Trinidad offers some of the best street food you can find. From breakfast to dinner to midnight snacks, the food you can get from the various stalls and carts outside will rival just about any restaurant’s standard fare. For me, when the late afternoon hours stretch into dusk, the sight of a stall lit with a cloth wick in a fuel-filled bottle can only mean one thing: the oyster man is open for the night. Or at least as long as his day’s catch lasts.
The oyster man harvests his day’s oysters from the gulf waters, or the mangroves. The oyster flesh is small, only about a centimeter in diameter. So it takes about a dozen oysters to fill a little shotglass. If you want a double, you get two dozen little oysters in your glass.
As much as I love oysters, the oyster man’s draw is his oyster sauce. This is in no way similar to Asian oyster sauce; it’s actually closer to a ceviche-type of sauce. It has culantro, lime, Scotch bonnet peppers, brown sugar, garlic, and even a touch of catsup. He’ll typically have two versions: slight (or mild) and hot. And the oyster man who makes the best sauce always sells out first.
There’s protocol involved when going to the oyster man. You don’t stand in line, give your order, and then move to the side to make room for the next customer. No, when you reach the front of the line, you stay there until you’ve had your fill. Sure, sometimes he’ll multitask and take care of a few other folks while you’re working on your oyster cocktail. But you’re always his top priority. When you’re ready for your next one, the others will have to wait until after you get your refill. And if your refill happens to use up the last of his catch, then he closes up for the night and anyone behind you will have to find another oyster man.
This is the oyster man in a town called Felicity. He was the one we visited every time we felt like having a few oyster cocktails. Tom and Tim love the regular oyster sauce, but since I’m a spice lightweight, I always opt for the mild sauce. I ask for a touch more culantro, lemon juice, and salt, too. At first I was too shy to modify the oyster man’s sauce, but Tom assured me that the oyster man would be more than happy to oblige, and that he’d get more satisfaction in seeing me enjoy the oysters fully.
Oh, did I enjoy them fully. I could eat them all day.
In fact, I think I may have eaten my entire day’s allowance in half an hour.
Shhh. Don’t tell this guy that I was the one who ate all the oysters.