Friday, July 06, 2012

Charlotteville Fisherman's Fête - Tobago - Crab and Dumplin

Charlotteville Tobago - Crab and Dumplings
We went diving for the weekend in Tobago.  D's working in Trinidad for a couple months and so we elected to have me fly down for the weekend instead of him coming home so we could visit.  Luckily for all, mom and dad were eager to babysit. I'll have a few posts about how I ate my way through the weekend.  The food was awesome! (except on the plane and at the Hilton)

The first thing that struck me about TT, as they affectionately call it, is how distinct the two islands are.  Tobago is very underdeveloped in contrast to Trinidad.  Scarborough is the capital due to it's strategic location as the deep water port.  Prior, it was Roxborough.  We drove through Roxborough and through almost every village on our way across the island to our destination in Speyside.  The villages are small and rural.  I say this because beyond your hotel, there is not a lot to visit.  We visited Speyside village and Charlotteville during our short say and spent an evening in Scarborough.  Scarborough was really the only town with any real area for a visitor to spend anytime.  The others were well and truly only for the few residents with a main street about 100 m long.  So we largely spent our time at our hotel which, though it was lovely, wasn't well equipped or staffed appropriately as a place to house visitors (beach bums to adventurers alike), full time.  I'll write a bit more later about our mediocre to poor experience at the Blue Waters Inn. 

Of course, having been raised in Toronto, I may have a very polarised vision of what a Fête in the Caribbean should be.  Toronto has one of the largest Carribean Festivals.  It brings in over a million people above and beyond the feting Torontonians.  I should have had an inkling of what we were getting into when we mentioned to any of the hotel staff or other locals we met, that we were going to the Fisherman's, had an unrestrained look of shock mixed with comedy.   I had expected the field, where most of these Fêtes take place, even in Port of Spain, would be circled with food stalls and vendors.  I had skipped lunch in anticipation for a feast at the Fête.  Fortunately, I had mentioned this to the friendly, younger receptionist on duty in the morning.  "I'm going for the food." I mentioned when she chuckled that we needed a cab to the Fête.  "You goin to dance?"  Nope, just to eat.  I asked her what we had to try that was local.  I mentioned a few things I had hoped to have and she responded rather skeptically, "maybe, you'll find that".  That was my second subtle cue that I may be off the mark.

"My favourite around here is, Crab and Dumplings.  I'm going home after my shift to have that."  Well, I was sold.  Dumplings.  She had me at Dumplings.  There's just something wondrous and comforting about that word.  Dumplings.  Mmmmmm, I had already started to salivate.  Okay, done.  I'm going on a Crab and Dumpling hunt.  We sat in the lobby to wait for our cab when she came over to say, that she's going to have the driver to take us to her parents house and from there we can walk to the Fishermans'.  You can have Crab and Dumplin at mine first.  Umm okay, that's super nice but we felt a bit odd about it but she was so excited that we couldn't say no.  As well, I've learned over the years of traveling, you don't turn down local hospitality. 

Our older rasta driver, Kenneth, pontificated on our 15 minute drive to Charlotteville on how the youth don't know how to party anymore.  They drink overproofed Rum called Puncheon mixed with energy drink and then fight.  Hmmm, I have friends London who would call that a night out in Manchester :^P.  Anyhoo, when we arrived into town and saw the empty bottles of Jonnie Walker Black and Puncheon strewn all over the street from the day's Juvee, I got the idea.  Juvee? I'll get to that.  So we turned off the 'main' street and up to the residential street.  Every few houses were raucous with loud dance music at 2pm with people walking about.  We were very unsure what we were getting ourselves into.  We arrived a a nice house with dozens of people milling about.  Kenneth yelled to a young women in the window and said, I got the people your sista sent over.  Happily, she was expecting us because we surely didn't know what we were expecting.  She welcomed us into the living room and offered us to sit down.  The house was filled with people drinking, eating, talking and granddad watching the pre-uefa final show.  The oddest thing about the whole thing was how non-plussed people were that we were there.  We were VERY obviously not locals.  I mean really, D's SPF'd 60 face glowed in the dark.  The only ones that actually spoke to us were the sista and a little girl of 6.

The Sister never introduced herself to us as she rushed about and we were so disoriented that I'm ashamed to say, we didn't introduce ourselves.  So Sister, as I mentally refer to her now, asked us what we wanted to eat.  Every kitchen counter was covered in large chafing trays filled with food.  I thought, from the look of it, that they had prepped all this food to bring down to the Fishermans' to sell.  It wasn't.  I told her that her sister told us we needed to have the Crab and Dumpling.  She let out a nice loud laugh and she went to prepare us some plates.  She then asked us what we'd like to drink.  D had a Carib beer and I had a shandy.  She cleared the kitchen table and the people who had been chatting there got up and let us sit to eat.  She brought us these luscious plates of Curried Crab with Boiled Dumplins with sides of Cassava and Potato with some plastic cutlery pre-bundled in a napkin.  I had assumed this also meant that they were planning on taking food down.  As we sat and ate, people came by the kitchen door and took food away in styrofoam containers. 

The Dumplings were dense, chewy and wonderfully homey.  The Crab... ahhh the Crab.  We sucked every bit of sauce off the crab and sopped up every bit of the rest up with the Dumplings and Cassava.  It was amazing.  Well balanced spice.  I reminded me a bit of Jerk and Curry.  There is a VERY strong influence of East India in the TT Cuisine.  Virtually, all the most popular dishes in TT, are curry based.  Perfect for me.  Chickpeas everwhere! 

We chatted with sister for a while.  As we'd been in the house now for at least half an hour, we were all to embarrassed to ask our names.  She offered us more to drink and we declined.  We offered to pay so we could go down to the Fishermans.  She gave us directions, which was just a block down the road back to the beach.  She then refused money laughing.  "This is what we do.  We cook for people who come by."  I asked "So you're not selling this food at the fete?" 

She laughed again "Oh no, people just come by for food. Everyone does it.  It would be strange if you tried to pay me."  I offered her a token of a Canadian Flag pin I had on my sun hat and thanked her profusely.  What a wonderful tradition.  It certainly not the case at the Carribbean festivals back home.  The food is at the fete site and VERY expensive.  :D  When we walked down to the main street to the Fisherman's, there was NOTHING going on.  There were no food stalls nor even many people.  Most that were there looked hung over from the Juvee.  There was only one table of food sales over by the play field off the main strip.  The town was just people going about their business apart from the stage set up with speakers twice the size of most the buildings in the area, blaring dance music.  As it turns out, the Fisherman's really only starts up after people are done resting and eating at home and is just a dance party.  We had been told 2pm is a good time to go but it did not look like it would get going until evening.  We had a flight to catch to Port of Spain so we couldn't stay.  Kenneth the cabbie turned down our request to drive us later because he wanted to 'Lime', hang out and have fun.  AT least we had Crab and Dumplin.  The other folks from our hotel, who wandered into town after reading the websites or hearing about the fete, had nothing to eat and returned quickly to the hotel.

Crab and Dumplings

I've looked up the recipes on line for the Crab to check on proportions of ingredients but I've not found 1 recipe that I was satisfied with because they each seemed to be missing something.  I will have to experiment but if you choose to experiment too with the ones on line, PLEASE be sure to have the following ingredients included:

1. Fresh Coconut grated right into the pot,...(1 tin of Coconut Milk could do)
2. Shaddon Bene, a local version of Cilantro but much stronger so use Chinese Cilantro in a pinch
3. Fresh Thyme
4. Curry Powder/Garam Masala
5. Scallions
6. Blue Crab
7. Scotch Bonnet (heat to taste, no more than 1 per big pot, use rubber gloves, please)

The other ingredients will vary with other fresh Herbs and Aromatics.  Fresh herbs are essential in Carribbean cooking.  I still remember my Jamaican roommate who never cooked except to make homey dishes once in a while and always insisted on buying fresh Thyme.  When I asked about the recipe though, they insist on the Coconut and the Shaddon Bene.  The Shaddon Bene looked sort of like Arugula leaves without the 'fingers' on the leaves.  It is elogated and VERY pungent.  I bought a bottle of TT Hot Sauce at a local shop and among the four ingredients Shaddon Bene is listed.  mmmm TT Hot Sauce, fire!  Finally a Hot Sauce that is a worth opponent for me. :^D.

Oh... Juvee, is the party the morning after, the morning after what, no one seemed to say.  It is a huge street party usually with copious amounts of alcohol and dancing.  In Charlotteville, it started at  4AM and ran to 11AM.  As Kenneth the cabbie said, TT love to party.


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