MYF - Nita Ragoonanan

>> Wednesday 21 May 2014

Welcome! It's time for another MY FOOD interview.

If this is your first time here, 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 connect, communicate and the role food plays in our identity. For full details of the project and how to participate, click here.

This week, we head to Minnesota in the United States of America where Trinbagonian, Nita Ragoonanan lives. Nita, it is a pleasure to have you on MY FOOD.

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MF: Welcome Nita! How long have you been living abroad?
NR: 14 years
MF: How do you self-identify?
NR: As a Trini
MF: What dishes would you say identify you as a Trini?
NR: Doubles and Bake & Shark. These are two street food that are especially unique to Trinidad and Tobago.
MF: If you ever considered yourself to be American, would there be a food that identifies you as such?
NR: Oh yes, steak! Before migrating to America I never ate beef, now I enjoy eating beef but only in the form of steak.
MF: Is there a food or drink that is a taste of home for you?
NR: Ummm, a taste of home for me would be any kind or roti with a spicy duck curry and Oildown made with breadfruit and salted pigtails along with a cold glass of mauby to wash it all down. Yum!
MF: When you are entertaining, whether at the holidays or general occasions, what dishes do you make?
NR: Curry chicken is a must! If I don't make roti, they (my guests) would ask for it. And I can't forget a jar of homemade pepper sauce.
MF: If the people at your gathering are not West Indian or from "back home" do you still make dishes from home?
NR: I recently entertained some of my neighbours who are American and they wanted to try a few dishes from Trinidad, however, they cannot handle spiciness so I made curry shrimp and tamed it down with fresh coconut milk. I am very, very proud of my heritage and where I come from so it is important for me to make something that represents Trinidad, therefore, squeezing fresh coconut milk makes a connection to how things are done at home. The other thing is that I do not want them to try Trini roti and curry with a spoon, knife or fork! It must be eaten the proper way - with fingers!
MF: When you go to potluck get-togethers, would your choice be to make a dish from back home, or would you make a dish that is more in keeping with the foods of your new home?
NR: At potlucks I usually throw down a good stew pork or stew chicken. The colour of the stew amazes the other guests and they often wonder how I got the burnt/brown colour without the stew tasting burnt and bitter. I also make fried bake and fried ripe plantains.
MF: What are some of the rituals, traditions or practices associated with food from Trinidad & Tobago that you upkeep?
NR: Christmas! I make ham, black cake, sorrel drink, fried rice, potato salad and all the other traditional Christmas food. All of these foods I make to keep me connected to home. On Diwali day, I make paratha roti (buss-up shut) with channa and alloo, curry mango, mother-in-law and pumpkin to name a few. On Good Friday, I never cook rice. Back home we use to always make ground provisions with stewed fish and vegetables. It was considered bad luck to cook rice.
NR: I keep up these traditions mainly because I have a lovable 10-yr old monster who was born here (in the US) and I want her to know her heritage. I want her to grow up eating what we ate. If she is away with her friends and she hears about Trinidad, I want her to be able to identify with the food and culture and know this is what she is a part of. My husband is White-American and though he enjoys Trini food, there is only so much curry the poor man can eat (LOL) and he does not like meat or fish with bones!
MF: What is the food you missed most when you first moved abroad?
NR: Gosh, so many. It was difficult to get most of the local (West Indian) ingredients in Minnesota. I missed salted pigtails, doubles, bhaji (spinach), duck curry, breadfruit, fresh mangoes, pomerac (cashew), pommecythere (golden apple, june plum), governor plum, sugar cane... my list can go on.
MF: What are some of the must-have pantry items that you always have stocked to back Caribbean food?
NR: I always have Golden Ray Butter, Vet-sin, Chinese seasoning sauce, Grace spicy cock-soup mix, Chief curry powder, chowmein noodles and Grace macaroni.
MF: What type of food do you make and eat as a part of your everyday food routine?
NR: Each day it is a mixture of Caribbean and American food. Some days I would make tomato choka, biagan choka, fried alloo, stew chicken with rice or roti and on other days I would cook turkey, make tacos, steak & asparagus, couscous, baked fish among other things. I cook this way mostly because my husband is America and it is important that we appreciate each other's food. If I was given a choice though, most of the time I would cook Trini food because it is easier for me to put together.
MF: What is your favourite Trini dish?
NR: Fish broth made with King fish, closely followed by dhal & rice with spicy curried chicken.
MF: How would you describe the food of Trinidad & Tobago?
NR: Diverse, spicy, full of flavour, fresh, very well seasoned.
MF: How important is it for your child to know the cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago?
NR: It is very important. I want her to know about her food heritage and to be able to eat and drink what I cook. When I visit home (TT) I want her to eat the same Doubles at the side of the road that I am eating or to be able to eat the food that her grandmother is cooking.
MF: When you visit home and you are ready to return to the USA, what are some of the foods/ingredients that you take/bring back with you?
NR: King fish, salted pigtails, macaroni dried pasta, katahar, bahji and breadfruit.
MF: Is there any street food or shop-around-the-corner snack that was your favourite or makes you recall a fond memory?
NR: There was and still do have (to this day) a parlour very close to my home that had something called a suck-a-bag. What it was really was coconut ice cream in a bag, frozen. You would bite a hole in one of the tips of the bag and suck on it. So good on a hot day in Trinidad! It used to be 50-cents per bag.
MF: Oh, that sounds soooo good! Have you taken any food or drink from the US that you have adapted and made your own. Anything that you have Trini-ized?
NR: Well, I have Trini-ized most of the food that I cook today. LOL. For example, Turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I brine and season the heck out of my turkey with peppers, chadon beni, garlic, ginger, chives, Chinese celery etc.
MF: Is it important for you to keep a connection to your homeland through food? If so, please explain.
NR: It is very important for my Trini food to always be a part of my home. I have a huge family here and our food is what keeps us together. You cannot go to any one of our homes without first asking what's on the menu. You simply cannot cook only American food and expect the rest of us to be happy. There has to be something Trini in it. Our food from home is what keeps our family happy.
MF: Thanks again for sharing your food Nita.

You can find Nita online at Tastes Spicy.

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If you would 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 any one that falls into the categories below.


  • Caribbean/West Indian living at home
  • Caribbean/West Indian living abroad (1st, 2nd, 3rd generation. State which generation)
  • Non Caribbean/West Indian married to, 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, click here for details. The next instalment of MY FOOD is on Wednesday, June 4.

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