On the edge (literally a precipice) of a gutsy hill in Paramin, Pagrant to be exact, overlooking majestic mountains and the welcoming Saut D’eau Bay, there is a small house, well designed and cosy. Its doors open to a breathtaking view and the breeze from the balcony hits you a nice refreshing slap on the face.
As I make my way to the neat sitting area below the wooden staircase I smell the aroma of cocoa tea made from Trinidad and Tobago Fine Flavoured cocoa (yes I smell the spices in the tea and all). Upon further analysis I detect a wondrous whiff of salt fish. What an invitation indeed for an island girl who is always in the mood for country cuisine and anything with T&T cocoa. But while food and beverage beckons, the bright smile of Julia Lucio, the resident owner/master chef, is the welcoming catch: “Come in nah, darling; make yourself comfortable. I have tea, and coconut bake and buljol!”
I also beam brightly just like the sun shines in the backdrop of the scenic landscape. But ambience aside, my gaze is captured by the simple and amicable lifestyle of Lucio. Her living room décor comprises of old family photos, photos of her cooking, a vintage cuatro, some freshly picked flowers and croton leaves in a vase and traditional cooking utensils which hang as ornaments on the wall. Over some of the best cocoa tea and mouth-watering buljol, I listen to the story of a woman who learned to cook at the tender age of ten in order to cater to the needs of her large family.
“It was plenty of us. I had 20 siblings—twelve brothers and eight sisters. I loved to cook and my mother taught me all the tricks in the kitchen. I was the designated cook to prepare meals for the family. Ever since I pick up the first pot spoon, I never put it down; not even now,” the popular Paramin food connoisseur who cooks for many Paramin Tourist Tours and guests at the La Vapeur Estate vacation villa, tells me.
I watch her with admiration as she prepares a new pot of cocoa tea. She grates the cocoa ball, throwing its powdery residue into the pot.
“Girl I like to cook the old time way. I does buy my cocoa balls from cocoa farmers. The real deal and not the imitation. The secret to cooking great food is to cook it with authentic ingredients and with plenty love. That was how my mother use to prepare her food and I do the same,” the mother of two mentions.
I live through the enthralling chapters of her childhood. The good old days when her father used to fish on Saut D’eau Island and the whole family would hike down to the island just off the Paramin coast to fish and spend quality time.
“My father use to catch the fish on the spot and then dig a hole in the sand and cover it with fig leaves and let the heat from the beach sand cook the fish. Real nice times, girl…” Lucio exudes.
“What you mean let the fish cook in the sand?” I ask her curiously as I have never heard of this method before. Lucio laughs at my virgin mind with regards to traditional cooking, “Darling, you learning thing today. That was the old time way. And it used to taste real good. It tastes better than if you cook the fish over fire in a pot. Girl when we go Saut D’eau we used to have a time as children. Life in Paramin was sweet then and it still sweet now.”
This becomes the perfect conclusion to our chat as I promise to visit again but this time to explore what lies beyond the cliff and of course to sample her specialty pelau and pork.
I am happy to soak in her Paramin patriotism. Indeed, Lucio is a true daughter of the Paramin soil. Besides growing up with her family in the daring hills towering over Port of Spain and most of the west side of Trinidad, she got married to a Paraminian and brought up her children in the culturally rich farming village.
“In Paramin everybody is one family. We look out for each other. We share with each other. We are a big family here,” Lucio declares. I listen to stories about her family parang side, the Lucios, how she used to play the toc toc and the family Christmas tradition of paranging from house to house sharing musical joy.
We then walk outside onto Fond Pois Doux Road to bask in the greenery of the village which span on either side of the narrow bumpy road but our conversations are interrupted by people passing by and hailing out Lucio. Everyone refers to her as Aunty and with every greeting she responds with a smile and a “when you passing for soup?” In response they all laugh and promise different dates. I even ask one little boy to tell me about Aunty. “She is a mother to the village. We love her; you could never go hungry with Aunty. She is Paramin’s community mother,” he says proudly.
Lucio blushes with this commendation and humbly states- “Girl, I don’t do goodwill for thanks; I do it because God has blessed me and so I must bless others!”
Lucio counts her blessings. Blessings like her seasoning garden not too far (two small mountains away) from her home in the agricultural focal point of the village. As is the norm with most Paramin people, seasoning crops (chive, celery, thyme etc.) contribute to a major part of her livelihood. She has been a farmer for most of her life and her husband is a true garden man.
“We sell seasoning when the chive and celery come in after the rainy season. I love to plant just as much as I love to cook. You see those pots across there? That’s my home garden. Come and see how nice the chive and fine leaf thyme growing,” the cheerful woman advises.
In between her garden, chef duties and family duties, Lucio used to also drive a taxi on the Port of Spain to Maraval route. While it was her way of making a living, she took great joy in meeting and greeting her passengers. She would tell them about the history of Paramin; the villagers’ special way of cooking a pig, the parang they sing and the patios they speak. Her side-line duty was ultimately making Trinbagonians fall in love with her beautiful village.
“Yea, I used to drive taxi. Those days are gone now. I cook a lot for the tourist tours Carlos Felcian do in Paramin and for guests of the enchanting La Vapeur Estate. And of course, a lot of my time is spent on my seasoning garden. Other than that I walk out through my door and I just inhale the breeze and beauty of my village. You know what it is to live in Paradise? Hmmm, girl right now you walking and talking in paradise. Paramin is paradise!”
Her words of praise become the perfect conclusion to our chat as I promise to visit again but this time to explore what lies beyond the cliff and of course to sample her specialty pelau and pork.