A Brief History Of Curry And Roti In Trinidad

photo courtesy of Creative Commons

by Sawyer Phillips

There is no denying the taste of authentic Trinidadian curry. Its aromatic taste of turmeric, cumin and coriander, and the rich color are intrinsic to the Trinidadian culinary repertoire.

When did this vibrant spice make its way into Caribbean kitchens?

A flavor awakening began in 1845 when a large influx of Indian immigrants came to Trinidad during the post-slavery labor shortage. This mass migration would last for the next 72 years. Within these 72 years, there would be a vibrant flavor transformation to Trinidadian cuisine.

tawa pan
tawa pan, photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Unlike the African slaves already living on the island, the Indian migrants were able to hold on to parts of their language, dress, and food. Many of the Indian cooking techniques were introduced to the Trinidadian cooks such as the use of the tawa, a flat surfaced pan. One of the most flavorful and arguably most delicious introduction was Indian curry.

Still, the Indian migrants experienced a culinary change. Since the Indian cooks no longer had access to the traditional hot peppers, the Trinidadian curry was distinctly milder than Indian curry. The cooks also tended to use curry powders instead of pastes. 

bussup shut, photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Trinidadian curry also makes its appearance in dishes such as curry goat and various soups. Throughout the years, curry became inevitably associated with roti or commonly known in Trinidad as bussup shut. This term first came to be used to describe the appearance of roti which resembles a torn shirt.

typical Trinidadian roti
typical Trinidadian roti, photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Eventually the traditional way of eating curry and roti, tearing the soft bread and using it to grab morsels of meat and vegetables, developed into a more convenient method. The roti wrap first became popular on the island in the 1940’s mainly for its convenience. Today, roti is used to refer to not only the bread itself but also the wrap. The use of curry is not exclusive to roti; the spice is used in various Caribbean dishes such as curried pholourie and pork colombo.

Curry has made its mark throughout many, if not all, of the Caribbean islands, but each island has a distinguished combination of spices. Still, Trinidadian curry has become popular in the US and the UK because of its distinct savory and pungent taste.


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