Canadian-born Natalie Ramtahal was 15 when she first visited Trinidad, her parent's home country. While the swaying palm trees, island sea breeze and tropical humid air struck her immediately, what captured her heart and, more specifically, her taste buds, were the home-cooked meals.
"I was visiting one of my mom's sisters, who had always been deeply connected to cooking and food," Ramtahal told HuffPost Canada. "Most of the memories I have of her are in her kitchen eating something delectable that she made from memory and by using no measurements."
Her aunt's standout dish: curry crab and dumplings.
Hear Natalie and her brother talk about the Trinidadian dish, pelau. Our podcast, "Born & Raised: Food," tells stories of food and family from second-gen Canadians. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.
"The very last food memory I have of her before she passed away was her making me curry crab and dumplings in her country home in Sangre Grande. It was the first time I had ever eaten the dish. Her version will forever live on in my mind as the standard for what Trinidadian curry crab and dumplings should be," said Ramtahal.
The dumplings are affectionately known as cow tongue dumplings, likely because of their wide, thin and flat shape, said the Trinidadian-Canadian.
Ramtahal said the dumplings are incredibly simple to make: just flour, salt and water and are then boiled.
"My aunt made it extra special by pan frying them after boiling them in Golden Ray margarine and onions. The orange-gold hue of the margarine and the distinctive taste, which I can best describe as salty-rich-buttery and almost cheese-y, enhanced the flavour and richness to the otherwise, relatively bland dumplings."
But it was the crab that left an indelible mark on the Toronto-based food blogger and communications specialist. The crab was cleaved into quarters and cooked in a curry, she said.
"The crab my aunt made was in a deeply complex, rich, and fiery-hot curry sauce. The consistency was slick and fairly runny, and it pooled around the dumplings. Each bite filled my mouth with the robust flavour of Trinidadian curry: sharp garlic, sweet onion, fragrant chadon beni (also known as culantro) [a herb similar in flavour to cilantro and coriander] and blazing hot habaneros."
"I ate that dish and never wanted it to end," she said.
Watch: How to make curry crab and dumplings. Story continues below.
Despite her deep-seated love for the pairing, Ramtahal notes that the dish, while widely made and consumed in Trinidad, isn't actually local to the island but is originally from Tobago — Trinidad's sister island. Tobagonians are predominantly of African descent. But, in the case of curry crab and dumplings, curry is from British/Indian origins and the dumplings are distinctly African cuisine.
"It is a true hybrid of the sister islands," said Ramtahal. And just as it bridges the islands together, it also connects Ramtahal to her roots.
"Food IS culture — it's not just a fraction of it," she said. "Food links me to my family, our stories and our land. Food is what keeps me alive, but it is also what has kept Trinidadians moving, from slavery, through indentureship and today existing as a unified country."
"I don't 'feel' Trinidadian ... whatever that means," she said. "But, I do feel deeply connected to Trinidadian food and dialect. While my parents are very Canadian — they've been here for about 50 years — their sing-song accents still cling to their words when they speak. And when we celebrate holidays, my mom always makes curry crab and dumplings."
Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories — join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at email@example.com.
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