MYF - Felix Padilla

>> Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Welcome to another MY FOOD instalment!

MY FOOD is an online research project based on my interest in Caribbean food culture and food heritage. It seeks to explore how we use food to communicate and connect and the role food plays in our identity. For full details and how you can participate, please click here.

This week, I am very excited to feature a very good friend of mine, a man I consider to be my brother and one of the finest cooks I know. When I am in search of something to cook or in need of inspiration, I often check his blog first. It's one of my favourite virtual cookbooks.

From the Land of the Hummingbird, here is Felix Padilla.

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MF: Felix, welcome to MY FOOD. Tell me, how would you describe the food of Trinidad & Tobago?
FP: Trini food has its roots embedded deeply in cooking traditions from the major ethnicities that inhabit the islands, yet, it is also progressive; exploring and embracing other foreign food cultures... Somehow, we take other recipes and they become a creative Trini fusion, which is readily accepted and absorbed into our cooking culture.
MF: Can you give me an example?
FP: Egg salad, though not traditionally Caribbean, I have taken it and added one of Trinidad and Tobago's signature chutneys - chadon beni. By adding a little of the Chadon Beni chutney to the salad, a completely different flavour profile is created, this Spicy Egg Salad now has true Trini flavour.
MF: What is your favourite dish?
FP: I'd have to say "Dumpling and Smoke Herring". To me, that's my comfort food, the food which I grew up on. It is simple and holds many dear and comforting food memories. Here's one of those memories: Mom was away visiting my eldest sister in England for 6 months and of course that meant that I had to fend for myself in the kitchen. Mom being away for such a long time made me miss her and her cooking very much. It was the first time in my life I was experiencing a little bit of loneliness, and the one dish that made me think of her was Dumpling and Smoke Herring. When I placed that spoonful of sautéed smoked herring with tomatoes, along with a piece of thin flour dumpling in my mouth, it felt as if she was there in the room with me for that little while... comforting indeed!
MF: I know that that memory was from a long time ago, you are now married with your own family. Do you a particular eating style, such a weekday, weekend food?
FP: My eating style or I should say, our eating style would be best described as health conscious but economical, sprinkled with a few dashes of fun explorations in between. Most people may think that eating healthy would be expensive with all the "health foods" and gluten free stuff, but I have found that this may not be the case if you are an innovative and savvy shopper. The fun for me happens when I try a new recipe and because of its taste, is in heavy rotation for a while, until I try another.

FP: In recent years I have seen my diet shift from the traditional, to what is healthy with some traditions intact. It is all about making healthier choices. So for a traditional Sunday lunch, instead of having the Macaroni pie, Stew Chicken, Red Beans rice, Potato salad with some watercress or green salad all piled up on one plate, a healthier option would be to have the green salad, chicken and some beans with one carb of choice. At least that's what I do now. LOL!
MF: How would you describe "healthy food"?
FP: Healthy food to me refers to food that is life-giving or beneficial to the body; not destructive or life-taking. Now, although I agree with this food philosophy, not all of the time someone may want to eat salads, fruits, nuts, seeds and maybe a little meat to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I believe life is dynamic and you have to celebrate at times and live a little, just don't overdo it. Let moderation and common sense prevail when it comes to your food choices.
MF: What is a typical weekend dish that you look forward to?
FP: It depends on the mood I am in. Some days I look forward to a good Fish Broff (broth) with some green fig (aka green bananas), pumpkin and potatoes on a Saturday, but if I am pressed for time, a one-pot stir fry does the trick.
MF: On any given Sunday, what's on the menu?
FP: I always like the simple path to eating. My wife is fond of Green Rice so instead of doing a plain rice, she makes that. Or I would do a chow mien or lo mien at times to break up the monotony. Sometimes we stew meat but that too gets overused and cliched so instead we bake, grill or broil. For a salad it may be a plain green salad with some Garlic Sauce (gotta have that garlic sauce!) or just some veggies, raw, roasted or stir-fried. And of course there would be the callaloo somewhere on the plate as well. So it's one carb, one protein and one or two veggie dishes.
MF: If you had to choose a dish or beverage that marks or identifies you as a Trinbagonian, what would it be?
FP: For the dish I would say Pelau. It is the perfect go along meal for any Trini occasion, be it a cricket fete match, panorama, birthday party, all-inclusive party or even a "wake". It is also a dish that everyone, okay most people, on the island(s) can make. Thus it unifies us.
MF: Food is at the centre of most holidays and festivals. Which is your favourite festival/holiday food?
FP: My favourite holiday food is Pastelle. To me it isn't Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago, until you have a pastelle. Everyone has their way of making it but one thing remains the same - with one bite you get that Christmassy feeling running through your veins. Sigh. Ah cud hear de Parang music playing ahready.
MF: Where do you generally shop for your food? Veggies, fruits, meats etc?
FP: I generally shop at the Supermarket. On some occasions I venture to the market.
MF: I know that you can cook. I think you can (lol)! How often do you cook?
FP: I do the cooking most of the week.
MF: What is the one dish that you can whip up in no time and can make off the top of your head, without a recipe?
FP: There are a few: Dumpling and salt fish or smoke herring, my favourite. Any stir fry noodles like lo mien, chow mien, beef with broccoli over Jasmine rice, seafood stir fry.
MF: Alright, I get it, you can cook! Do you eat street food?
FP: Sometimes I do. There are all favourites according to time and place. After a lime you know where the Corn Soup, Black pudding and Souse man is by the Savannah. After work on a busy Friday evening you have a spot reserved for you by the Doubles man. Punches are always welcomed to wash down a Gyro or burger and if you have other intentions, everyone knows where to get oysters... Oh and if you're in St. James, you could always get a pavement roti hot off the tawa! I love them all!
MF: If you are having overseas guests, particularly visitors who are not from the Caribbean and you needed to make a few dishes that is Trini food. What would they be?
FP: To me it would be unfair to cook from just one ethnicity to represent Trini cooking. Trini cooking is an experience that has to be lived one plate at a time. What I would prefer is to offer ethnic-themed menus and let them decide.
MF: Do you cook dishes from other cuisines or dishes from other parts of the Caribbean?
FP: That's a hard question. Even though I may attempt to cook a dish from a foreign country, because of my cultural upbringing, the food will still have some Trini or Caribbean influence to it. So if I am making Moussaka for example, the cheeses will automatically be substituted with what is locally available and so too would the seasonings. In the end it will become a fusion dish. I find that Trini food and its distinctions between foreign and local could be complex at times.
MF: On another occasion, I want to follow up with you on that last statement, for now let's move on. If you were migrating forever, what do you think that you would miss the most about the food of Trinidad and Tobago?
FP: I will miss the taste of Trini food. And if I miss the taste I will be miss out on all the taste memories that go along with the food(s).
MF: If you could take a food journey any where in the world, where would you want to go? Why?
FP: I would like to visit France. To me, it is the birth place of modern cuisine and I would like to experience what's considered to be the highest standards of culinary arts.
MF: Felix. Thanks for sharing your food with MY FOOD. I look forward to our continued conversations about food.

For recipes, mentioned in this interview complete with step-by-step photographs, the links above are all clickable. Felix blogs at: Simply Trini Cooking.

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If you'd like to share your food with MY FOOD, or know someone that does, leave a comment below or inbox me directly. This project is open to anyone that falls into any of the categories below, and you do NOT need to have a blog to participate.


  • Caribbean/West Indian living at home
  • Caribbean/West Indian living abroad (1st, 2nd, 3rd generation. State which generation)
  • Non-Caribbean/West Indian married to or partnered with Caribbean folk
  • Non-Caribbean/West Indian but the region has been home for at least 5 years.

Join the conversation on Facebook and don't forget that it is easy to participate. Get the details here. The next instalment of MY FOOD is on Wednesday, May 21.

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