the culinary mecca of trinidad: richard’s bake and shark

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I spent the day with my friends touring around Trinidad by car on an overcast but warm day. Our first stop was the impressive new Performing Arts Center, apparently a building of some controversy due to its cost. Adjacent to this, was a large park referred to as the “Savannah” where, during Carnival in February, all types of debauchery occur, mostly of the drinking sort. Between the two landmarks was a man selling fresh coconut water, so we stopped and drank directly from the coconut.

As we were drinking the coconut water and then eating what they call the “coconut jelly” – the white part of the coconut before it matures and hardens [sadly like the rest of us], there was a man in his mid-40’s, dreads down his back, sitting on a park bench with a beer in his hand and singing loudly. As there were a few girls near us, he began gyrating his mid-section [to be delicate – this is a family-friendly blog] and saying increasingly profane things. The line was crossed when he made a certain noise acting out what he would do if he had a chance to get near one of the girls’ nether-regions. Despite his efforts, he clearly didn’t have a coconuts chance in hell. I later found out that he had been an expert motorcyclist who would speed around the “Savannah” at top speed, weaving in and out of traffic and the painted lines on the street. This was until he had an accident and mangled his leg. Now his full-time job was drinking.

We continued in the car and headed toward Maracas beach, one of the more popular beaches in Trinidad. According to my friends who are locals, the beaches in Trinidad are not quite as nice as one might find in Barbados or other islands, but they certainly have their flair. As we got out of the car, I noticed an interesting study in multiculturalism – native Trinis, many Indians [from India for those of you who were thinking I was being politically incorrect there for a moment], and Chinese – with a sprinkle of white European tourist thrown in.

The reason for our journey was to make it to what I soon learned was the culinary Mecca of Trinidad – Richard’s Bake & Shark. Now, bake and shark is basically Trinidad’s answer to fish and chips, without the chips and served as a sandwich on bread. The bread was not a bun, or even typical looking sandwich bread – it was closer to the consistency of a Paratha bread, but in a quasi-bun form [actually an unleavened fried-bread or “bake”]. The centerpiece of the sandwich of course was the shark, which was seasoned, breaded and fried. As everything tastes good breaded and fried, I felt confident that trying it was going to be a good experience.

I felt bad for the other “bake and shark” kiosks in the area – they were all open but empty. In shark contrast [yes I meant to say that], Richard’s had a queue twenty-five people long. In fact there were two queues – the first was to pay, and the second was where you waited after you paid and got your sandwich – the all-important condiment queue. All evidence was pointing to Richard’s being the place to be.

After we paid our thirty Trinidad dollars [approximately six U.S. dollars] for a sandwich, we waited in the condiment queue. When we finally reached the front, there was an array of unusual choices awaiting us. There were the standard mustard and ketchup, but there was also ranch-like dressing that looked more like Russian dressing without the relish, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and white and purple cabbage. Some of the condiments I did not recognize included Congo pepper sauce, shadow beni, [a hot sauce made from a leafy herb native to the West Indies and Central America], and whole tamarind fruit in a sauce. The last unidentifiable sauce ended up being a garlic sauce. To my delight there was also pineapple. I was encouraged to put some pineapple on the sandwich, as it was apparently the best way to enjoy the shark.

As we sat and ate our sandwiches, washing them down with Shandy Carib Ginger – a mildly alcoholic carbonated combination of ginger and lager, we listened to the “Pan Man” play the steel drums.

Just another day in Trinidad and ya mon, it was quite good.

 

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