It’s a place packed with flavour. Located in the extreme southern reaches of the Caribbean, just off the coast of South America, Trinidad is green and lush, lapped by azure waters, the middle of the island rising into a jagged spine of soaring mountains. And everywhere you turn, there’s something good to eat.
Trinidad is a literal melting pot, bringing together tastes carried here on the trade winds, African and Indian and Asian and Arab (and more), all bubbling and boiling and popping and combining into a delicious mix. Hang out on rugged northern coast, on the grand curve of Maracas Beach, and you can dine on fresh seafood, drawn from the sea, right nearby. Curve into the hills, and you’ll find roadside food stands serving up all sorts of homemade goodness. In the capital, Port of Spain, there’s chutneys and curries, stews and sauces.
And, perhaps the most famous, there is roti—the specialty of Glen Ford, chef and co-owner of Island Cream. Born and raised on Trinidad, a sign on the front of this cheery, small restaurant in the heart of Peterborough’s Hunter Street Café District declares it “Home of the Mighty Roti.” Ford says fully 90 percent of his customers order this West Indian flatbread.
“I was a bush cook, I learned on the fly, and I’m still learning,” he tells me. “You learn from your mother, you learn on the block, hanging out.” I ask him to try the roti—just a tiny taste, please—and as he heads back into the kitchen, singing.
The walls are covered with colourful murals from the islands, blue sea and green palms, and a small menu on a bamboo wall displays a select menu—four kinds of roti (chicken, lamb, beef and vegetarian), plus a handful of other Caribbean classics, including curry goat, jerk chicken, oxtail, and ackee and salt fish (a tropical fruit paired with salted cod).
A few minutes later, Ford places a massive portion in front of me, the roti filling the plate from end to end. “There’s no such thing as a small roti, man” he says, with a smile. As I slice through the steaming dish (whose name, in Sanskrit, means “bread”), the shell is doughy, the potato and chicken warm, and the curry has just enough kick to make me take off my jacket.
And as I eat, now surprisingly hungry, Ford tells me that they first came to Peterborough decades ago with a Caribbean food stand at Folkfest. “We had a big line,” he remembers. “We were the most popular place.” Friends suggested they move to the city and open Island Cream, and they’ve never looked back. Now people drive in from hours away for their food.
Part of it is freshness—they shop at the farmer’s market, and buy local, whenever possible. But it’s also about the care they show, too. “I put love into it,” Ford explains, “and most people come back.”