A Taste of Trinidad on Nicollet Avenue

Kathleen Ambre

Wafts of warm masala spices—smokey black peppercorn, sweet ginger, and spicy habanero chile—cloud the entrance of Harry Singh’s Caribbean Restaurant. Scattered tables and chairs, alongside swoops of decorative clutter suspended from the ceiling, conjure up a quirky yet casual atmosphere. Multi-tongued murmurs soften blasts of West Indian Soca melodies and happy customers cluster outside the kitchen to wish Harry luck. “People in Twin Cities are very nice, very polite, very kind,” said restaurant owner Harry Singh in his amiable Trinidad accent, “And people around here in this neighborhood they are very, very nice.”

First established in July of 1983, this exotic restaurant has integrated with its surroundings flawlessly over the years. Sitting between two shops on Nicollet Avenue South, it’s far from the relatively elegant dining on “Eat Street, ” but Singh’s Caribbean maintains a gratifying style of its very own. Complete with a photo mural of Singh’s hometown Trinidad beach and an aged framed photograph of his grandma rolling out balls of roti dough, the restaurant eminates a casual and personable vibe. Harry Singh peppers his visitors with the colorful events of his past and offers a dining experience like no other.

Family-owned today by Harry and his two sons and sustained by steadfast customers, business has been consistent over the past decade and a half: “We have many loyal customers, oh yes. Twenty years still running,” said Singh. The regulars rave about the Roti Dahl Pourie, a traditional Trinidad specialty. The big, round flat bread toasted on a special griddle called a tawa is made to envelop a generous ladle-full of curried stew or chicken jerky. Designed with layers of ground dahl between blankets of dough and customized by Harry’s dough-tattered “Buss Up Shut” style, the time invested in this dish is worth waiting for.

Alongside Singh’s rotis, Creole dishes from the curries of his East Indian heritage and the Caribbean jerk pay homage to the abounding culture of Trinidad Island. These curry dishes are served with fresh vegetables and a lingering fragrance of Basmati rice. Although the heat from the curry surpasses the hottest sauces, comparable to other restaurants, any fiery pangs are alleviated by a rich variety of flavors. The milder spices of Pelau, one of Trinidad’s national dishes, is served over rice with browned-down chicken or beef. Browned in caramelized sugar and slow cooked with seasoned pigeon-peas, vegetables and rice, it welcomes those with sensitive palates.

Thankfully, the blaze of Singh’s original Caribbean fire pepper sauce—made up of imported Congo peppers—is doused by multiple pitchers of water placed at every table and tropical fruit juices listed on the backside of the menu. Familiar flavors, such as mango and punch, offer an expected tangy zest but the more authentic soursop, mauby and ting submit more exotic flavors. The Soursop can be compared to a lemonade-apple juice combination, while the Mauby is a concoction brewed with sugar and spices from the bark of small Caribbean tree similar to root beer but with a bitter aftertaste. Ting, on the other hand, resembles a grapefruit soda popular in Jamaica and cherished by Caribbean immigrants.

Working everyday, every shift, and every table, one might think that a man like Harry Singh might grow tired of simmering, steaming and sizzling these exotic meals for the past 20+ years, but his passion beneath a quiet personality and sheepish charisma burns as strong as his Fire Pepper Sauce. Humbled winks and crooked smiles supplementary to outrageous flavors results in a one-of-a-kind dining experience.