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Packed with heat, spice, and plenty of Caribbean flair, these Trinidad and Tobago foods bring scrumptious flavors and mouthwatering fusions to the table in a whole manner of different shapes and sizes.
A cuisine renowned for its melt-in-mouth seafood, juicy produce, and the vast array of influences, Trinidadian dishes delight and intrigue with their bold flavors, bringing together friends and family across the island.
Under the expert guidance of a local writer, let’s embark on a culinary Caribbean adventure like no other, and explore this unique island through 22 of its must-try foods.
Trinidad and Tobago Foods You Need to Try
Appetizers (called “Cutters” locally)
1 – Geera Pork (Fried Pork Bits Marinated in Cumin and Assorted Spices)
“Geera” is the Hindi word for cumin. This dish originated from Trinidad’s Indian community, but in time has slowly infused other local ingredients in its signature spice mix.
Geera pork consists of bits and trims from larger cuts of pork. These are then marinated for at least two hours in a paste made from ground cumin, lime juice, chive, onions, and a local variety of cilantro known as chadon beni.
Geera pork is one of the most popular options for bar food or “cutters”, as they are supposed to “cut the alcohol” and help you drink for longer without getting an upset stomach. Most bars around the country keep a vat or two of pre-marinated small pork pieces on the premises, ready to be fried and served at a moment’s notice.
2 – Pholourie (Split Pea Flour Fritters)
Initially invented by Trinidad’s sizeable Indian community, pholourie is made from ground split peas, yeast, curry, and a dash of sugar. These are shaped into bite-sized balls, deep-fried, and served with sweet and sour chutney, with a dash of hot sauce.
Pholourie should be fluffy on the inside and have the slightest crispy coating on the outside. If you take the time to shape them properly, they look outright fancy at any gathering or cocktail party.
However, you are just as likely to find this dish on a street corner late at night, fresh off the fire and packed in a paper bag. Look out for the seller with the longest line: they are likely to have the widest array of toppings!
3 – Aloo Pies (Spiced Mashed Potato Pie)
Another popular appetizer that doubles as a late-night snack, Aloo Pies blend a fried samosa with a traditional English hot pie. Instead of minced meat, they are filled with heavily seasoned mashed potatoes.
When eaten before a meal, Aloo Pies tend to be smaller and eaten “plain”. However, the version sold outside bars usually includes an additional filling, such as chickpea stew. Before serving, these rich and wholesome pies are topped with the traditional array of chutneys and hot sauces and served piping hot.
4 – Saheena (Deep-Fried Spinach and Flour Disks)
Saheena is the Caribbean’s answer to a child’s reluctance to finish their leafy greens. These are bite-sized discs made of a type of local spinach known as bhagi, held together tightly by a little seasoned split pea flour. They are then deep-fried in coconut or soy oil, usually alongside pholourie.
Saheena is usually served with spicy tamarind sauce or coconut chutney. As Saheena is entirely meat-free, they provide a great appetizer at Hindu weddings and satsangs (home-based religious gatherings that are usually open for the entire village). However, they are just as easy to find on any street corner, usually alongside pholourie and doubles.
5 – Black Pudding (Blood Sausage, Trinbago Style)
All former British colonies likely have their version of blood sausage, each unique in its own way. In Trinidad and Tobago, Black Pudding is a classic cutter, usually advertised right next to geera pork and souse.
It is traditionally boiled before being lightly seared. The sausage is spicy and mixed with the island’s main “herb trilogy”: chives, onions, and chadon beni.
6 – Souse (Pigfoot and Cow Heel Broth)
On the other end of a “lime” or a Trinidadian house party lies Souse. It is a thick broth made from pig feet and cow heels – two cuts traditionally used during Colonial times – and an assortment of garden vegetables, including onions, garlic, peppers, watercress, cucumber, and plenty of chadon beni.
Both pig feet and cow heels are rich in gelatin, which helps create a comforting soup that feels heavier than it truly is, and is the go-to dish for anyone suffering from a hangover.
7 – Doubles (Curried Chickpea Fried Dough Sandwich)
Now considered the unofficial dish of Trinidad and Tobago, Doubles date back only to the mid-20th-century. However, they were based on two existing staples of South Trinidad’s Indian diaspora: a curried chickpea stew known as channa; and bara, a fluffy fried flatbread.
In 1937, trader Emadul Deen began serving his signature channa using round discs of bara as a plate. Word spread, and soon customers began asking him to “double-up” on the bara, which then became a consistent, fulfilling meal.
Nowadays, you can find Doubles stands on many street corners around the country. Ask any Trinbagonian living abroad what they miss the most about home, and expect Doubles to top the list.
8 – Bake and Shark (Fried Shark and Coconut Bread Sandwich)
Often called “the best fish sandwich in the world,” Bake and Shark is a typical “beach day lunch.”
Traditionally, locals made Bake and Shark using hammerhead shark filets, which were abundant around Tobago and Trinidad’s North Coast. As the local shark population dwindled, local chefs are now pushing to use kingfish instead.
No matter which fish you use, the secret to Bake and Shark lies in the fluffy batter used to coat the fish. It is very similar to the batter used for British Fish and Chips, although more heavily seasoned.
Once battered, the shark is placed inside a “bake,” a type of flat coconut bread made in a dirt oven. It is then seasoned with “green seasoning,” a blended mixture of garlic, onion, peppers, and shadon beni. It is usually served with pineapples and coleslaw, and it is utterly delicious.
9 – Curry Chicken, Trini Style
Between 1874 and 1917, over 90,000 Indian laborers came to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Surinam to work in the local canefields. Their descendants now make up 45% of Trinidad and Tobago’s population, and naturally, they have left a significant footprint on the local cuisine and social calendar.
First-generation Indo-Trinidadians often had to adapt their culinary traditions to the locally available ingredients. Eventually, these dishes evolved and became a source of national pride. Curry chicken is an excellent example of this: as turmeric was initially expensive and reserved for religious ceremonies, local curry blends used larger amounts of peppers, cumin, and curry leaves. They also replaced yogurt and ghee with coconut milk.
The resulting dish is a bolder, sweeter curry dish. Just like its Indian counterpart, it is served alongside white rice or roti.
Related: Indian Foods You Need to Try
10 – Oil Down (Breadfruit and Pickled Pork Tail Stew)
If Trini Curry Chicken distilled the Indo-Trinidadian history into a plate, Oil Down does the same for the descendants of Afro-Caribbeans. Served across the Lesser Antilles, Oil Down is particularly well-loved in Trinidad, Tobago, and Granada.
Oil Down is a stew that combines breadfruit slices, pork tail, the occasional piece of chicken, green plantains, and cornflour dumplings, with an assortment of local spinach varieties. These are mixed with coconut milk, hot peppers, thyme, and chives, before being slowly simmered for at least two hours.
Just like many other Afro-Caribbean dishes, Oil Down came about from the desire to make delicious, nourishing food out of the cheapest, less desirable ingredients. Nowadays, a big pot of Oil Down is a mainstay of Trinbagonian Sunday lunches and can easily feed a whole family.
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11 – Pelau (Rice with Peas, Meat, and Molasses)
Pelau is another one-pot creation, meant to make the best of the available ingredients with minimal fuss.
The basic procedure behind Pelau is relatively straightforward, but it allows for a multitude of substitutions. First, marinated cuts of meat (usually chicken or beef) are seared and browned with a mixture of oil and molasses.
Then, the meat is mixed with onions, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, or pumpkin, and seasoned with a whole scotch bonnet pepper and some green seasoning. Finally, the mixture is simmered with rice and either green peas, pigeon peas, or red beans.
Pelau is simple and comforting, and it lets you mix everything to create a uniform taste comprised of distinct textures. Because of this, it is often compared to the island itself, and its ethnic makeup.
12 – Crab and Dumpling (Curried Crab and Dumpling Soup)
Tobago’s signature dish comes from one of the island’s most abundant sea creatures. The Tobago Blue Crab is a fast-growing, chunky creature, that can grow just as quickly in brackish swamp waters as in coastal seawater.
After carefully cleaning the crab, it is seared with curry powder and simmered in coconut milk alongside cornmeal or cassava flour dumplings. After eating the crabmeat, you can then use the dumplings to scoop up the remaining sauce.
Crab and dumpling is a hearty meal, and it is usually eaten late in the afternoon after a long day of swimming or fishing.
13 – Corn Soup (Spicy Soup made with Sweet Corn, Split Peas, and Cassava)
Among traditional Trinis, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who craves corn soup at lunchtime. The heat and sun don’t usually pair well with a hot and spicy stew.
Instead, corn soup is often sold outside Carnival events and clubs, very late at night. After 11 PM, the weather will have cooled down enough for locals to feel “chilly,” and a few hours of dancing will have worked up your appetite.
A tall cup of corn soup, Trini style, is made of sweet corn slices, swimming in a thick broth of split peas, peppers, carrots, and small pieces of cassava or “tania” (a local tuber similar to potatoes).
14 – Fish Broth (Thin Soup with Vegetables, Cassava, and Fish)
Fish broth comes in two versions: the version meant to feed your family after a “river lime” (a traditional type of family gathering that combines a fishing trip and an outdoor party), and the kind used as a hangover cure.
Both follow the same recipe: freshly caught fish is marinated with green seasoning and cooked with cassava slices, thyme, ochroes, hot peppers, and green plantains.
However, while the hangover version is usually thinner and saltier (for extra rehydration prowess), the river lime version tends to add dumplings for a more wholesome and consistent meal. It is also traditionally cooked on a thick steel pot, placed directly on top of an open flame.
15 – Rotis (Indian Flatbreads)
Initially reserved as an accompaniment for curry or other Indo-Trinidadian entrees, roti is now considered a more-than-acceptable side for any breakfast or lunch.
Just like in India, Trinidadian rotis come in different varieties, and some of the rarest are still exclusively found in Hindu households, served during weddings or funerals. Three of them, however, have found near-universal acceptance:
- “Buss-up shot” or paratha roti, a soft variety usually beaten with a wooden spatula until paper-thin.
- “Dhalpurie,” a thicker double-layered roti filled with lentil flour, is used to wrap chicken, goat, or stewed wild meat.
- “Sada,” a white pita-like roti usually served for breakfast instead of bread.
16 – Callaloo (Creamy Stew of Local Spinach Variants)
In Trinidad and Tobago, there is no such thing as plain spinach. Instead, most gardeners on the island grow at least three different leafy greens side by side, out of the nearly dozen varieties considered typical in the region. Among the most popular are taro or dasheen bush and bhagi.
Callaloo is made by boiling and stewing a combination of these leaves, seasoned with hot peppers, coconut milk, shadon beni and pumpkin. After they become soft, they are often mashed or blended to make a thick, aromatic cream. Callaloo is often enjoyed by itself, or alongside pigtail or saltfish.
17 – Chokas (Roasted Vegetables)
Chokas are partially mashed fire-roasted vegetables seasoned with peppers, garlic, and oil. Any leftover or overripe vegetables are good for choka, but the most popular versions use tomatoes, pumpkins, aubergines, or ‘yesterday old’ potatoes.
Strictly speaking, chokas are traditionally a topping for sada roti, eaten at breakfast. However, many restaurants now specialize in their signature combinations, often made from zealously-guarded family recipes. Because of this, Trinidadians now add a couple of tablespoons of choka next to stewed or curried meats.
18 – Macaroni Pie
Trini Macaroni Pie is an egg, milk, and macaroni casserole that became popular after World War II. After the war ended, the U.S. kept soldiers stationed at the Chaguaramas Naval Base, which housed a strategic radar station. The U.S. Military presence gave the island a significant economic boost and helped popularise many American traditions and customs.
Aiming to replicate the all-American Mac and Cheese, Trini home cooks quickly realized that imported cheddar made the dish prohibitively expensive. As a result, they replaced half the cheese with evaporated milk, sauteed onions, and eggs. Then, we improved the recipe by adding cayenne, cumin, and even a dash of turmeric to the milk and egg mixture.
The typical lunch plate includes a square of macaroni pie next to stewed chicken or fried fish.
19 – Black Cake (Rum-Based Fruitcake)
Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago lacks the snow and winter imagery that is typical of Europe. However, it still includes many of the traditions brought by British settlers – or at least, an iteration of it.
One of the most beloved is Black Cake. It is very similar to British fruitcake, but instead of macerating cherries and raisins in brandy for a few days, it lets prunes, sultanas, raisins, and pineapple slices sit in rum for a few weeks. This is then mixed into a cake batter, sprinkled with star anise, vanilla, and molasses, baked, and finally soaked in rum again.
The resulting cake has a sumptuous, moist texture, with a slight undertone of rum in the taste, without being overbearing. But the rum is still there, so think carefully before getting a second slice!
20 – Pone (Cassava and Cornmeal Cake)
Pone may not need to be planned weeks in advance, but it is far from a simple recipe. This local cake uses a combination of flours that varies from house to house and rarely follows a written formula.
Usually, Pone is made from cassava flour and cornmeal, mixed with different amounts of grated coconut, mashed pumpkin, spices, and brown sugar. It should be moist yet firm on the inside, with a slight crunch on the outside.
21 – Barfi (Spiced Milk Sweetmeat)
Barfi hails originally from India, and just like many other dishes on this list, it was initially brought over by Indian indentured laborers in the mid-19th century. Once again, the recipe was adapted and transformed to make the most of what ingredients they had available.
Trinidadian Barfi keeps its spice profile a bit simpler: ginger, cardamom, and candy sprinkles are mixed with milk powder and dissolved in evaporated milk. Then, they are mixed with sugar and kneaded into small bite-sized balls. At weddings and family gatherings, they are often covered again with colorful sprinkles or shredded coconut.
22 – Sawine (Hot Sweet Drink of Milk, Vermicelli, and Spices)
Not all the Indian laborers that came over to Trinidad and Tobago were Hindu. Approximately half of them were Muslim, and every year, they marked the beginning of Ramadan by sharing Sawine with their neighbors of any faith.
Sawine is a “hospitality drink” made of sweet milk, simmered with ginger, vanilla, and cardamom, and then lightly cooked with raisins and chopped vermicelli noodles.
Quickly adopting and adapting any foreign invention, Trinis embraced Sawine. Expect someone to hand you a cup of Sawine at children’s parties, church fundraisers, and community vigils around South Trinidad.
Trinidad and Tobago Foods Summary
Trinidad and Tobago boasts a true melting pot of cuisines, fusing island ingredients with an array of overseas influences and traditional dishes to create food that bursts with color, character, and flavor.
Food should be an integral part of any visit to Trinidad and Tobago. From dishes to mark important holidays, to the humble street vendors selling food to hungry Trinidadians, great food is rooted in the island’s culture.
On your visit, seek out as many of these traditional dishes as possible. Enjoy and embrace the flavors and textures, and take a moment to appreciate the love and craft from food vendors and chefs that goes into creating these beloved dishes.
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Author: Ximena Lama Rondon is a San Fernando-based bilingual translator and content writer, passionate about sharing more of Trinidad and Tobago’s unique culture, history, and cuisine through her writing.
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