Trinidad and Tobago are small islands paired by the vagaries of colonization. Together we are less than 0.6 percent the size of Venezuela. Geologically speaking, Trinidad is an actual chip off the old South American block. Tobago, a little farther north, is a proper Caribbean shard. Small as we are, at heart we are conquistadors. We never saw a thing we didn’t want to name and own—or think we owned.
I present doubles. This Indian-inspired, almost national food is definitely ours. But not since creation-versus-evolution has the start of something been so hotly debated. I’ve logged three we-did-it-first family stories and lost count of the number of individuals who imagine themselves personally responsible.
Indentured East Indians came here to work in our post-slavery economy of the nineteenth century. (The fact that indentured servants were replacing slaves indicates how far Trinidad and Tobago still had to go.) We thank them for curry, a love of legumes, and a mania for greasy foods. And we’re grateful that, surrounded by our unfamiliar spices, they didn’t flee but hung around, experimenting and innovating. They were promised return passage to the subcontinent after working for the agreed number of years, but many stayed. Because, really, who wants to go back to a country without doubles?
The noble doubles—the noun is both singular and plural—comprises two baras with a spoonful of curried channa in between. Bara is a smallish fried flat bread. Channa is a maybe-not-only-Hindi word for chickpeas. Add condiments. Local chutney can resemble its Indian forebears. Kuchela is like a chutney that’s not interested in moisture. Tamarind, mango, cucumber, and coconut all get shredded or squished, seasoned, and dried or pickled. But all is mere garnish. The real purpose of doubles is providing a backdrop to hot-pepper sauce. Slight, medium, and hot: These are the only indicators required by the vendor. In Trinidad and Tobago one person’s slight is another’s trip to the ER.
The tiny, spicy sandwich is now folded back on itself and twisted into a nondripping mass by the server’s magical spinning and twirling of paper. No mortal can do it. I’ve tried. Origami is easier. But you can only eat so many paper cranes.
1 pound whole grain channa (chickpeas)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
3 leaves culantro (called chadon beni in Trinidad) or 2 teaspoons preminced
¼ tsp roasted ground geera (cumin)
2 tsp curry powder
¼ tsp saffron powder
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp saffron powder
1 Tbs ground split peas
1 tsp instant yeast
½ tsp ground geera
oil for deep-frying
Soak channa in water overnight. When ready to prepare, drain and rinse them and season with salt, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon garlic. Mince culantro (or use preminced) and add to channa. Sprinkle with roasted geera. Leave to soak in seasonings for at least 30 minutes.
Mix curry powder and saffron powder in a small bowl with just enough water to make a slightly runny paste.
Barely cover the bottom of a pot with oil and heat. Add a pinch of whole-grain geera and 1 teaspoon garlic. Saute for 30 seconds. Add curry mixture, saute 30 seconds more and then add channa. Cook until the channa begins to brown. Then add enough water to cook the channa until soft but not mashed.
Note: It is useful to have two people for the frying part.
Knead all ingredients with sufficient warm water to make a soft dough. It’s a feel thing—there’s no fast rule about the amount of water.
Cover and let rise for 1 hour or a bit more.
Oil your hands to allow dough to slide out easily. Pinch off small balls of dough and flatten into palm-size discs.
Heat a large iron pot or wok with oil for deep-frying. Deep frying amounts of oil.
Quickly throw bara into hot oil, flip, remove, and drain on paper towels. If oil is hot enough, bara will fry quickly. This is where the extra person becomes useful: one of you to drop the dough in, another to retrieve it.
Serve with tamarind or mango chutney and pepper sauce.