Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Tobago the Extraordinary

Tobago is a different space. Really, I do not say this lightly. For years the cuisine chat coming out of Tobago has focused on the Store Bay stalwarts such as crab and dumpling and the legendary blue food that is so tied into the cultural traditions of Tobago. But growing steadily alongside this "blue food" tradition is a unique Euro/Caribbean street food that I have not seen anywhere else in the region. Artists, chefs and other wanderers have captured a niche in Tobago Usually it's people seeking to escape the global hamsterwheel and an interesting artistic/culinary culture is beginning to take shape. The evolution of both the art form and cuisine coming out of Tobago is almost impossible to imagine in Trinidad.
There is a naivety to Tobago that permits this expression. It is an interesting anomaly in a region that has become largely dominated by corporate tourism. I suspect in years to come, these will be referred to as the "golden days" before the world "discovered" Tobago.
The day after the Jazz festival, we decided to do a bit of exploring and stumbled upon two very unique experiences. The first was heaven sent. My hangovers call for protein so a tenderloin tartare was just what the doctor ordered. But really what are the chances of stumbling upon such an offering on an idle midday walk? La Cantina is run by a charming young couple- Trinidadian Kisha Monti met her Italian husband in the Bahamas and the rest is history. They raise their two girls in Tobago and run an authentic Italian pizzeria (complete with roaring wooden oven) and offer fabulous fare (see the board below).
I was able to get in behind the scenes to see the pizza dough being rolled and slung into shape. This was the type of expereince that I always anticipated having in New York or Italy but never Tobago.
With lightning speed, it was flung, dressed and shovelled into the roaring mouth of the fiery oven.
Ross said it was great and my tartare was just what the doctor ordered.

Don't panic at the prices. Our exchange rate is roughly $6.00 to $1.00US.
If you get to Tobago, pass the Coco Reef entrance and turn into the Royal Bank compound on the left. There you will find La Cantina and bizarrely, this space is shared with a bona fide Cuban cigar roller? Is that what they are called? There he was rolling his cigars and listening to a Venezuelan radio station on his short wave radio. Language was a bit of a problem so I couldn't pin down a whole lot of history but like his Italian counterpart, he was the real thing.
These tobacco leaves are brought in from Cuba but Tobago once grew her own tobacco and, if I am not mistaken, this is where the word Tobago originated. Correct me if I am wrong, but I remember reading this years ago.

So in one weekend I was able to see Rod Stewart, Shakira and Whitney Houston live and close up in concert. Swim and lime in some pretty spectacular water, eat some great tartare, watch the pizza dough fly through the air AND see some cigars being rolled. A good weekend.