own choice at the bar there. The park area was closed at the time, however the park seemed delightful for any child and family for entertainment activity. Getting back into the van, headed west, our group traveled on to Grand Couva. There was more flavorful fried chicken made a bit different than previous and equally as flavorful. Finger licking good for sure.
Of course you can't have all the course of food with out something sweet. Next visit was a Bakery in Presal where we had mouth watering Ballerina slippers, coconut cake, and layered sweetness of pastries. By now the day is turning to dusk as we drive down to the main highway to the west side of Trinidad and begin our journey back. Of course you can't not end the evening with out Ice cream. Completing the loop, we ended our Taste of Trini with a flavored variety of unique ice creams that left us full and satisfied after a long day.
Definitely a Taste of Trini is a trip to remember. Meeting new friends, experiencing the culture and the tremendous variety of Trinidad Tastes are shared during the tour. Jesse was a wonderful host with a friendly relaxed informative loop around Trinidad.