We weave our way through the car park of Scarborough Market in Tobago, dodging a man donning a giant beehive beanie selling green bananas from the back of his truck, another precariously dangling live blue crabs from a large stick to flog to passing vehicles, and a gleaming white, flower-adorned car with the words “elegant #1” clearly introducing the two elderly ladies in the front seats.
Once we’ve squeezed into a space we continue on foot past vendors flogging vinyl, little potted plants and Tobagonian memorabilia. We’re making a beeline to the food hall where men tempt us with Tobago’s national vegetable, dasheen, “Look, it turns blue when it’s cooked!” and other island treats such as nutmeg powder, tamarind and dandy root.
Miss Vee’s stall catches our eye, with her homemade sauces and preserves bottled in White Oak Rum bottles. She tells us how she has perfected her pure coconut oil and hot pepper sauce recipe as she swiftly winds string round bundles of pink okra, otherwise known as ladies fingers.
We then ascend the steep hills of Scarborough to visit another local legend, Alison Sardinha, aka Auntie Ally. She dances round her kitchen as she tells us of her mischievous past and wonderful ways. Some more conservative island folk may not approve of the way she sits and enjoys fresh ripe mango, plucked straight from the tree and eaten with her hands at the side of the road. But, she emphasizes, “I am one of those that’s always moving, you can’t put no straight laced jacket on me”. Alison and her husband Kenneth let us in on a few secrets as they demonstrate how to make their Caribbean chicken curry – local coriander is bashed about in a pestle and mortar, snake beans are stripped and lots of sweet homemade golden apple wine is consumed.
Though 80 years young, Alison loves to lime (the Trinidadian term for “hanging out” that locals came up with when sailors used to come to shore and mill around drinking rum with fresh lime), so we arrange to meet her at Sunday School the next day. Despite the name, this is anything but a religious affair – locals and tourists congregate to see out the weekend together in a celebration of music, dancing and games. We drink Shandy Caribe, rum punch and local beers as we listen to the steel pan band and play back gammon with stones. As the evening descends, the boom box comes out and reggae and scar tunes take over as the locals come out to show off their moves and attempt to get us to spin and twist our way into the night.
We cross over to Speyside on the other side of Tobago to visit coastal restaurant Jemma’s Treehouse. Wooden shutters are propped up so we can watch colourful wooden fishing boats bob about as we tuck in to creamy breadfruit pie, fresh herb-dressed fish and huge plump prawns served family-style on the gingham table cloths.
Our trip comes full circle with a quick stop at Store Bay to pick up blue crab curry from the “Store Bay Ladies”. For the past few decades these ladies have been dishing out homemade crab and dumplings from makeshift shacks on the turquoise blue shores of Store Bay. Nowadays, 81 year old Miss Trim and her friendly competitors sell shell-on blue black crab in coconut milk and spices from colourful huts set back from the beach. From here it’s a ten minute walk to Tobago airport, making the famous blue crab a handy and very fitting last meal on the island.