Authentic Trinidadian restaurants–hell, Trinidadian anything–are about as common in Long Beach as Uzbeki cafés are in Mission Viejo. Yes, the Venezuela-adjacent Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago has sandy beaches, nearly year-round sunshine and the occasional palm tree, but a kitchen that cooks up curried goat and fried shark still seems an unlikely match in a city where ethnic food more often means a taco stand or Thai delivery.
But with a love of hybrid dishes and a Persian/Indian-via-Trinidad owner willing to explain it all to newbies, one-month-old Callaloo on East Anaheim Street fits seamlessly into the city's Main Street of immigrant life.
Named after a traditional Trinidadian soup that mixes spinach, pumpkin, red beans, okra and more, Callaloo's menu is simply stunning. Trini food (as it is affectionately known) features a heavy Indian influence, with traces of Creole, Spanish and African cooking, resulting in plates such as curry chicken served with channa (chickpeas), aloo (potatoes) and rice. For lunch, however, the rotis seem to exemplify this Caribbean blend most perfectly by filling an unleavened, pastry-type flatbread with everything from chicken and chickpeas to goat and rice. Ron Swanson would call it “a whole new meat-delivery system,” one that straddles the line between crepe, burrito and wrap.
As I ordered the stewed oxtail lunch special, Callaloo's owner explained that most of what he serves is not so much street food as it is beach food. Weekend specials include curried crab with dumplings–a specialty commonly offered at rickety sand-side shacks–and pholourie, fritters made of split-pea flour that come served with a thin, sweet chutney. Ask for the special spicy sauce (not quite a salsa) made from habanero peppers and mangoes–it goes well with everything.
In the short time Callaloo has been open, word-of-mouth has already brought members of the Southland's Caribbean community to Long Beach from as far away as South County. The only other restaurant that even attempts Trini cuisine is in Inglewood, and the service there is shoddy unless you speak Caribbean pidgin.
Prices might seem a little on the steep side for anyone on a lunch budget, but rare ingredients and other wordly spices are not cheap, especially when you consider that many of the vegetables have to be flown in from Miami because American-grown ones aren't fit for the traditional dishes. When you drop $13 on a heaping plate of curried goat or stewed mahi mahi, you can be thankful food from this unique culture is even available out here. Some days, all it takes is a jerk chicken roti to break up the monotony of our saturated ethnic options.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.