If you were to look up the national dish of Trinidad and Tobago, you would find foods like crab and callaloo, callaloo, or pelau. They’re all incorrect because there is no official, declared Trinidad national dish.
But, if you were to ask younger Trinis what the national dish should be, they will likely say doubles! Older Trinis would likely argue that chicken pelau should be the winner.
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Trinidad national dish: Pelau vs Doubles
Pelau (photo above) is a one-pot rice dish that is often made by stewing chicken in browning sauce before adding pigeon peas, veggies, fresh herbs and coconut milk. Beef and pigtail can be used as meat substitutes or meat can be eliminated to make a delicious vegetarian rice and peas dish.
In the newspaper article, the team argued that pelau is a delicious marriage between the East Indian rice dish, pulao, and the African cooking technique of browning sugar to invoke a smoky, rich depth of flavor. And, with T&T’s population being predominantly of African and Indian origins, pelau symbolizes the integration of the two cultures into one amazing, beautiful thing.
It might be fair to say the majority of citizens would vote for doubles to be the Trini national dish.
Doubles is the most popular and cheap street food in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s hard to explain what doubles is but it could be classed as an open faced sandwich of sorts and has origins in East Indian cuisine.
It consists of two deep fried, flat ‘bara’ or dough layered one on top the other and covered with well seasoned channa or chickpeas and an array of sauces and chutneys. Sweet mango, tamarind, pepper, roasted pepper, and chadon beni sauces along with cucumber chutney and coconut chutney can be requested at the doubles vendor.
The love for doubles runs deep
During 2020, all food establishments were closed and many people had withdrawals from enjoying a hot doubles at the side of the road. So bad was the tabanca (Trini expression for lovesick) that many tried to make doubles at home. It is a labor-intensive recipe and everyone had newfound appreciation for the hardwork of their favorite doubles vendors.
The then T&T Minister of Agriculture, Land, and Fisheries referenced doubles in a speech around this time. Snips of his speech were reported in this 2020 Trinidad Express newspaper article:
“I don’t have any problem with a bara every so often but to see people dressed for work in all their fineries, at five and six in the morning, standing up by a doubles man and coming back lunchtime by a next doubles man…I was so disappointed in Trinidadians and Tobagonians that in […], the one thing they could find to do with their time was to make doubles. Doubles is 100 percent imported content. There is no local content.”
“Our big imports are, of course, things that we need. Rice, flour, sugar…those things are things that we need. But do we need so much? Do we need doubles to be the national dish of this country? And not just a national dish at a certain time. National breakfast, national lunch, and national dinner?”
In response to these comments, Trinis from all walks of life certainly defended their love for doubles, suggesting it was an affordable, delicious option.
Doubles is definitely one of our signature dishes and many global foodies have featured it on their vlogs. Here is Davidsbeenhere’s doubles video:
T&T has more food options
Make no mistake, Trinidad and Tobago has a wide range of foods that could each be the national dish of the country.
Both crab and callaloo and curry crab and dumpling are beloved lunch dishes, especially in Tobago. They are made with blue land crabs and hairy land crabs that are cleaned, well seasoned and cooked either with taro (dasheen) leaves in the case of crab and callaloo or in a curry sauce for the curry crab.
Bake and shark
Bake and shark is another popular street food in T&T. It is essentially a sandwich made with deep fried flat dough and a well-seasoned, deep fried shark steak. A range of condiments like pineapple chow, cucumber chow, fresh salad, tamarind sauce, chadon beni sauce, garlic sauce and more can be added to the sandwich.
Roti is another contender but there are so many types and variations of roti in Trinidad.
Dhalpuri roti is a popular type, made from a seasoned split peas stuffed dough that is rolled out and cooked with oil on a flat cast iron pan (called a tawaa). The dhalpuri is often loaded in the center with curry potato or curry chicken, shrimp, duck or goat, pumpkin or some combination and wrapped to form a square, delicious sandwich.
Buss up shut roti is another type of roti where the dough is buttered and folded onto itself before being rolled out and cooked with oil on the tawaa (cast iron pan). Buss up shut is super soft, silky and is served alongside curry channa and aloo, pumpkin talkari, mango talkari, curry chicken, and more.
There are lots more options but I think I’ll stop here. Find more popular Trinidad food listed in this post.