Monday, October 26, 2009

VENI MANGE - TRINIDAD STREET FOOD

Photograph by Harnarnine

Veni Mangé is a Creole expression for "Let's Eat". It's a perfect little phrase that captured my mood after seeing and smelling some of the fantastic cuisine that Trinidad Island has to offer. It also explains another little phrase.....one never goes hungry in Trinidad. A quick stroll down Frederick Street and Independence Square gave me confirmation of this familiar Trini adage. The waterfront center is a vibrant hustle-bustle district filled with a number of shops and diverse cultural fusions including a large Syrian-Lebanese community and it's own Chinatown. I loved hearing music played everywhere while purusing the open air food stalls.


I especially enjoyed some of the local favorites like roti (a wrap stuffed with curried meat or vegetable filling) and doubles- the ultimate Trini street food made with two flat fried breads, channa (curried chick peas or garbanzo beans) and any variety of spiced chutneys (mango, cucumber, coconut, tamarind) and pepper sauce. Traditional "doubles" are an East Indian inspired breakfast fare. The last notable Trini food fare is a deep fried shark wonder, surrounded by a fried bun and topped with numerous fillings. It's called a "bake and shark". It is something New York Times journalist Sam Sifton calls "a truly righteous sandwich."

Bake and Shark Photo: M. Timothy O'Keefe / Alamy



Saturday, October 10, 2009

WALKING IN MEMPHIS

The town of Memphis looks and feels as gray as its weather. After visiting this last week, I think I understand a little more about the Memphis Blues. While I was there, I avoided the tourist detour to Graceland. I also didn't have a chance to see any musical legends sing at the Grand Ole Opry. I did, however, stroll Beale Street and couldn't help but hear the Walking in Memphis tune playing in my mind. When I asked two of the event chefs, I worked with, where should I go to eat, they both suggested two restaurants: one for ribs and the other for fried chicken.


The first place these chefs suggested was a place called Rendezvous - a restaurant best described as a carnivore's delight. Steven Raichlen of the BBQ Bible says, "Whenever I go to Memphis I have a little ritual. I check into the Peabody Hotel, then duck down a dumpster-filled back alley, and rush to Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous." The ribs at Rendezvous started their legendary Memphis stake when Charlie Vergos discovered a a coal chute in the basement of his diner. Today you'll find the place teeming with customers trying to snatch up his "world famous" charcoal-broiled pork ribs. It's classic barbecue. Unfortunately, I couldn't really endorse these ribs as the best. My next stop, however, belted out an all-together different tune.

Photo by Jon Blancett


I do not know of any "fried" specialty place that has a reputation so good that even the Better Business Bureau gives it an A+ rating. Gus's Fried Chicken "World Famous" is a hole-in-the-wall gem that creates the best fried chicken I've ever tasted. One reviewer stated, "If God made fried chicken, it would taste like Gus's." This sounds like a lot of hype, but honestly, this diner is not too far off the mark. The temperature, tenderness, spices, and taste of this fried chicken are all together exceptional. If you are anywhere in a 100 mile radius of Memphis, get yourself down to Gus's. You will be happy you did.