How to create tastes of Carnival at home
There are digital events all weekend, and here chefs and Caribbean food experts reveal how you can create the taste of Carnival in your own kitchen.
The diversity of Carnival food
If he were at Notting Hill Carnival, Chris – who started Caribbean Cottons – says he would be looking for “jerk chicken, jerk chicken and more jerk chicken, properly cooked in a jerk drum with pimento and sorrel”.
But it’s not just the food he loves about the carnival. “There is nothing to compare with the free spirits, colour and glamour. Reggae music blasting from every corner, the smell of home-cooked food lingering, the jostling of people shoulder-to-shoulder in good spirits”, he says.
“Caribbean food is so diverse and far reaching, from the French-influenced Martinique and Guadeloupe to the Dutch Antilles and St Maarten; from the Spanish-influenced islands of Margarita and Cuba to the English influenced Barbados, Bahamas and Trinidad, and of course the all-encompassing influence of the Arawak in Jamaica that inspired jerk.”
Chef and cookbook writer Ramoutar moved to the UK from Trinidad when she was 10 years old, and with her mother a costume designer for carnival, Notting Hill played a big role in her childhood. In fact, she was crowned Junior Carnival Queen at the event!
She specialises in contemporary Caribbean cuisine. Her advice if you’re creating Carnival food at home? “Try to get the big, bold spices that are in Caribbean cuisine and then give it a twist. Something like, jerk pork you can do with a pork shoulder so it’s like pulled pork and it’s got that delicious jerk seasoning. Then with that meat, I throw it with tacos, rice or bao buns.
“Having scotch bonnet pepper sauce in your cupboard is important because a couple of dashes in a stew or curry can immediately give it oomph. You can buy it or make your own.
“We’re all about the spices and herbs, and green seasoning – which is a mixture of parsley, coriander, onion, thyme, lime and garlic – is great. Blitz leftover herbs together and freeze it, then you can add it to dishes. A little touch of all spice in rice will give it a wonderful warmth. And coconut milk always adds a nice tropical touch”.
If you’re making Trinidadian food for the first time, Brian Danclair, the chef behind Brixton Fish, Wings and Tings, advises “start with something like a curry chicken, which doesn’t use a lot of spice but does use lots of herbs. Many dishes are really straightforward. There are key ingredients like cassava, which is used as a starch. One our most popular dishes is the creole Accra – also known as salt cod fritters. Growing up in Trinidad… we were surrounded by all kinds of food, Spanish, Latino, Chinese, it all comes together there. One dish that characterises the nation is callaloo, and that’s my favourite. It resembles a West African dish, where they put okra and spinach with peppers and meats, but we put crabs in it.”
We asked what food she would eat if she were going to Notting Hill Carnival this year. “Roti definitely! Between islands, there’s a bit of rivalry over who does the best, so I’d say they’re all great. The roti is filled with curry, so will fill you up ready for dancing!”