Exploring Trinidad’s Culinary Landscape Through The Eyes Of A Child

Food & Drink

Coryn Anaya Clarke is not like most other girls her age. Born to a Trinidadian mother and Kittitian father, the eight-year-old is not only a published author of seven books, but she is also a cultural ambassador of the twin-island republic of Trinidad & Tobago. When she is not at school, or writing, she proudly educates a growing social media following on the traditions, festivals, music and, of course, the food of her island home.

“Trinidad & Tobago is a pretty amazing place and what makes it even more interesting is that there are so many different types of people,” describes the eight-year-old, her brown eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. “So many different races and cultures live here, and then they kinda interconnect and there are differences, but some things are also similar, and I really like that. It’s a fun thing to explore.”

Coryn— a self-professed picky eater— eagerly set aside her reservations when she received an invitation to partake in a culinary journey across Trinidad & Tobago. The flavorful expedition was co-hosted by Tevin Mills from Totally Toco Tours and Zaak Mustapha Mohammed, a food blogger and producer of Foodie Tales with Zaak.

Totally Toco is a destination management company known for crafting and orchestrating experiences within the enchanting communities of Toco, known by locals as the gateway to the northeastern coast of Trinidad, and well-known for its vibrant history, tranquil green landscapes, picturesque beaches, and delightful culinary scene.

Just like the protagonist of her series— Chronicles of Coryn— the first of which was published when she was only four-years old, the young author welcomed the prospect of a new adventure.

The Foodie Lovers Tour co-hosted with Zaak is a full-day culinary and cultural journey stretching for 35 breathtaking miles from the “turtle village” of Matura to the culturally vibrant northern coastal village of Matelot, fondly referred to as the “end of the road.”

Navigating the culinary landscape of “T&T” is an exploration that is as diverse as it is delicious.

“I can’t cook yet but I’m learning about ‘Trini’ food and I’m sharing the information,” said the young author as she set off on her history lesson.

With a vocabulary that belies her young age, Coryn explains that Trinidad’s culinary history is “rich, interesting and sometimes dark.”

In addition to the contributions of its indigenous Amerindian people, Trinidad came under three periods of colonial rule— the Spanish, the French and the British. With large historical population migrations of enslaved Africans as well as Chinese and Indian indentured servants, and later, merchant traders from Syria and other nations, Trinidad has a vibrant and multi-faceted culture.

“Some of the people chose to come here but some others were kidnapped, enslaved and forced to come here,” Coryn shares.

Trinidad’s culinary legacy reflects the harmony of diverse cultural influences— a rich cultural history influenced by African, Indian, Chinese, European, Middle Eastern and Indigenous traditions— resulting in a tapestry of flavors and dishes that make it a unique and delightful food destination. Trinidad’s street food culture, seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes, pepper sauces, curries and seasonings, sweets and desserts, multi-ethnic celebratory foods, and creole cuisine (reflecting a blend of African, Spanish, and Indigenous influences) have made their way into the stories of global food bloggers and the five-star menus of Michelin chefs.

“All of our ancestors who ended up in Trinidad and Tobago left us gifts, and food is one of them… Roti [South Asian flatbread], doubles [fried dough street food with curried, chickpea mixture], pelau [rice cooked with meats and vegetables], souse [pickled pig meat in a clear broth], pholourie [fried, spiced split pea and flour dough balls], bake and shark [fried dough with shark meat], callaloo [stew made with local staple green leafy vegetable]…”

Coryn counts on her fingers, one-by-one, as if each finger was a different type of food, or what she describes as “gifts from the many people that call Trinidad home.”

The Foodie Lovers Tour provided Coryn with the opportunity to come face to face with the vast spectrum of gifts that she and the people of Trinidad and Tobago have the good fortune to enjoy.

Coryn would soon learn that the story of Trinidad and Tobago, and that of her family and ancestors is a story that could be told in food.

“We stopped at different places along the way and I got to meet and make friends with some of the people who live and work there,” she recalls. “I met a lady who made yummy Trini-treats— some of the same ones my granny used to make like kurma [a sweet snack made of ginger-spiced fried dough], red mango and plum, sugar cake and toolum [sweet balls made of grated coconut, sugar, and spices].”

Coryn briefly knew her great grandmother, Juanita Jones, before she passed away, but it was clear that the matriarch’s memory had lived on through her culinary legacy.

“I tried the paime and it wasn’t bad at all. I wish I could’ve tried my granny’s own though,” Coryn shares. “Paime is a dish that was made by my ancestors. Did you know that?”

I didn’t.

Paime is a traditional tamale-style dish that is a seasonal favorite during Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago. Comprising grated root vegetables, cornmeal, coconut, and an assortment of seasonings, its preparation involves encasing the mixture in banana leaves before steaming or boiling. The end-result is a dish bursting with flavor and aroma.

“During the tour to Toco, the tour guide explained to me that when our ancestors were enslaved they didn’t have lots of food options so they had to get creative with the little they had,” Coryn explains.

Coryn’s adventure through Trinidad and Tobago’s most northeasterly village enabled her to make connections between Trinidadian food and the many stories that she had been told about country’s history and her beloved great-grandmother.

“I didn’t know her very well, but we have a lot in common,” Coryn continued. “She loved to read, write and she loved food. She cooked a lot and shared her food with people all over Trinidad and Tobago. Granny Juanita’s sweetbread [a dense bread made with coconut, raisins, fruit and spice], cassava pone [a cake-like treat made from cassava] and paime were popular all over. Everyone says hers was the best. I’m sad I was born too late to really get to know her but learning all these awesome things still help me, like you know, honor her memory and stuff.”

Food is history, food is legacy, and food is family. Nowhere is that more evident than through the innocent eyes of a young child. Coryn’s ability to remember the names and traits of the people she met, the foods she ate while making intricate connections with history and her own family speak to the power of food to create inter-generational linkages and bring together the past and the present.

Coryn was also able to make new friends and learn about the fusion of various cultures in Toco.

“While on the tour of Toco, I met Mr. Rankin,” she smiles. “He’s a Rastafarian who has lived there all his life. He knows a lot of information about the community and it was really interesting listening to him speak. In Siparia, I met Miss Shanty, who is one of the best cooks and chulha makers this country has ever seen. She specializes in Indian cuisine like roti and tomato choka [a condiment made of roasted tomatoes mixed with seasonings]. I’m going to meet with her soon so other children could learn about who she is and what she does too.”

The term “Chulha,” meaning fireside in Hindi, is a cooking apparatus introduced by Indian indentured laborers in the 1800s, crafted from clay, grass, and cow dung. Chulhas contribute to the preparation of delicious meals and food experts suggest that they enhance the natural flavors of food, and help to retain moisture and aroma, resulting in nutrient-rich dishes.

Throughout the gastronomic escapade, Coryn sampled fruit chow [a spicy side dish of pickled fruit] infused with red prunes, she relished the sweetness of traditional homemade confections, snow cones [similar to American slushies], homemade ice cream infused with fruits and spices, and rich hot chocolate crafted from locally grown Trinitario cocoa— the finest cocoa in the world.

Coryn says that her trip to Toco has deepened her resolve to learn as much as she can about the different communities throughout T&T and the interesting people who live there.

But for now, the literary phenom is now hard at work planning for her summer festival.

Scheduled for the Summer (July-August) vacation, the second staging of the Chronicles of Coryn Children’s Book Festival promises to be a literary and cultural event unlike anything Trinidad and Tobago has ever seen.

“We did it for the first time last year and it went super well. This year we’re doing it again and we’re going to focus on food. I’m excited because I plan to use my event to really show children what our country is all about,” she smiles.

“They’ll get to meet authors, interact with traditional carnival characters, enjoy performances, make jewelry and all sorts of other fun stuff. They’ll also get to learn about our local foods and why it’s an important part of our history. I think it’s important for us to know the history behind the food we eat, it’s a big part of our ancestors’ legacy and I want all of us to really know that and celebrate it. There’s a lot of stuff to learn and share and I really want to help the other children in my country see how fun learning could be.”

Little Coryn is the perfect example of the animated nature and unapologetic patriotism of the people of Trinidad & Tobago. Her innate enthusiasm, creativity, and intelligence makes her a natural ambassador for their country’s diverse gastronomic heritage. Her public engagement through Trinidadian culture and the written word fosters a sense of pride and appreciation for her country’s national cuisine.

As torchbearers of cultural identity, young people like Coryn Anaya Clarke contribute to the sustainability of national food traditions, ensuring that the richness of their culinary heritage is not only preserved but celebrated and shared with a global audience.

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