On the tropical road less traveled, Tobago sits pretty twenty-one miles northeast of Trinidad between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Retro-Caribbean with timeless charm, the smaller sibling in the twin island nation of Trinidad & Tobago measures seven miles at its widest and twenty-six miles at its longest. With no hotels higher than a palm tree, the petite sliver in the shape of a chicken drumstick has a population of 54,000 people, three thousand hotel rooms, five hundred taxis, an endless supply of simply spectacular sunsets and a food festival in October that celebrates the blue dasheen.
Having changed political hands more than thirty times, historical relics dot the island like the tourist-popular Fort King George built in the 1760′s. The Main Ridge Reserve is the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere, Argyle Waterfalls is the islands highest and Pacolet Bay 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 flavors from around the world. Whether it’s stewed, barbecued, wrapped, rolled or curried, Creole cooking is a melange of fusion long before that style was in vogue. “Many believe our island is just about soft adventure, eco-tourism 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.”
Blue Food Mood
Ask Shelly Ann Lewis anything about dasheen and you’ll get an earful about the tasty tuber root which when peeled, sliced and boiled turns blue. The star attraction at the Blue Food Festival held each fall, the root vegetable, also known as taro, is one of the more versatile starches and with competition fierce, creative cooks like ten-time Festival winner Shelly Ann tweak their recipes year round. “I can make dasheen lasagne, ice cream and wine,” she says in her restaurant on the Esplanade, “and even dasheen cow heel soup that we eat every Saturday. “
A whirling dervish in the kitchen, she takes Festival competition seriously. “This year I will debut a new dish, “she says with a twinkle in her eye, “ I can’t tell you what it is so you’ll have to stop by and see for yourself. The one thing I can say is that it will win the prize again this year because it’s that good.”
Although there is a dizzying array of dasheen delicacies at the Blue Food Festival, dasheen rum punch is the stuff of island lore. “We call this Tobago Viagra,” says Meisha Trims of Miss Trim’s in Store Bay, “it must be the combination of linseed, milk and cinnamon that does the trick.”
If it’s Saturday, you can bet more than half the island is enjoying a piping hot bowl of cow heel soup gussied up with dumplings, yam, sweet and white potatoes, herbs and spices. As Tobagonian as a swig of Swag 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 nearly two-hundred bowls every Saturday, Carron Quashire, owner of the no-frills eatery, says she never has leftovers because every drop is gone by the afternoon. “My soup is so popular that regulars order it in advance to make sure a bowl is waiting for them when they arrive.”
Tessa Arthur makes crab and dumplins’ like nobody’s business. At Miss Trim’s in Store Bay, the chief cook and bottle washer stirs her potpourri of crab, coconut, curry 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, “in Trinidad it’s more of a treat because Trinis don’t have the time to make this kind of a dish. We’re more laid-back here in Tobago. “Meisha Trims is the manager and daughter of the legendary Miss Trims and says adventure- seekers 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.”
Dem Der 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, Breb’s Bakery in Belle Garden invites 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, department of tourism, taking another puff from his stash of goodies that are still warm.
Open for nearly a quarter of a century, Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen is the reward on the drive up the northeast coast. In the “blink it 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 cheese and butter before she slides them into the oven. “We are always crowded, because the word is out about how great our food is.” Succulent lobsters broiled to perfection are the same price every day regardless of the size and include Jemma’s legendary breadfruit pie, rice and peas and steamed vegetables.
Mark your Calendar
October 16 – The 13th annual Blue Food Festival will be held at the Bloody Bay Recreation Ground. www.visittobago.gov.tt
Four hours from Miami, American Airlines flies twice daily to Port of Spain (POS) in Trinidad. www.aa.com
Caribbean Airlines flies to Tobago (TAB) from Trinidad several times daily. Fares can be as low as $23.00 one way. www.caribbean-airlines.com
A ferry from Port of Spain makes the trip twice daily to Tobago. Sail is under three hours departing from the port near the Hyatt. $15.00 buys a round-trip ticket.
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