Vancouver Bites into the Caribbean Summer Festival
Yesterday, I went to the Caribbean Summer Festival at North Vancouver’s Waterfront Park. This was my second year attending this annual event hosted by the Trinidad & Tobago Cultural Society of BC. Last year, there was a food debacle (in that I ordered something truly horrid) and I was pretty unsatisfied. So this year, I wanted to attend with a new attitude and a game plan.
Unfortunately, things went awry from the beginning. It was just one of those days where I woke up with self-loathing and a sense of doom. What? You don’t have days like that too? What is wrong with you?
The Big Man and I were going to start with a little capoeira by the water. Grupo Axé Capoeira was performing by the pier and I had to be there for that. Then we were going to head over the food tents, where I was to avoid the Nigerian food tent and the bad food memories that it unearthed for me. We were going to get Jerk Chicken and Curry Chicken and cross our fingers.
So, that was the plan. But remember, I was pretty much not feeling it from the aforementioned self-loathing/sense of doom. This was compounded by the fact that by the time I made it across the water on the Sea Bus, I was in dire need of a washroom break. We grabbed coffee at Starbucks and I got in the incredibly long line for the bathroom. Big Man was itching to get going (and by that, I mean hassling me to get out of the Starbucks bathroom line up), but what was I to do? Rush over to the porta-potties? NO THANK YOU! What was the rush anyway? Axé Capoeira might be from Brazil, but they move with the same it’ll-happen-when-it-happens sense of time with which the whole of the Caribbean moves.
I told him to go ahead without me ’cause I was not budging from that line. I finally made it up to the front of the line, whereupon I was greeted by a rather unsightly bathroom. Oh well, it didn’t stink and there was toilet paper, so I considered myself reasonably lucky for that. Now, I did not take my sweet time about this, but every 30 seconds, someone tried to the doorknob. Oh come on! I got more and more incensed with every pull of the knob, that by the time I walked out, I raised my voice at those still waiting in line and yelled, “Pulling on the doorknob does not make me move any faster. I get out when I get out!” So yeah, if you were sitting in the Starbucks just outside the North Van Sea Bus terminal around 1:30 pm yesterday and you heard a lady with the crazy eyes yelling at others customers as she stormed out…well, that was me.
I walked over to the water and what did I find? The Big Man waiting—yes, still waiting!—for the Axé Capoeira demo to start. “Good thing you rushed over here,” I commented snarkily as I walked up to him. I think there might have been a slo-mo eye roll in there too. Yes, I am a very flawed human being.
Ugh. What happened to my new attitude? I’m pretty sure that Angry Eyes weren’t in the game plan. Well, my attitude was about to change…slightly. I got a text from my friend Jen, who was lost in the crowd at the Festival. We hadn’t made plans to meet so this was an unexpected and lovely surprise. We chatted and got our fill of capoeira and then at long last, the three of us made our way over to the food tents.
My food game plan was:
- To stay far away from the Nigerian food tent. That place still haunts my memory.
- To try a food provider that had a physical location. This would ensure that if I liked the food, I wouldn’t have to wait until next year’s Caribbean Summer Festival to try them again.
- To try something old and something new.
Game plan #1, check. I did not even go over to that side of the food arena that housed the Nigerian food tent. I was interested in Trini Barbeque, but it was too close to the Nigerian food tent.
Game plan #2, check. I found Island Grill with their bright yellow banner proclaiming their location at 4697 Kingsway. Island Grill, which may have formerly been Island Pearl, is right across the street from Metrotown. That’s my neck of the woods, so not only could I visit them again, I could do it without much trouble.
Game plan #3, check. I knew Big Man would want Jerk Chicken, a dish he adores. So that left it up to me to order something I hadn’t tried before from a place that I hadn’t tried before. Oooh, the suspense! I ordered Curry Chicken from Island Grill and sent Big Man off on his Jerk Chicken mission. He returned from Trini Barbeque a happy man.
Island Grill’s Curry Chicken meal, $10, didn’t look particularly spectacular in the styrofoam container (forgive me Mother Earth), but it was a hefty portion. It came with a big mound of your typical Caribbean rice’n'beans, a slop of Curry Chicken, and a coleslaw-like cabbage salad on top. The container felt like it weighed about 5 pounds. Although I usually guard my food, wielding my fork as extra protection, I was forced to share the meal with Jen. I’m not a quitter, but there was just too much food for me.
I have to tell you, this was surprisingly delicious. Remember the bad attitude I mentioned before? Well, there was definitely a certain lingering grouchiness. For a time, however small, Island Grill’s Curry Chicken made me forget all my sorrows.
The yellow-coloured curry was mild, but packed with flavour. The chicken had bones, but who am I to push elitist North American food preconceptions on anyone else? So what if it has bones? Chickens have bones! Plus, this dish let me indulge in one of my favourite things: wet food on rice. Mmm, the curry was so wet—not runny, but just right. It slowly invaded the rice. With the aid of my fork, I helped the wet curry flank and overrun the rice. Soon, it was total wet food domination. The defeated rice died a watery death in my mouth, but I was the one to go to heaven.
Meanwhile, Big Man was enjoying his Jerk Chicken. My husband, a Jerk Chicken connoisseur, has a food memory that he can’t seem to escape or forget or recreate. Like my own deep-seeded food memories, his Jerk Chicken food memory also has its geographic origins in The Bahamas. We visited my childhood home in 2004. He had Jerk Chicken there for the first time in his life. Now, every time he has Jerk Chicken, he compares it to that first experience. It is like losing your (food) virginity: you can never get it back, you can never forget it, and you can never have a do-over (although some of us wish we could for entirely different reasons).
I wanted to get to the heart of this food memory and so I asked my husband to open a window into that first tasting of Jerk Chicken and let me take a peek at what it was like. He said, “Simultaneously, it was the hottest and most delicious blend of spices that, previously, I had never experienced. It was so intensely hot that it wasn’t possible for me to finish the serving that I ordered, but it was so delicious that I wanted to. For some reason, I enjoy that level of spiciness mixed with deliciousness. It is intense pain and intense pleasure. To me, it’s like how love feels…in your mouth.” Wow. Okay, what does that say about our relationship? I’ll leave that to the experts.
So how could Trini Barbeque’s $10 Jerk Chicken possibly live up to that? Apparently, it came close. At first, Big Man said that it wasn’t spicy enough, but then he had a few bites and it started getting spicier. I had a few bites, and I noticed the same thing. The spice had a delayed reaction, but the deliciousness was instantaneous. I kept sneaking my fingers into his plate to grab an overlooked piece of chicken.
After our meals, Big Man wanted a real fruit Slushie, which he purchased for $5. I went over and got a coconut from an unnamed tent (literally, this tent didn’t have a company name sign). For $3, the girl took a cordless drill and before my eyes drilled into a fresh coconut and handed me a straw. I got a much better deal than Big Man as the coconut’s juice was cool, sweet, and refreshing. I also bought fried bananas ($2.50 each or 2 for $4) from said unnamed tent, but they were meh.
All this good food helped to digest some of the melancholy in the pit of my belly, along with my horrifying memories of last year’s food adventure at the Caribbean Summer Festival. The festival is still going on today and I just might go back for Round Two.
North Vancouver, BC