Throughout the year, islanders of this melting-pot nation serves up a generous helping of fun, food and festivities. They embrace that life’s a party in Trinidad & Tobago!
Shortly after New Year, islanders begin preparing for Carnival, the mother of Caribbean fetes. The party really gets rolling two days before Ash Wednesday. At J’Ouvert, the daybreak celebration on Carnival Monday, costumed mas (masquerade) bands take to the streets, “chipping” in a rhythmic strut to the pulsing beat of pan, calypso and soca. Hotels in Trinidad fill quickly, sometimes months in advance of Carnival, be sure to reserve your accommodations early on.
On every corner vendors offer roti, a flatbread similar to Indian chapati or pita, wrapped around a vegetable or meat curry. Travelers in attendance should also try “doubles,” a sort of chickpea sandwich. Wash either down with refreshing coconut milk, lime juice flavored with locally made Angostura bitters or an
icy, islandbrewed Carib beer.
Muslims break the winter fast of Ramadan with the feast of Eid ul-fitr. During this time, homes in Trinidad & Tobago overflow with family and friends and tables groan with special fare, including sawine, a sweet noodle dish.
Hindus say hello to spring with Phagwa, a time for bonding, sharing and good oldfashioned fun. Celebrants spray one another with colored water called abir, then serve up East Indian delicacies such as aloo (potatoes and chickpeas) and dhal (spicy split peas).
In May there’s another Muslim festival, Hosay, which commemorates the martyred grandsons of the prophet Muhammad. Faithful followers observe the three-day event with thundering tassa drums and tadjahs, lavishly decorated replicas of the martyrs’ tombs. As in Pakistan and India, consecrated sweet dishes take center stage at the table.
Then in late July and early August, the Tobago Heritage Festival recalls folk tales, superstitions, courtship codes, oldtime weddings and other local customs, many of which derive from the homeland of Africans who settled the island.
Beat the heat with a local Red Howler beer, or try mauby, an oddly pleasant, reputedly rejuvenating brew of roots, barks and spices that tastes alternately sweet and bitter. Then sit down to a feast of Tobago specialties, including crab and dumplings and other Creole favorites, such as pelau, seasoned rice with pigeon peas and stewed meats; callalo, a hearty soup of root vegetables, greens and coconut milk; salted cod in a medley of tomatoes and onions, and oildown, a coconutinfused stew of breadfruit and salted beef.
Arima, in northcentral Trinidad, is home to a small group of indigenous Carib Indians. In August, the community honors its centuries old heritage at the Santa Rosa Festival, highlighted by a procession headed by the “Carib Queen,” displays of Amerindian arts and crafts and traditional foods, including bread made from cassava, a starchy tuber prepared as in centuries past with a manare (sifter), wareware (fan), matapi or sebucan (strainer) and aripo (griddle).
At Divali, in October or November, Hindus honor the goddess Lakshmi and the triumph of light over darkness by illuminating clay oil lamps called deyas. Revelers set out a hearty repast of delicacies, including vegetable curries and sweets such as khurma, a kind of candy, and kheer, similar to rice pudding.
Travelers should know that in Trinidad and Tobago, fun and celebrations isn’t limited to festivals. On any evening you’re likely to
find islanders “liming,” or simply hanging out together, enjoying good company and great food. Why not join the party?