October 9, 2007 6:20:00 PM EDT

East Indians were brought to the West Indies for much the same reasons slaves were brought there, to provide the cheap labor force for the sugar cane plantations.

The East Indian however, was mainly used as an Indentured servant, working mostly in the kitchens, while the African slaves worked the fields.

Like the Africans, when the East Indian came over from the various areas of Asia, they brought with them their culture, including their culinary contributions, these cuisines remained long after the slave masters departed, and today, has become a very important and integral part of the culinary culture of the Caribbean, many of these foods now intermingle with the cuisines of the Africans and other ethnic groups.

Of all the Caribbean, Trinidad and Guyana have the highest concentration of East Indians, and because of this, Trinidad and Guyana both share many commonalities when it comes to the culture and the Indian cuisine, and though the names of the dishes may vary from one country to the next, the foods remain the same.

Dishes like Katchowrie, Doubles or Bara, Phoulourie and Saheena (which could easily be mistaken for the name of an Indian woman), are delicacies influenced by the East Indian and prepared and served in many of the Caribbean-American Restaurants all across the United States.

The four dishes mentioned above are similarly prepared with flour, grounded split peas, water and seasonings. The seasonings of choice are usually, chopped onions, garlic and or garlic powder, hot pepper, a dash of salt and occasionally, chives. The flour, ground split peas and chopped seasonings are mixed together to form a batter.

The Katchowrie (Dahl pie) batter is a combination of dahl, flour and garlic powder which is fried in butter, after golf ball size pieces are pinched off and flattened in the palm of your hands. Katchowrie is served hot with any hot sauce.

Saheena (Spinach pie), is made with spinach, lime juice is also added to the batter. The mix of dahl and flour is rolled tightly and thick 1 inch pieces are cut off, deep fried and served with chutney or any hot sauce.

Phoulorie is made with flour and water. The mix is pinched off and rolled into table tennis ball sizes, deep fried until golden brown, then served with any hot sauce or fruit sauce.

Doubles or Bara (chic pea pie) is curried chic peas with a flour base. The mix is pinched off into baseball size pieces, flattened in the palm of your hands, and deep fried then served with curried chic peas, which is placed between the doubles, like a sandwich.

There’s also Aloo pie (potato pie), which is a combination of crushed potato and flour.

These cuisines are delicious and are a special treat during the Indian celebration of Devali -celebration of Light, a celebration of happiness and merriment, made merrier when there’s good food around.

There are many other foods of East Indian origin greatly influencing the Caribbean cuisine of today, among them, is Dahl- Indian style split peas soup with spices, no meat or provisions. Metai or Kruma- a combination of sugar, flour and yeast, rolled together and cooked to make a sweet hard candy. Ladoo, another sweet candy has split peas and gee or lard added to the other ingredients.

Bagi is an Indian name for spinach, baigan is eggplant, Boodie is bora or string beans. Accra is cod fish, blended with flour and seasonings. Bulljohl is salt fish, devoid of its salt by boiling, then crushed and mixed with onions, tomatoes and other spices and seasonings.

Then there is Kuchela ( grounded mango with mustard and seasonings).

Chokas, which are quick breakfast meals, are generally prepared with onions, tomatoes and seasonings, no curry powder is added to it. For example, Aloo (potato ) choka, is potato crushed and cooked with onions, tomatoes, saltfish and spices, and served with Sada roti.

Curry and cooking with curry is one of the greatest influences East Indians have had on Caribbean cuisine and of course, Roti is perhaps the East Indian’s greatest contribution to Caribbean cuisine, providing us with choices of sada, roti, dosti roti, pharata roti and dahl pour roti.

Dosti roti has no peas and is cooked in oil. Pharata roti or bust-up-shot as it is commonly referred to, because it breaks apart into pieces is made with butter, this roti cannot fold, you simply dip pieces of it in curry or sauces, and eat.

Sada roti is made with flour, salt and baking powder, no oil or butter is used. This roti resembles a flat thin pancake or Johnny cake.

The most common and by far the most popular roti is Dahl phouri served in virtually all Caribbean restaurants. Your recipe in on this site.

Foods so inseparable to the Caribbean culture, so common place to West Indians all have their beginnings some place and with some ethnic group, and today, they are very much a part of the celebration of the Caribbean Culture.

It is a fact, the Caribbean cuisine truly makes the culture of the Caribbean more remarkable and the mottos more meaningful- “Out of Many, One” and “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, and that says it all for the Caribbean culture and Caribbean cuisine.

Posted in News By Karl M. McGowan

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