In Which I Go to Trinidad and Am Troubled by a Sandwich

maracas beach

Gorgeous Maracas Beach

I was on a press trip to Trinidad and Tobago. Nearly all of my expenses — flights, hotels, meals, including this damned sandwich — were paid for by Trinidad/Tobago Tourism.

“You gotta have the bake and shark.”

“Have you had a bake and shark yet?’

“The bake and shark is the best sandwich I’ve ever had.”

Upon hearing that I was bound for Trinidad, many people instructed me about this sandwich. And they were correct; the bake and shark is a damned fine sandwich. You get bake and shark at Maracas Beach on the island of Trinidad. The beach is damned fine too, a beautiful scoop of sand lined with palm trees. On one side of the highway is the beach, on the other, a parking lot, a changing room with showers and loos, and a bunch of bake and shark stands. One of these stands is Richard’s, made internationally famous by Andrew Zimmern on an episode of Bizarre Foods. That’s where my bake and shark came from. (The full episode is here; jump to the 33 minute marker to go straight to Maracas Bay.)

bake and shark

Bake and Shark and/or Existential Crisis

The bake and shark is a piece of fresh shark, breaded and fried. It’s served between two pieces of fried bread. There’s a buffet of toppings that you pile on top of your bake and shark — cilantro sauce, cole slaw, fresh pineapple, mango chutney, chili sauce, tangy tamarind. There are more than a dozen different offerings, including the more pedestrian ketchup, mustard, and mayo — my local guide told me to skip those and go right for the good stuff. The bread is fluffy and has just a little bit of crisp to the crust. The fish is hot and flaky and the batter isn’t even a little bit greasy. These qualities, slathered with sweet and spicy toppings, combine to make a perfect sandwich. I was not led astray, the bake and shark is amazing. I’m with Andrew Zimmern and my friends on this, it might be the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

But it’s shark, and that’s a problem. Or maybe it’s not shark, and it’s not a problem.

Typically, the bake and shark is (or was?) made from blacktip reef shark — that’s what it’s called out as in Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods show. Shark — including the blacktip reef shark — are overfished.

Capture

Most shark populations worldwide are at historically low levels due to serious overfishing. With just a few exceptions, shark is rated as “Avoid.” — Seafood Watch

I asked what kind of fish I was eating and was told it was shark — but it might not be. Stories in the Trinidad press say that some bake and shark vendors are using catfish instead — a (currently) sustainable alternative. I also found mention of lionfish, but that wasn’t so well received as lionfish can be poisonous. I was also told that in Trinidad, there’s no shark finning, but another source listed Trinidad as the sixth largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong.

Should you eat a bake and shark sandwich? I don’t know. It’s likely that the impact of half a dozen sandwich stands has nothing on the Taiwanese fishermen who cull the Caribbean’s shark populations and bring the fins back to Hong Kong. But marketing real shark is a thing here.

“People say is catfish you all serve and not shark, any comments?” I inquire.

“The amicable expression on Whiskey’s face disappears and she gives me a matter-of-fact look. “This is a bake and shark stall not a bake and catfish stall. We serve real shark here!”– Trinidad Sunday Express

My sandwich would have been no less delicious had it been made with catfish and I would not be asking all these questions.

From the Archives: Seattle’s Honore Bakery

Honore

It’s official, I’m a snob.

The reason for this epiphany? The baked goods at Honore. Now, granted, I didn’t try everything. Only four things: the cannele — a tiny custardy bundt shaped goody with gooey insides, the chausse de pomme — essentially an apple turnover, the koign imman — I’ll come back to this, and the almond crossiant.

For the record I get that there are different styles of baking and that just because an almond crossiant is one style, doesn’t make it better. But I am used to an almond crossiant that, when I put it in my mouth I think, “Oh god, this is what heaven tastes like!” The Honore crossaint? It was fine. Crumbly and fresh and buttery flavored. But I did not swoon.

The one that I did really like was the koign imman — that word is pronounced “queen”, FYI. The internet tells me that the koign imman is also known as a Breton butter yeast cake, or a type of scone, but the word scone does not really do it justice. Crispy, buttery, the sugar had carmelized on the outside of the flakey pastry and was there just a tiny bite of salt?

I’m not sure that the primacy of the koign imman warrants a drive all the way to Ballard when we have our own temple of sin a mere two miles away. I hear the macarons are good at Honore and the pinwheel cookies got a glowing recommendation, but they weren’t yet on deck for the day.

If you’re in that neighborhood and you need a snack, sure, go ahead. They’re awfully nice at Honore and they have an adorable back patio. Go directly to the koign imman. Unless you are a snob like me, then I’m sure you will find all of their baking lovely and delicious. It’s not their fault I’ve become a spoiled, obnoxious, epicure when it comes to baking. Really. For that I blame my local bakery and the entire nation of Austria. How can you compete with that?

Honore is at 1413 NW 70th in Ballard. And fun fact? It’s named after Honoratus of Amiens, or Honore, the patron saint of bakers.

Things I Liked About Trinidad and Tobago

I was on an all expenses paid trip to Trinidad and Tobago.

Christiana

Christiana, the woman who leads the tours of a chocolate plantation on Tobago. She’s in her 70s, tough as barbed wire, and funny. She walked the grounds barefoot, a huge machete in hand.

Nylon Pool

The turquoise waters of the Caribbean. We went swimming out past the break here — the water was up to about my collar bones — and the sand was so fine. Sadly, Buccoo Reef is bleached and almost dead, though glass bottom boats still take visitors out to see what few bright fish are still there. They should stop doing that.

Lobster

Grilled lobster on the beach. The grill master (who’s name I’ve regretfully forgotten) said he used to marinate the lobster, but a group of Italians told him he was doing it wrong. He tried it their way and decided they were right. He now grills up the lobster plain before laying on the butter and garlic.

Leonie

“Choka” for breakfast prepared by this woman, Chef Leonie, in the restaurant that bears her name. Choka is a spiced vegetable mash, which makes it sound boring, but it’s not, it’s delicious.

Seawall

The view from the seawall in Port of Spain at night.

Rocked, Lobster

lobstah

I’m on a press trip to Trinidad and Tobago. Nearly all of my expenses — flights, hotels, meals — were paid for by Trinidad/Tobago Tourism.

The bay looked very flat from the shore so I threw caution to the wind and joined the group when they boarded the glass bottomed boat to the reef. Thing is, out at the reef, the boat rocked and swayed and pitched. I tried to keep breathing and hold my breakfast down. The reef wasn’t much to look at anyway, which is a great pity — when you’ve seen a living reef, one where the coral is pale and the fish have vacated for a more vibrant community doesn’t live up to the hype.

I was grateful when we headed for less choppy waters. I jumped off the boat into the turquoise shallows of Tobago’s Nylon Pool and scrubbed my arms and face with the fine sand under my feet. The water was about three feet deep here — it felt so good to stand on solid ground.

At the sandbar beach of No Man’s Land we had a massive fish BBQ spread — curried crab and kingfish and shrimp skewers and lobster, even. “Onion, salt, and lime,” said the guy working the grill when I asked about the marinade. “But not on the lobster. I used to marinate the lobster, too, but then, I have a group of Italians come in and they told me I was doing it wrong. They were right, it’s much better this way.” I’m pretty sure he gave me the biggest lobster half, and oh my, was it ever delicious.

The ride back to the pier was on glassy flat water, so the lobster did not go to waste.

I Quit My Job to Travel the World.
Multiple Times.

Get-out-of-jail-free

  1. 1983. It was not my first trip abroad, I’d been an exchange student and then, after I graduated high school, a kibbutz volunteer. While in Israel, I met a boy and we traveled some. When I ran out of money, I went back to the US. I worked as a stocking clerk at a cheap fashion shop for 20 somethings. I quit after three months to go to England, meet up with the boy, and then to travel some more. I was still living with my parents, I was probably earning just over minimum wage.
  2. 1986. I was working in the box office of the local symphony orchestra. I liked my job a lot, my boss was wonderful, the people were fun to be around, and of course, there were amazing perks. I quit my job to travel from Berlin to Moscow, Leningrad, and then through Scandinavia on a camping road trip. I was sharing a cheap apartment, I think I just left my room empty. I don’t remember what I was earning; it would have been over minimum wage, but not exactly lush pay.
  3. 1991. I was working as a file clerk at a collections agency. It was a part time job, they wanted me to work full time and do collections instead of filing. I just wanted to refill my bank account so I could travel again. I quit to travel in Europe after I graduated from college. I was living with my ex, he had a full time job, so I wasn’t worried about money, but the pay for this gig wasn’t great. Minimum wage plus. We got divorced not long after I came back from Europe.
  4. 1994. I was running the special order desk at an art supply store. I was working 40 hours a week and I was a working artist at the time — I had a painting studio halfway between my apartment and the store. I quit to drive from Seattle to Alaska with a friend from Boston. I quit that job to go traveling twice. The first time, they said they wanted me back, the second time they said they wouldn’t hold my job for me, but by then, I didn’t want to work there anymore. A friend sublet my room in my shared apartment. I think I was making 10 dollars an hour?
  5. 1996. I was a natural language indexer at Microsoft. I was good at it and I’d acquired something of an obscure skill for the time, SEO was still very nascent. I was making more money than I’d ever earned at anything, I started at a whopping 28 dollars and hour and was raised to 35 over the course my two year employment. I quit with a very good job offer in hand from the Microsoft Office team because I was going to travel Australia for three months. I worked on contract projects for Microsoft for about 6 years, always traveling somewhere when my contract was over. I’d saved enough to buy a place, and I sublet it on Craig’s List every time I traveled.
  6. 2001. I was a documentation manager at a technology start-up. The pay was good — 72k annually — the benefits the best I’d ever had, and I had an excellent team. But after a few months, two things were very clear to me. One, this company was not going to be the big win I had hoped for financially. Two, I was constitutionally unsuited for a 40 plus hour a week office job. I quit my job for the last time because I realized that if I didn’t find another way to work, I was always going to be quitting my job to travel the world. I have a mortgage, sometimes when I travel, I just let friends stay because I know what it’s like to travel and need to sit still for a while.

How I Stopped Quitting My Job

I went back to contracting and freelance work and have not had a staff job since. I’ve been recruited a few times for some great jobs, but every time it gets serious, negotiations fall apart over vacation time — it’s never enough. “Let’s keep this contract,” I say, “because that way, I won’t have to quit to go traveling.”

My health care plan isn’t great (better since Obamacare became law) and my retirement planning is terrible. The pay varies wildly, I’ve earned as much as 80k and as low as 32k in a year, and the last two years have been especially difficult financially. But when I think about full time work, I remember how frustrated and depressed I get with a full time office job. I look instead for ways to cut my expenses and try to find new clients.  My last great client, we worked together on off for for seven years; my work went away when they were acquired by a multinational company.

If you’re under 30, hell, by all means, quit your job and go traveling — why wouldn’t you? But if you’re over 30 and don’t come from a state with a social safety net, it’s more complicated. It’s not that hard to quit your job and go traveling, it’s just not, especially if you’re well paid, have great job skills, and significant savings.  It’s a lot harder to figure out how to build a life that accommodates more than a standard vacation package.

I’m not a quitter — I’d actually love a stable income and good benefits. But I need more than that to be happy.

Related: Unpopular Headlines for Stories About Traveler Culture

The Peanut Butter Cookie Waffle

Peanut Butter Cookie Waffle

I’ve been wanting peanut butter cookies for a while, an odd craving, to be sure, but so it goes. I’ve also had this feeling that I should start a writer’s group, I’m not sure why, but it’s a thing writers do, and I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t be good for me to do so as well. Last, but not least, I want to waffle things. Because I can.

I found three writers who I greatly respect and who also enjoy carbs as much as I do. It’s hard to get four adults in one place, especially when they’re so free range, but I was able to wrangle two of them and getting together seemed as good an excuse as any to waffle up some peanut butter cookie dough. I knew these writers would be game, even if the wafflookies were a bust.

Here’s the peanut butter cookie recipe I used. I chose a flour recipe because I was concerned that the softer, flourless doughs wouldn’t release properly from the waffle iron. I rolled the dough into cookie sized balls and pressed them on the waffle iron, then let them cook until they were golden brown. It’s a little tricky to know when to pull them off and I let one or two of them cook for too long. Brushing the iron with a little oil is always good at the start of any waffling session, but these things didn’t stick much as the dough is so oily.

Even with the flour, the finished wafflookie was very soft; I had to release the edges and lift it carefully with a spatula. Once they’d cooled, though, they developed a nice crunch. I ate way too many of them while my writer posse talked about pitching stories, how to write about people you know, the cost of real estate in Seattle, what to read, and about the amazing rainbows that appeared after the hail storm that hit while we were at my kitchen table. Peanut butter cookie waffles (and their accompanying topics) would be great with ice cream or Nutella or just spread with jam.

If you waffle your own, do report back, I’d like to know what you learned.

 

Postcard from Traffic Court

I got a speeding ticket for going 27 mph in a 20 zone. The fine was pretty steep, so at a friend’s recommendation, I scheduled a hearing to see if I could get it reduced.

While I was waiting my turn, the guy next to me, G, a Paiute Indian (he told me so), introduced himself and gave me a fist bump. He then told me a bunch of excellent small stories, about jumping freights and how his gramma taught him not to smoke and about his work as a longshoreman loading the cruise ships and how one time, right after he’d read a story about key lime pie — “They have this huge festival. In Florida!” — he was loading a pallet of limes on the ship and the chef gave him the most gorgeous serving of key lime pie he’d ever had, with all the fancy presentation and a tiny perfect mint leaf. He grew up near Lake Tahoe. “We had some land there,” he said, “well, you know, not like it was supposed to be our land, but we had a place there…”He just shook his head a little, not angry, but as though I understood all the history in that tiny remark.

When I was called to appear, he offered me an apple for the judge. “I’ve got an extra one, if you need it!” I declined, but I could not have been more charmed.

The judge reduced my fine to the lowest allowed by the books. It took about five minutes. My new friend was still in the lobby. “I guess you didn’t need my luck!” he said. “That was fast!” But I think he was wrong, I’m pretty sure the goodwill the judge showed me came from the sunshine I brought in to the hearing with me.

I rode my bike home under a bright blue sky. I’m not saying you should go to traffic court, but if you have to, this is how it should go down.