Traditional Trinidad Christmas

As always, it has been a hectic, whirlwind of a Christmas with numerous tasks that are truly a labour of love. The cooking, cleaning, shopping are all worth it to see the smiles on the faces of family members and friends and feel the warmth of what is still a magical time for me. OK, enough with the cliches and feelings and on to what you came here for - the food! :-)

Shoppers amidst the Christmas decorations
at The Falls, West Mall in West Moorings
Modern Trinbago Christmas for most, reflects some aspect of the trends (mainly American) of today's holiday cuisine: Roasted Turkey with Stuffing and Cranberry Sauce, Roasted Lamb and/or Pork, Smoked Chicken and Smoked Hams, however traditional elements are always present and it seems Christmas can't be Christmas here without them.

A piece of my 'Macaroni Pie'
Macaroni Pie: This is to us what Mac and Cheese is to Americans. We have it for any special occasion and for Sunday lunch. Its a staple that seems to never get old and everyone has a recipe variation of this baked 'pasta casserole' which of course, their Mom or Grandma makes best. Its basic ingredients are Pasta, cheese, butter and milk, layered or mixed together, topped with cheese (sometimes crushed crackers or breadcrumbs) and baked till liquid is gone but still moist. Some add eggs, some don't and how you season is up to you, but common is garlic, onion and prepared mustard.

Top view of our Top Pie
My recipe (still evolving) calls for either elbow macaroni or small shells, two kinds of cheese (sharp New Zealand cheddar and Parmesan reggiano), eggs, half and half and Dijon mustard, of course seasoned with garlic and oregano. I top with a mixture of Panko flakes, Parmesan cheese, garlic and smoked paprika mixed with a little olive oil.

Traditional Ham and Chow-Chow
Ham: There are local Christmas songs (many) dedicated to this element of our tradition (hey, its pork - could less be expected?) You must have Ham! The custom is salt cured with a good rippling of fat, kind of Ham. A country Ham, not smoked. Condiment of choice for this is a 'Chow-Chow': A savory, yellow pickled mixture of vegetables and/or fruit with vinegar and yellow mustard as the dominant flavors (English influenced). As part of a main meal or snack in between you have to have the Ham (I said that already didn't I, it's worth repeating). :-)

Pure Beef Pastelle made with White Cornmeal
Pastelle: Without a doubt a Spanish influenced Christmas staple! Seasoned cornmeal stuffed with meat, olives, capers and raisins, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Yum! Simple sounding but complexed in flavors and delicious. A good Pastelle is moist, the cornmeal outer layer thin (especially at the folded edges), meat grounded to an even consistency in texture and well seasoned, and not overly stuffed. Olives, raisins and capers included in the right amounts and not too greasy (oil or butter is used in preparing the cornmeal).

A Banana Leaf Wrapped Pastelle
Black Cake: Not to be confused with Spice or Rum cake common to many of the Caribbean Islands, our Black Cake is permeated with 'Browning': burnt brown sugar done just so as to not be bitter but produce a smoky flavor and color the cake a rich and very dark brown. Cherry Wine (usually cheap and sweet) soaked dried fruit (currants, prunes, cherries, orange peel etc.) incorporated with Rum (a lot of rum, so much so that the cake can last for months without refrigeration). 

Trinidad 'Black Cake' laden with Cherry Wine
Soaked Fruit and laced with Rum
Many good Restaurants offer special Christmas Menus with these standards incorporated, but for a taste of true Trinidad and Tobago tradition, home made and shared with ones you love is always the best. 
Visit the Belly in Hand Facebook page for more Trini Christmas love 2010: http://www.facebook.com/BellyinHand 


Trinbago Rights said...

Put some recipes too! :)
I've been cooking since I was 11 when mummy told me, "I doh want no woman to cut style on yuh", but recently I've been longing to try different things... only problem is that I can't find a true Trinbago recipe website.

Tired of switching between stew/curry/mac. pie/lentils...

Any suggestions?

~Melissa said...

Recipes coming soon!
I hear you with the lack of comprehensive Trini Cooking sites but you can try: http://www.simplytrinicooking.com/ and remember this is a home cook, so you can improve on the techniques and methods. He (Felix) is dedicated to presenting the breath of Trinbago cooking. :-) And he is a Trini, living here, eating here, eating all meats and giving you as he sees it. Hope this helps.

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