Caribbean in Chicago
-Trinidad & Tobago
Welcome to the first installment of the newest of the S'C'&C wit Da King's food features: 'Caribbean in Chicago'-A round up of where to eat the cuisine from the many different islands in the Caribbean right here in the city. I got the this idea when my post on Negril, Jamaica became easily the most viewed post ever on this site with over 7,500 hits since first published last May. During my trip to Negril I planned to visit a few other islands including Trinidad & Tobago. It's one of those islands that has so much culture due to the different people that inhabit it. Of the people on the island 80% of them are either Afro-Trinidadian or Indo-Trinidadians. The other 20% is mixed with Euro/Chinese and Arab Trinidadian. So as you can imagine the cuisine is an amazing fusion of African, Indian, Creole, European, Lebanese and Chinese cooking.
This video pictorial I found on youtube made me really wanna go...next year
Unfortunately there were no flights from Jamaica and I would of had to fly back into Miami and then out again dealing with the pricks at Customs acting like I'm smuggling weed and weapons. But luckily for me Cafe Trinidad on Chicago's southside is now back open for summer and upon my arrival home I finally got to try it.
a real southside gem (Picture from Not For Tourists)
Cafe Trinidad is located on 75th st. and is the only place to my knowledge that serves up West Indian Cuisine in Chicago. It just so happens that even if there were any others I couldn't imagine them being better than this place. Its been praised by many native's of the island around the web. Although the islands of the Caribbean share such a close space in proximity it doesn't mean the food is the same at every stop. Trinidadian cuisine is very different than that of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Jamaican and the rest. The most common item found in almost any Trini dish is the roti. Its a warm thin flatbread that is an integral part of Indian cuisine and so its also very big on the island due to the Indo-Trinidadians heritage. However the difference is when people in T&T talk about getting some roti, they don't just refer to some bread. Instead they are talking about getting some sort of meat/vegetables-or a combo of both-wrapped up like a burrito using roti bread. Its one of Trinidad's signature dishes.
I finally got to try one of these and a few other Trini delights at Cafe Trinidad. I'm no expert on the wonderful flavor combos of Indian/Caribbean that make up Trinidadian cuisine but I am a new lover of it. The homemade hot sauce here is some of the best I have had anywhere and it goes so well with everything. Next trip I'm going to ask if I can buy a bottle for my fridge.
an appetizer of Caribbean boiled dumplings with curry sauce on top
^I'm a big fan of all things dumpling, so these were going to be the first thing I ordered upon entering. You walk in and go to the back where they have a counter in front of the kitchen. You can take a look at the menu, place your order with the wonderful lady at the counter and then just pick a spot to sit down at and they will bring you your food. The first thing that came out were the Carib dumplings which are available with a few different sauce toppings. We were told that curry is the most popular and so we got them with curry. If you like dumplings then this boiled version with Curry sauce is a good start.
The Roti wrap is classic T&T eats
^Next up was the classic late-nite and street dish of Trinidad & Tobago. The Roti Wrap is the Caribbean nations version of a burrito or pita wrap. They were created in Trinidad in the 1940's and became immediately popular due to their easy portability and the fact they were made quickly. This is a very popular dish on the streets and they are also found late into the night outside the clubs. The wraps are made by placing a curry stew-containing a meat like chicken, goat, beef or shrimp with potatoes with other spices and seasonings. It is then folded and wrapped into burrito form.
Jerk Chicken Roti
One thing that is pretty common on Caribbean menus is oxtail. Its also happens to be one of my favorite pieces of meat. The rich flavorful beef when cooked low and slow falls right off the bone and the people of the islands know how to do it right. Its because of this I will always try the oxtail at a place that specializes in island fare. Over at Cafe Trinidad they have what might of been the best oxtail dish in the city because it was for sure right the day I visited. If your a hot sauce junkie like me then you have to try the orange stuff in the bottle at each table which you can see is layered on the meat. The tails were meaty and perfectly seasoned and cooked while the Trini style Macaroni Pie (Mac & cheese) was a perfect sidekick. What a great lunch that is for $6.95.
Oxtails browned and slow simmered in brown sauce
Since this was my first real run in with Trini food I felt the need to get the most signature items from the cuisine. Pelau is a Trinidad style stew like dish that I imagine is made differently by people across the island. It usually consists of either beef or chicken which is simmered in rice, coconut milk and pigeon peas until it becomes dry. Its almost like the Caribbeans version of fried rice and it makes sense since Chinese populations can be found on most of the islands. Cafe Trinidad's beef pelau was great and it was kicked up a notch by the amazing orange hot sauce. If I head here solo next time I will get an order of Pelau for my fridge since it reheats so well. What cant be seen in the pic below is the tender shredded beef in there as well as some potatoes. When doused with hot sauce this dish was really good.
Beef Palau is a signature Trinidadian dish
What a lunch it turned out to be. The only disappointment was the fact it took me this long to get there. The people working inside were warm and welcoming and gave me much food advice for when I finally make it to T&T. Not sure when that will be (next winter maybe) but I will for sure be back to cafe Trinidad before then. Great food, great people and great prices is what your going to get on a visit here. Its just another stop on the food rich 75th Street on Chicago's southside.
557 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619