Migrating to a new country as an international student can be exciting yet challenging. There are several socio-economic issues that can make adapting to this new environment extremely difficult and unmotivating. These can range from homesickness, to language barriers to a “complete culture shock”, which can affect a student’s mental health and academic performance. Now imagine dealing with these common issues while also living through a global pandemic where you are not guaranteed to get the basic “college experience” that you sacrificed so much for. You would be demoralized too, right?

Well, that was me a few months ago when moving to Queens, New York to attend St. John’s University. With most stores and popular attractions for young adults closed, my only focus was on work and attempting to connect with my fellow college students and countrymen in the local area. And to my luck, I found the one food that would cure my spiraling mental health and connect me to fellow Trinidadians. This food was called Doubles.

Joel Stephen

For those of you who don't know, Doubles is a favored cuisine of the Trinidad and Tobago culture and is a byproduct of the creolization of East Indian and West Indian culture into something unique to the twin island republic. Similar to Hot dogs or Burgers which are popular foods to consume in America, Doubles is a "Certified street food" for the Trinidadian people. 

So what are Doubles exactly? It is a spiced chickpea filling also know as "Channa" and eaten using pieces of fried flour known as "Barra". It is similar to tacos or even burritos in its variety of accepted toppings. A "regular Doubles" will usually include the barra, channa and some level of pepper. Instead of usual  mediums such as little or medium pepper, Trinis tend to use the local language to tell the vendor how much pepper they prefer in their doubles. Words such as "slight pepper or heavy pepper" are used. If you're not junkie for pepper as most Trinis are, you can simply ask for "no pepper" and be able to enjoy this meal just the same. After you've tasted a "regular Doubles" and you've established that you enjoy it, you can taste other toppings on your doubles such as shrimp, chicken, curried goat and much more!

Brooklyn, New York, is typically hailed as the main diasporic hub for Caribbean migrants and culture populations. However, as St John's University is in Queens and over an hour away from the nearest Doubles shop that I know of, I was not willing to travel that distance just yet. Ideally, an area in Queens would be the preferred location, due to its close proximity and availability. That's when one of my close friends informed me of an area called Richmond Hill, which also had a large Caribbean population and multiple Doubles vendors to choose from. 

Richmond Hill, or "Little Guyana" as it also named, is known for its large Indo-Caribbean (Indian Caribbean) population and its diverse religious background. It is home to a concentration of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim places of worship. Most importantly to me, along Liberty Avenue, which is the main street in this area, lies a number of doubles vendors to try and experience from.

Joel Stephen

My favorite of these stores, is undeniably Triniciti Roti Shop. Located on 111-03 Lefferts Blvd, Trinciti Roti Shop is the ideal place to experience Trinidad Cuisine as well as the aforementioned Doubles. At just $1.25 for one, this shop routinely has long lines as local Caribbean folks come for a "taste of home" in a country where their culture is now in the minority. They also have an arrangement of other Trinidad foods such as Pelau and Roti which are highly favored among the people.

Overall, Richmond Hill has so much to offer any Caribbean international students in New York who may be feeling "homesick" and missing the tastes and flavors that we have become accustomed to in the Islands. For me, Richmond Hill has definitely improved my confidence and motivation by reminding me that I am not alone as a Trinidadian in New York, and now that I know of an area containing people and culture that I can relate to, it has improved my academics as I am not worrying about missing my home anymore.