By Omilla Mungroo. An indigenous delicacy we hardly hear about these days in Trinidad and Tobago is chip chip. I remember as a girl camping at Manzanilla Beach on the east coast of Trinidad, my family would carry utensils of all sizes and types down to the beach when the tide was low – rice strainers, bowls, buckets and shovels, even big bags to “dig for chip chip”.
Around the time between Carnival and Easter, but nearer to Easter time, the tiny mollusc can be found burrowing ferociously into the sand on the shore when the tide ebbed. In some instances you had to dig to find a hole where a batch of them could be found. Exciting shouts of “Ah find ah hole! Look how much! Come and help me dig!” would fill the air whenever somebody found “treasure” as we called it.
Chip chip is family to the oyster and clam. Its soft, tiny boneless body is embedded inside a small shell about one inch in length, with one side of the shell hinged.
These shells can be pried open but when gathered by the buckets to cook, they are washed thoroughly about three or four times to remove all the sand from them, then put into a clean iron pot over medium to high heat for a few minutes. In no time the shells would open up to reveal the soft meat inside. The smell is unique and some may say unpleasant but we loved it, because we knew the final result of the chip chip.
It is said that the Amerindians who inhabited here enjoyed this tiny sea creature as one of their favorite foods. Shiva Naipaul, brother of the prized author VS Naipaul also wrote a book entitled “The Chip Chip Gatherers” which depicts the wearisome task of gathering it. However the task is well worth the effort because any Trini who has tasted curried chip chip always finds him or herself back to either Manzanilla or Mayaro to dig for more of it.
At our camps, we children were always looking forward to help “clean” the chip chip. What we were actually doing was just removing the meat from the shells, after it was heated and opened, which we thought was fun, but the grownups did the real cleaning.
Chip Chip and lime
To clean and make chip chip ready to cook, you had to take the meat that was removed from the shells and rub them in a sieve or very fine strainer to remove the tiny bags of sand that each one carried, sort of like its means of excretion. This was the most tedious task for the grownups, but we just couldn’t wait till it was cooked.
After thoroughly cleaning the chip chip it was rinsed again about two or three times. The sand must all come out, or its exquisite taste would be lost among a sandy crunch. The meat, which always never seemed to be enough was then rinsed again with a squeeze of lime and then seasoned to taste.
We cooked our chip chip either curried, just as you would curry shrimps, or we made sauce with some of it and called it our own oyster sauce made with chip chip instead.
For those of you familiar with oyster sauce, this is very similar, except for the fact that the meat is much smaller and the taste just a wee bit different. The seasonings used depend on the personal preference of those making it, because pepper is the main “zwing” to a good chip chip sauce.
Take a drive to Manzanilla one of these days. Walk with some utensils to collect some of this delicious sea food, and try to get home soon after or better yet, like all Trinis might, make a cook right on the beach! You will be returning every year about the same time for more!
Editor’s note: Unfortunately, the Manzanilla Beach is closed off at this point due to disasters caused by heavy rains in the area. We do hope the beach is restored to its original state so people can once again enjoy this tourist attraction in Trinidad.
December 2014 – Issue 13 www.sweettntmagazine.com
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