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A First Glimpse of Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago

Christmas in Trinidad & Tobago; photo by Edmund Gall, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Christmas in Trinidad & Tobago; photo by Edmund Gall, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

It's the Christmas season, which means celebrations and lots of food and music in countries around the world. Anticipating the tastes and sounds ahead, food blog Trini Gourmet has published a series of stories about the music and dishes that accompany Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago. GV's Caribbean team will be profiling some of the best stories and recipes from the series in an effort to share a Caribbean Christmas with you, dear readers!

Parang
Parang music, a folk-hybrid with roots in Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, mixes Latin and African beats with Spanish-language lyrics to pay homage to the birth of Christ. Parang bands, or “paranderos,” typically act as carollers, going from house to house to serenade people (and hopefully be invited in for food and drink). This tradition is dying, but it can still be seen in more rural communities, like Paramin and Lopinot. More popular today are parang festivals and competitions, where enthusiasts pay to attend.

Parang singers in Trinidad & Tobago; photo by Edmund Gall, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Parang singers in Trinidad & Tobago; photo by Edmund Gall, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Trini Gourmet calls parang Trinidad and Tobago's “soundtrack to Christmas,” highlighting parang greats like Daisy Voisin and The Lara Brothers. These parang pioneers may have died long ago, but there is a new crop of performers who are putting a more modern spin on the genre, incorporating elements like soca and chutney music for an entirely new take on tradition, mostly with English lyrics. As Trini Gourmet puts it:

In the past 2 decades the lines between carnival soca and parang soca have become increasingly blurred. The parang soca of Sharlene Flores’ day seems downright languid compared to the faster rhythms of today’s fete joints, first by melding calypso rhythms to become parang soca, and most recently by incorporating classical Indian rhythms and tonalties to form ‘chutney parang soca’. Much like our cuisine, the possibilities for musical fusion seem endless!

Sorrel
All that singing makes you thirsty, and sorrel—a rich, red fruit drink—is the perfect solution. Trini Gourmet's description is enough to make anyone want a cup:

Sorrel bud; photo by Janine Mendes-Franco, used with permission.

Sorrel bud; photo by Janine Mendes-Franco, used with permission.

Sorrel, made from the sepals of the sorrel flower is fruity and fragrant. I have fond memories of sitting at my aunt’s feet as a child, helping her to handpick the flowers. The seed of the sorrel is covered with fine prickly hairs that eventually find their way into the pads of your fingers. They are not painful but definitely annoying! A friend once told me that the petals are quite delicious raw with some salt. At first I thought she was insane but once I tried it I was hooked.

Similar in taste to hibiscus tea, sorrel becomes even more heavenly with the addition of rum. Made properly your sorrel should be thick and syrupy. Fear not, just dilute it with some cold water or club soda when serving.

Black Cake
Trinbagonians will find a way to consume alcohol even when eating. Black cake, also called fruit cake, is perhaps the proof of the pudding. Trini Gourmet calls it a “Christmas institution” in Trinidad:

Made predominantly of alcohol drenched prunes, currants and raisins, variations abound (and I love taste testing when we make the visiting rounds). Still, the best black cake is always the recipe that one grew up with. […]

You’ll notice the insane amount of liquour that goes into this dessert. Not only does that make the final cake unbelievably moist it also renders it virtually ageless. My aunt makes a batch of these at xmas time, keeps them in ‘old time cake tins’ and even in July and August we are still eating the remnants!

Black cake and ice cream; photo by Steve Loya, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Black cake and ice cream; photo by Steve Loya, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Because of its long shelf-life, this dessert is also the traditional choice for wedding cakes in Trinidad and Tobago, and frozen leftovers are traditionally consumed on a couple's first wedding anniversary. The newlywed couple takes a slice of cake saved from their big day and digs in to celebrate their first year of marriage.

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