Brooklyn is home to the largest population of Trinidad and Tobago natives in the United States and, naturally, some of the best Trini food this side of the Caribbean. Trinidadian food blends influences from T & T’s Indian and Afro-Caribbean populations with a range of ingredients and techniques native to the island nation.
While much of the borough’s Trini population is located right in central Brooklyn (and, as such, we look forward to hearing our Trinbagonian readers’ favorite restaurants!), we’ve compiled a guide to the local Trini establishments for the uninitiated – what to get, where to get it, and some useful terms that will land you the maximum amount of deliciousness.
What to get…
For a quick snack, you can’t beat doubles, arguably Trinidad’s best-loved culinary creation. A double is a messy dollop of curried chickpeas between two soft pieces of fried dough, wrapped up in a sheet of wax paper. Try them with hot sauce (“slight pepper” for the first-timer, “plenty pepper” for the adventurous), tamarind sauce, and kuchela (a pickled slaw made from mangos or pommecythere).
Still hungry? Grab an aloo pie — the Trinidadian answer to the knish — with spinach. Or, if nutritional value isn’t a concern, get a bag of pholourie – light, fried balls of saffron-flavored dough, with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, you’re going to enter the world of roti. Roti is a catch-all for a bunch of different kinds of bread (“rotika” is just the Sanskrit word for bread), served with a bunch of fillings or sides.
There will be a steam table with the different roti accompaniments – curried chickpeas, potatoes, mango chutney, spinach, green beans, pumpkin, soy chunks, callaloo (a leafy green popular in the Caribbean, which is usually boiled into something like creamed spinach), and all sorts of meat options.
The standard-issue roti is dhal puri, a round flatbread with ground lentils inside. If you just ask for a roti with whatever fillings (try chickpeas, spinach, and pumpkin, for starters), you’ll get them wrapped up like a burrito inside of a dhal puri.
If you want to try other types of roti, ask for a buss-up shut, a deliciously oily pile of fried bread – tear off chunks to pick up and eat your mango, pumpkin, or what have you by hand. (If you feel like you have a burst-up shirt afterwards, as the name suggests, that’s no mistake.) Lastly, if you make it to your roti shop in the morning, you might be able to grab a sada roti — a pita-like pocket of soft, fluffy dough eaten with breakfast, and a lighter alternative to the other types of roti.
Note that most of the meat fillings for the roti contain bones. At least one meat, generally chicken, will be boneless, but the vegetarian options pack more than enough flavor and protein.
As for Trini drinks, you can start with Peardrax — a delicious pear soda. If you’re looking for something else that isn’t water, grab a mauby (a bitter, brown, bark-based concoction) or sorrel (a pungent red juice made from sorrel leaves, cinnamon, and cloves).
One last thing: hurry. Try to make it to these places before 4:00pm. Roti shops generally stop cooking in the late afternoon, and pickings get slimmer (and not quite as fresh) in the evening.
Where to get it…
My personal favorite spot, De Hot Pot (1127 Washington Avenue between Lincoln Road and Lefferts Avenue), requires just a short walk or trip on the B/Q to Prospect Park. The staples are excellent, and my first encounter with the stewed tomatoes and eggplant they occasionally make on Saturday mornings was something like a religious experience.
A close second would be Ali’s Roti Shop (at 589 Flatbush Avenue between Midwood Street and Rutland Road). The soy chunks and aloo pie here are really special.
Also, for something a bit healthier, you might check out a couple of the spots in the area that are inspired by Ital (a mostly vegan Caribbean-Rastafarian lifestyle/diet); they use a similar range of flavors and ingredients, but are a little lighter on carbs and oil.
Hartwell Vegetarian (at 1017 Cortelyou Road between Stratford Road and Coney Island Avenue) is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and Strictly Vegetarian Restaurant (at 2268 Church Avenue between Flatbush and Bedford Avenue) is a favorite. [Editor’s note: we love the food and service at Shayna’s (907 Church Avenue on the corner of E 10th Street), too!]
All that said, the more food the merrier–so if we missed your favorite Trini restaurant in the area, don’t hesitate to share it in the comments!
About the author: Ian Olasov is a Brooklyn native and has lived in the area for the past six years. In addition to writing for Ditmas Park Corner, he is working on a Ph.D. in philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center and has taught at Brooklyn College, Medgar Evers College, and Kingsborough Community College. When he’s not writing or teaching, he’s playing music or petting/talking to dogs.