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(2012 - Winter/Spring Issue)


A seashell away from Trinidad between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Tobago is the warm-weather road-less-travelled.

Retro-Caribbean with timeless charm, the smaller sibling in the twin-island nation of Trinidad & Tobago has no hotels higher than a palm tree, a population of about 54,000 charming islanders, a graceful rhythm that matches the rise and fall of the waves and an endless supply of dazzling sunsets.

The petite sliver in the shape of a chicken drumstick is home to the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere, postcard-perfect Argyle Waterfallsand Bacolet Bay that still looks like it did when Swiss Family Robinson was filmed there more than a half-century ago.

With a storied past, the island that was also the fabled inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe novel may be green and serene but it’s also a delectable melting pot of flavours from around the world. Whether it’s haute or homespun, Tobago is a bonanza of epicurean delights with culinary festivals guaranteed to tempt the taste buds. “Many believe our island is just about soft adventure, ecotourism and destination weddings,” said Jesille Peters, marketing officer, department of tourism, “but tourists who return year after year are also coming back for our food.”

Soup’s On

If it’s Saturday, you can bet more than half the island is relishing a piping hot bowl of cow heel soup gussied up with dumplings, yam, sweet and white potatoes and a bounty of aromatic herbs and spices. As Tobagonianas a swig of Stag beer on a hot afternoon, this soupy salute to starch is not for the faint of appetite but a must-try for a true Tobagonian taste treat.

“We’ve been eating cow heel soup on Saturday ever since I knew myself and probably before that,” smiles taxi driver Roger Caesar, slurping every savoury spoonful at the After Hours restaurant. “It’s one of those things that no one questions anymore.” Serving 200 bowls every Saturday, Carron Quashire, owner of the no-frills eatery, says she never has leftovers because every drop is gone by the afternoon. “The regulars order it well in advance to makes sure a bowl is waiting for them when they arrive.” 

Amazing Grazing

Best eaten with two hands, a roti is a classic Tobago treat. The original fast food, a roti skin or flat unleavened bread made from flour is wrapped around an array of curry-infused fillings like potatoes, channa or chick peas, chicken or goat. Selling rotis from her white truck with the tomato-red letters that spell “Cynthia’s Hot Roti,” Cynthia Meadows is the undisputed Queen of the Roti. “Hungry people come here even before they check into their hotel,” she says from her truck parked near the airport.

Tessa Arthur makes crab and dumplings like nobody’s business. At Miss Trim’s in Store Bay, the chief cook and bottle washer stirs her potpourri of crab, coconut, curry, chives and ginger with enough love to fill the room. “In Tobago we eat this on a regular basis,” she says, checking the taste with a spoon. Meisha Trim is the manager and daughter of the legendary Miss Trim’s and says foodies are keen to try the juicy crab and sticky dumplings. “After a hike in the rainforest or a day at the waterfalls, tourists line up for a plate of our original recipe.”

In the Hills

On a winding road along the eastern end of the island, the Atlantic Ocean is on one side, goats and chickens are in the middle and sleepy villages come and go around every turn. Less than an hour from the town of Scarborough, Brebb’s Bakery in Belle Garden invites you for an early morning nosh. Coconut drops for under a dollar are chocked full of dried fruit while piquant tuna and cheese puffs disappear from the trays as quickly as they come out of the oven. “This is a real slice of island life,” observes Jesille Peters, taking another bite from a warm cheese puff.

Open for nearly a quarter century, Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen is the reward on the drive up the picturesque northeast coast. In the “blink and you’ll miss it” town of Speyside, the charming eatery is built around ancient almond trees and looks more like a tree house than a restaurant. Slicing, dicing, shaking and baking in her immaculate kitchen, Jemma shows off her breadfruit pies packed with gooey cheese and sweet butter. “We are always crowded, because the word is out about how great our food is,” she says with a humble twinkle.

Blue Food Mood

Ask Shelly Ann Lewis anything about dasheen and you’ll get an earful about the tasty tuber root that, when peeled, sliced and boiled, turns blue. A star attraction at the Blue Food Festival held in October and the Culinary Festival slated for May 20 at the Pigeon Point Heritage Park, the root vegetable is one of the more versatile starches and with competition fierce, creative cooks like Shelly Ann tweak their recipes year-round. “I can make dasheen lasagna, ice cream and wine,” she says in her restaurant on the Milford Road Esplanade.

Although there is a dizzying array of dasheen delicacies, dasheen rum punch is the stuff of local lore. “We call this Tobago Viagra,” says Meisha Trim of Miss Trim’s in Store Bay. “It must be the combination of linseed, milk and cinnamon that does the trick.”

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