Friday, September 12, 2008

There Was More To Eat, But I Couldn't Eat It: Sweet Tea Hits The West Indian Day Parade

Where I grew up, school started in mid-August, so I never understood the big deal about Labor Day. Now that I teach in New York (where school begins on the traditional Tuesday) and live in Crown Heights, Labor Day marks not only the great funeral feast of summer but also the culmination of a week of parties and concerts and merry uproar celebrating the Island roots of many of my neighbors. No one in the neighborhood gets much sleep that week, but we have a good old time before the winds grow cold.

There’s better music at J’ouvert, but for

gossamer costumes,
Watching the Mas Bands


Skully Man

Jewelry Store on A Granny Cart

Thunder BOLT

Trinis for Obama!

freelance pray-ers,
Need Prayer?

Laughing Ladies

Patriotic Pants

as flags,
Bajan Baby

and food,
On the Sidelines


Antiguan Eats

…you can’t beat the Labor Day Carnival parade, Brooklyn’s Mardi Gras.

Flags for Three Kings

and feathers

are out in force, and just as Fat Tuesday Catholics prepare for Lent with a proper gorging, we lucky parade-goers stuff ourselves silly in expectation of the next 364 days of relative depravation. Mamacita and I both hit the parade this year, though we never did find each other among the 3 million or so revelers. She’ll give her report separately; here’s mine:

I hit the parade on Island time, which is to say that I told friends I’d be there at noon but in fact shouldered my new boulevardierre bag at about 1:30. Roving Eye and I arrived at Bedford and Eastern Parkway hungry for doubles, a magical Trini chickpea sandwich and my favorite Carnival food.

When it became clear that finding doubles would take some doing, we agreed it wouldn’t be prudent to undertake the search on an empty stomach.

First stop: Roti.

Let’s face it: unless you’re tied by blood loyalty to another of the islands, it’s hard to argue that anyone’s food at the parade is better than the Trinis’. Trini food combines the Native American, European, and African elements common to much Caribbean food with Indian, Lebanese, and Chinese flavors and techniques. The result is sublime. I like a good Bahamian conch salad or Bajan fried flying fish as much as anyone, but if you have to choose only one flag to eat beneath, make it this one:

Flag and Oaks

Although this stand
Trini Food Stand

was out of doubles, they had chicken and goat curry roti, as well as plenty of fresh nuts and fruit.

Watermelon Woman

The young woman who served us said she ordinarily works a shishkabab stand but wanted to learn roti. She may have been new at this, but whoever was doing the cooking knew their way about all right. Roving Eye and I found a spare patch of curb to sit on, having not mastered the art of eating roti while walking.
Roti is essentially a stew burrito, a savory meat curry wrapped — bones and all — in a chewy flatbread. Before the first bite, it looked like this:

Chicken Curry Roti

…And after the first bite, it looked like a hot mess. Oh, but it was delicious! The bread is soft and chewy but not so absorbent as to become soggy in the curry. The chicken was tender and spicy, and the curry itself studded with perfect, slightly flakey potatoes. Neither of us could get the way of taking a bite and then extracting the bones neatly from our mouths, though I’m keen to practice more.

Our vigor renewed, we set off on our doubles mission once more, but I couldn’t resist stopping at this fruit stand, which was selling sugar cane.

Sugar Cane

We kids used to buy slender, 8-inch lengths of cane from the molasses-making exhibit at the state fair. We’d carry them around all day, chewing the stalks for the sake of their juice, spitting out hunks of masticated fiber. These folks were selling whole canes, thicker than those of my childhood recollection, but they agreed to sell me just a foot’s worth for $2, and they chopped off the shiny exterior. Ah, sweet nostalgia!

One of the magical things about the parade is that the vendors aren’t limited to established restaurants and catering businesses. Seems like everyone with an idea and a kitchen gets in on the act, using whatever is at hand. Roving Eye bought delicious pink lemonade from a man with a huge tupperware-esque file box balanced on a grocery cart. His other customer looks pretty unimpressed with me:

Obama for Pink Lemonade

We walked a few more blocks, but found no doubles. But we did find a woman selling Bajan fish cake!

The Fish Cake Lady

Fish cake is little fried nuggets of salt fish and flour and spice. The insides are fluffy and surprisingly dry, rather like hushpuppies:

Fish Cake!

I wasn’t sure how much more I could eat, but I rallied when we found, at long last, DOUBLES!, sold by J&K Halal Food for $2. I was distracted by delight, so some of these pictures are by Roving Eye:

Don’t let the piles of fried chicken and french fries fool you — I’m sure they taste fine, but there are better things here to fill your stomach.

Doubles from J&K Halal
By R.E.

Doubles is (yes, is — “doubles” is the singular and plural, as in “I’d like a doubles”) the perfect street food. First, take two pieces of yeast dough, seasoned and yellowed with tumeric, and fry them in 4-inch circles. These are the “double” part.

Frying Doubles Bread

Then, make a sandwich using the fried dough, with channa for the filling. Channa is a spicy mix of chickpeas — tastes very Indian. The chutneys that accompany the channa vary by the cook. Sometimes they are very spicy, sometimes cooling mint plays off peppers. In this case, the chutney was sweet with whole tamarinds. You can see a tamarind in the middle of this picture:
Doubles from J&K Halal

The result is a perfect balance of protein and fried satisfaction. This doubles is a bit more oblong than the standard and bigger, which may account for its being served in a dish rather than wrapped in foil for eating on the go. Just as well, since spitting out the tamarind seeds made it less than easy eating. But oh, so tasty.

Doubles from J&K Halal
By R.E.

Someday maybe I’ll try this recipe.

I regret to admit that by then I was too full for shark & bake or pholourie or anything else besides the snow cone I bought off a stoop on Bedford. But there’s always next year -- I have faith that summer will come again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mmmmm. Trini food is amazing. I had to go to T&T for work a few years back, and was lucky enough for a local to take me around to his favorite roti/doubles/shark & bake joints. I've never eaten so well.