Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival, which typically draws more than one million people, will be a virtual event this year. The alluring parade of scintillating costumes and jamming steel-pan bands that bring the city’s largest street festival to life will be missed. But this does not mean the fete, marking its 53rd edition, is over: We can still free-up ourselves, pelt our waists and start whining it around. (And if you’re not familiar with those dance moves, a quick YouTube search will teach you how to move your hips.)
Here is a recommended list of Caribbean books, food and music to generate a vibrant Caribana energy in the safety of our homes.
Set the mood with the jubilant cadences of soca. Bus-A-Wine from soca’s power couple, Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons, feels like home sweet home, while Iwer George, the 2020 winner of the International Soca Monarch, and Kes will entice you to jump-up and create your own carnival with their chart-topper Stage Gone Bad. Then, drop your hottest moves to a track from a legendary calypsonian queen: Calypso Rose’s Baila Mami, featuring Nailah Blackman and Lao Ra (”baila” means to dance). Raise the tempo, play a big tune and “shell dung” – host a prized party in your place – with Conch Shell, by Machel Montano, Skinny Fabulous and Iwer George. Share the dance floor with the kiddies to Happy Carnival by Patrice Roberts. Finally, end the night with a vintage song that plays homage to the foundation of Carnival music: Soca Fever by Lord Shorty. It’s the only kind of fever you’ll want to catch this weekend.
For young readers, The Carnival Prince: When The Robber Calls! by Daniel J. O’Brien is about a boy with stubby antlers who makes costumes and frolics with ancient mythical creatures through a fairy-tale forest in Trinidad and Tobago. Along with friends, he is forced to enter the modern world and save Carnival season for everyone by defeating a dragon and other creatures.
Adults wanting to educate themselves about the roots of Caribana should read Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada by Natasha L. Henry. The brilliant educator and historian provides an accurate depiction of African-Canadian history, such as how on August 1, 1834, almost two million enslaved Africans in the British colonies, including Canada, were declared free. The well-researched book also explores the cultural, social and educational practices of festivities – such as Carnival – that mark this event across Canada.
If you desire to venture into the world of Caribbean cookbooks, Original Flava: Caribbean Recipes from Home, written by Craig and Shaun McAnuff, will take taste buds on a much-needed vacation. The diverse list of recipes includes the iconic Jamaican rice and peas, Guyana’s curry crab and dumplings, and Trinidad and Tobago’s signature pelau. The authors hope to inspire you to, “get your ingredients, turn on a likkle music, and let us get cooking!”
One of the leading highlights of Caribana is the abundance of Caribbean street foods and treats. If you’re not in the mood to chef it up, order in delicious traditional meals such as roti and curry goat, bakes and saltfish. For breakfast, try a couple of spicy-sweet doubles: This Trinidadian street food consists of curried chickpeas sandwiched between two pieces of soft flat-fried bread. It is eaten with condiments such as pepper sauce and mango or tamarind chutney. Later in the day, an all-time favourite after hours of dancing is hearty Caribbean corn soup. And, of course, Caribana wouldn’t be complete without Jamaican beef patties. If you’re in Toronto, go for the tastiest and most authentic versions from Randy’s Takeout or Patty King. This popular flaky treat is usually filled with spicy or mild beef, but there are also vegetarian options. Make a beef patty sandwich by placing it in between a bun with ketchup and lettuce.
If you do feel like cooking, you can’t go wrong with jerk chicken. Marinated with intense spices, the meat can be slow-cooked on your BBQ grill or in the oven.
Yolanda Marshall is a Toronto-based children’s author. Her coming book, My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans (Chalkboard Publishing), will publish August 25.
My Jerk Chicken Recipe
- 2 kilograms of cut-up chicken pieces
- Vinegar or lemon juice
- Jerk marinade
- 5-8 pieces of peeled garlic cloves
- 3 chopped spring onions
- 2 scotch bonnet peppers (remove seeds)
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice berries
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of Grace Browning Caramel Sauce
- ½ cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 chopped onion
- A few thyme sprigs
- ½ cup of water
Blend all the marinade ingredients together into a thick paste. Rinse the chicken in water with a little bit of vinegar or the juice of a lemon. Pour the jerk marinade onto the chicken and massage in. Cover chicken and put it in the fridge for a minimum of three hours. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 F. Place the marinated chicken skin-up into a roasting pan lined with parchment paper and cover it with foil. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven to broil, and cook for five minutes until the skin crisps. Remove and enjoy.
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