Along the Eastern Main Road, D’Abadie, to be exact, there is a University… I call it the Maharaj Family University… Not your regular university as the curriculum is a culinary science, a tasty one tied to T&T’s most loved doubles…. Two bara with plenty channa, slight pepper, mango chutney, sweet sauce and mother-in-law for the adventureous…
Indeed a few weeks ago, at the height of the Trinidad and Tobago lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of doubles stands, many tried to create the delicacy from scratch.
However, no social media challenge, big time chef nor curry connoisseur could compete with the Maharaj Doubles Empire from D’Abadie.
Last week Friday, I ventured to learn more about the bara-making skill of the noteworthy family who supplies bara to other doubles vendors while specialising in their own brand of doubles.
Eight a.m. in the morning (I had to be early as they sell out fast) and Jaime Maharaj was nearly through her work day. The kitchen was busy and the aroma of hot oil and split peas filled the air. It was just two days since doubles vendors were allowed to reopen business in a second phase to address the pandemic. The lines were long as Trinis felt starved of their grassroots gourmet. “Gimme plenty pepper…” “Rest ah triples on meh nah; plenty channa!” The requests came in droves as the masked “doubles wrapper”, the person handing out the doubles, moved like a robot packing doubles into brown bags.
Passing on the skill
“I won’t call our business a university,” laughed Maharaj otherwise known as the bara queen. We ventured into the kitchen and balls of dough were arranged in order on a long table as the “spreader” was busy at work.
“The spreader?” I asked, not too familiar with the doubles terms, and Maharaj was happy to explain. “The spreader is the person who mounds the dough mixtures into a flat bara and puts it into the oil in the large coal pot after which the fryer picks it up with thongs, drains it and places it into the bara heap. Some people, like my son and brother-in-law, could do everything...from spreading to frying to wrapping; they are multi-skilled in the business.”
The history lesson came right after: The Maharaj Doubles Dynasty was born through the vision of the Maharaj matriarch, Rohani Maharaj, who taught her children, mostly sons, the art of doubles making. Her sons would ply their doubles trade in different venues from D’badie to Arima. They became very popular, not just because it was the best doubles in the East but because of their friendly personalities. I know one of them in particular- “shortman” I call him (I don’t know his real name). On a good Saturday I would park my bike and eat doubles. My husband would buy from the other brother (nicknamed- “the tall one”) in D’Abadie on the way to work.
Maharaj smiled at my memories of her family as she informed me that “the tall one” is her husband. “How come we never met?”- I wondered and she responded- “Perhaps it was because I was always in the kitchen making bara!” Her doubles back story is an interesting one.
“I’m originally from Sangre Grande. At age 17 I began working with the Maharaj family making bara. They would supply bara to many doubles vendors. I enjoyed what I did. I decided that come what may I would become the best bara maker in Trinidad. Then with time my skills came as well as love as I met the owners’ son who also worked in doubles” she mused.
Maharaj fell head over heels with bara and with “the tall one”. He would teach her the business behind bara and soon they got married, had children and began their own branch of doubles, B Maharaj Doubles, in associations with others from the Maharaj clan.
“I had to move from Sangre Grande to D’Abadie. My journey was very hard because I was a young girl having to fuse into a brand new family. At first we didn’t have anything. I remember days of working in the heat while pregnant just to make ends meet but my husband motivated me, he was my mentor in doubles having 30 years of doubles under his belt,” the mother of three reminisced.
She continued amidst the pace of sales: “On a typical day as a bara maker you have to get up as early as two a.m. to prepare making your product to sell until the last sale.”
“Aye girl, long time I eh see yuh! Gosh I miss my doubles real bad,” a man in a van shouted as he made his way off with five doubles. Maharaj smiled at the comment from her customer and declared- “I enjoy watching my customers enjoying my doubles; I feel very proud. Some may come back on an everyday basis. They come from all over. That’s why I do my best to maintain a high standard!”
No secret, just dedication
As we chatted more, she told me about her children’s love for the doubles business (they help when workers can’t make it to work) and I asked her about the effects of the lockdown. Her response: “The Covid-19 lockdown affected us very badly because we couldn’t pay our bills, not even my vehicle instalments and rent. Furthermore, with my children being at home from school there is more financial strain!”
We both sighed at the pains of the pandemic and as I wrapped up our chat, I had one more question: “What is the secret behind your bara?” She chuckled and claimed- “Well there’s no secret in making bara you just have to put the right amount of ingredients and plenty of love because you have to love the work to enjoy making bara. It’s no easy task because as I said we have to get up early to prepare and keep standing up for long hours spreading the bara. But it is worth it, don’t you think?”
Is doubles really worth the effort put into it? Hmmm…. As I made my departure from the B Maharaj Doubles stand with three doubles nicely tucked into a brown bag, sweet sauce seeping through, of course I had to admit that it is definitely worth it!