Pelau is the solution to everything. It has its cemented place in everyone’s lives as the most versatile (and arguably, delicious) meal in the Trinbagonian menu. If someone passes away, expect a consolation tupperware filled with pelau. If you’re having a lime, then you’ll most likely be welcomed with a warm pot of pelau. And if you expect a long wait for a loved one at the airport, then pop the trunk, grab a paper plate and—you guessed it—enjoy your pelau. It’s basically the national casserole of Trinidad and Tobago and to be honest, we’d have it no other way.
The most striking quality about pelau is the ability for it to taste completely different from house to house. Wet or dry, beef or chicken, pumpkin or no pumpkin, with or without that glorious orange cooking butter—the possibilities are endless. But, the best thing about pelau seems to be how it tells the story of the people of Trinbago.
Pelau’s origins come from rice pilaf or polow, a dish commonly prepared across Central and South Asia and the Middle East. Pelau in Trinidad and Tobago however, came from East Indian indentured labourers who were used to preparing pulao. Burning the meat in sugar to get that signature smoky, sweet flavour, similar to the beginnings of a great stew is influenced by African food traditions. The mash-up of cultures beautifully exemplifies the Trini culture, a little bit of everything. Simmer your pelau with a whole pepper (let it burst if you’re brave), seasoning, pumpkin and of course, creamy coconut milk. You probably grew up with your mother using the yellow packets of coconut powder or two cans of glistening white coconut milk—either one will give you the touch of sweetness and cream needed for a perfect pelau.
And condiments are a whole other topic when it comes to pelau. If you rather creamy, opt for a sweet coleslaw most likely brought by the British. If you prefer savoury and tart, fresh tomato choka or coconut chutney, which come from a blend of Indian and British culture, add the perfect amount of acidity, pepper and freshness to take your pelau over the top. Kuchela, boiled plantain and a fresh green salad finish the meal perfectly.
Our picks for the best ‘lau in the country:
1 El Pecos Grill, Diego Martin, Barataria, Maraval, Woodbrook
2 Creole Kitchen, Maraval
3 The Original Breakfast Shed, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain
4 KCA Cuisine, Belmont
5 Kenny’s Restaurant & Lounge, Sangre Grande
6 Jenny’s Kitchen Korner, Freeport
7 Arthur’s Bar, Balandra