In a high-end shopping center, you might expect to see light options like Salata to keep shoppers fueled. Perhaps there's a new rodizio like Gauchos do Sul or similarly meaty-minded Peli Peli. But Vintage Park has some unexpected treats. There are pandan-flavored waffles at bubble tea joint Pandan Leaf, but the biggest surprise at the upscale outdoor mall is Donafe's Café. There, Trinidad native Feroza Saidwan-Carvalho fills a pastry case with layer cakes, cookies and éclairs, but also cooks up her spicy, aromatic native cuisine.
In greater Houston, there are only four Trinidadian eateries and only two serve pholourie. It looks like Indian chaat, right? It kind of is—a substantial portion of the population of Trinidad and Tobago is descended from Indian servants brought to the islands after slavery was abolished there in the 1830s. In the nearly 200 years since, Trini food has become a seamless fusion of Indian, Caribbean and European traditions. At Donafe's, no representation is as tasty as the soft fried chickpea dough balls known as pholourie.
For $2.50, diners get 10 of the globes. They can choose between tamarind sauce or mango chutney, but the correct decision is to get both. Without the sweet heat of the green chutney and the tangy burn of the tamarind, the snack would be only half as complex and enticing.
Saidwan-Carvalho warned me against getting both a curry plate and an order of doubles, but I am a creature of excess and a lover of leftovers. The doubles, a sandwich of two fried flatbreads called bara filled with stewed, mashed chickpeas, were spicier than I'd tried before thanks to an extra hot chadon beni sauce, a cilantro-based chutney. I was full by the time the curry arrived, but it was less flavorful than the snacks, so it was no great loss that I only picked at the soft rice with mild daal and onion-heavy stew.
But really, how can a relatively balanced, grown-up dish compare to the raucous fun of pholourie anyway?