In 1980, a young man crossed the seas from Pakistan. Working on a cargo ship to find his way to the United states of America at the age of 20. In 1974, a young woman was sponsored by her brother after her father passed away and came to the United States of America from Trinidad and Tobago with her mother in hopes for a new beginning.
They both landed in the city of New York, not knowing that their paths would be crossed and later create a life of their own together. This is the story of my mom and dad. My name is Shereen, wife of Habib Ehmad (the creator of Pakcord). This is a story of how I was raised in a multi-cultural home, being married into full Punjabi family and uniting these experiences with my love of food.
My mom and dad met in the late 1980’s at a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), while they were on line waiting for their turn. They locked eyes, and soon after, my brave father asked my grandmother for my mother’s hand in marriage. Now, some may ask, how did this happen so easily? Was it love marriage? Were there other intentions? Nope! This was a pure encounter and I always love hearing this story.
The two youngsters got married in 1987 and three years later I was born. Pakistan and Trinidad are obviously two totally different countries with a different cultural inhabitant, traditions, and most importantly, FOOD!
While growing up, I felt like I was evenly exposed to both cultures. My mom gradually learned how to cook Pakistani dishes as my dad taught her and because of her numerous visits to Pakistan. From Karahi to Biryani, my mom is a damn good cook. On the opposite end, I was also very close to my maternal grandmother who was an amazing Trinidadian cook. My sisters and I accompanied her in the kitchen while she would make sweet treats and savory curries and of course the fluffiest and buttery rotis ever! In this article, I will discuss how the dishes from each country may be similar, different and modified from each other. So, make sure you have a snack because you’re about to get stomach grumbles.
Growing up, my mom and dad wanted my sisters and I to understand where we came from and understand that we a distinctly a multi-cultural family.
My mom learned how to cook Pakistani dishes as my dad taught her during their early years in marriage. She cooked various dishes ranging from Karahi, Biryani, Shaami Kabob, and Pulao. Honestly, the list could go on and on.
Pakistani spices range from so many fragrances, colors and purpose. The combination of these spices create magic in a pot. Turmeric, red chili powder, coriander, star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves are just the basics to create an aromatic and spicy dishes to satisfy anybody. After getting married to my husband, I learned even more tricks in the kitchen. I learned from my sister-in-law how to make my own home-made garam masala. I learned from my mother-in-law how to cook various dishes from mustard greens, turnips, and Rohu curry fish dish.
One thing I learned and love is passing down these recipes and traditions are important to keep family values tight and forever. Food ties our family together in the heart of the home, the kitchen. Although I am married into a Pakistani family and value the recipes and traditions dearly, I do keep the cultures of Trinidad near and dear. I feel unique and fortunate to be able to cook with so much versatility.
Now, let's look at Trinidad food, starting with the sweets!
My grandmother would teach my sisters and I how to cook sweet dishes and savory dishes. After getting married, I shared this uniqueness to my husband and the most interesting part in doing this is when he says, “I’ve had this before!” Both countries and cultures may be different, however they can always be tied by the power of food in translation. For example, my grandmother taught me a sweet dish called Malida, which is mashed roti mixed with condensed milk, coconut, spices and raisins and then rolled into a ball. Pakistan has a variation to this and I think this is special! My grandmother also made a very special sweet dish called Barfi and Kurma (no, not Korma). Kurma is fried milk dough covered with sugar syrup, also called the Trinidad Gulab Jamun. This was my grandmother’s favorite item and her specialty to cook for Eid, every year!
Trinidadian and Pakistani barfis are very similar. One difference is that the Trini barfi always has the sprinkles on top, however they both taste quite similar and will satisfy your sweet tooth!
Now, let's talk about Trini food! I'm getting hungry just typing this!
Trinidad is also home of very tasty savory dishes like Doubles, which is a curry channa sandwich wrapped in fried dough, also known as Bara.
The difference in Pakistani and Trinidad cooking is the spices and methods of cooking. Trinidadian curries have adapted to the local spices with Creole influences. Only in Trinidad would you find dark roasted spices, roasted lentils, West Indian spices and Creole herbs blended into a curry. The spices may consist of turmeric, coriander, chickpea, cumin, garlic, pepper, fenugreek, bay leaf, mace, chile habanero, green onion, thyme, mustard, fennel, and nigella.
Another one of my all time favorite dish is called Dhalpuri. This is a white flour hearty roti filled with a spicy daal filling. My sisters and I would eat this on weekend mornings. The aroma that it would fill the house would make me feel warm and fuzzy inside as I watched my mom or grandmother pull it out of the hot tawa, then watching it land on my plate, steaming hot. The final touch would be adding butter, and watching it melt off.
These dishes are well-known throughout any Trinidad household. One memory that I reconcile with over and over is waking up Sunday morning to the smell of my mom’s cooking, and breaking open the warm and buttery rotis with my little finger and enjoying every bite.
Nothing can replace mom’s cooking!
Writing this article has made me realize how lucky I am to be exposed to these treasures and having the ability to pass down these amazing dishes to my future children and so on. Food is not only a sustainable need but a foundation for memorable gestures of love and family.