Ethics and a National Dish

Shark and bake. Bake and shark. No matter the order in which you put the two words, they both spell deliciousness at the beach. And not just any beach – Maracas Beach. Shark and bake can be classified as street-food (but you eat it at the beach, not on the street) and it is practically a national dish in the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. There’s been a long standing debate on what order the two words should go (there’s the same debate over rice and peas vs peas and rice) but I personally don’t care either way as long as in the end, I get some to eat.

So you’re probably wondering, what is bake? Well, simply put, it’s bread. But not just any bread, though – fried bread. The dough is made with all-purpose flour, baking powder, a bit of salt, some butter, and water. The dough is divided into small balls, rolled flat, and then fried until puffy. This fried bake is then sliced open and shark is unceremoniously shoved in. And yes, shark as in shark. Shark that is skinned, de-boned, filleted, seasoned, breaded, and fried. It’s juvenile shark, though, so no, you’re not really getting your revenge on Jaws.

Once you have your sandwich base, you then stuff it full of seemingly random things: chadon beni (sauce made from cilantro), mustard, ketchup, garlic sauce, pepper sauce, tamarind sauce, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and/or coleslaw. Feel free to put as much or as little as you want – but keep in mind, if you plan to eat it on the sand while at Maracas Beach, the stalls tend to be on the other side of the road so ensure you fill your sandwich properly the first time! Also make sure you bring lots of napkins. Don’t forget to buy a drink as well – my personal favorite is the sorrel Carib Shandy.

Unfortunately, these days there is a bit of controversy about the consumption of shark. Apparently, Earthlings harvest 100 million sharks a year. This has led to a dramatic decrease of various shark populations – 1/3 of shark species are now at risk for extinction. To put it theatrically, that is supposed to be one shark dying every three seconds. Therefore, in some circles, there has been a call for a ban on shark eating. Save the shark! This campaign has even reached Trinidad, a country that supplies China with the majority of its shark parts for one of its national dish, the shark fin soup.

If you’re like many people and don’t like living sharks, you may wonder what, exactly, is the problem with eating all the sharks until they’re gone. Well, the problem (besides the loss of some species) is that the authenticity of an unofficial national dish is in danger – with the rising prices of shark, some places are substituting it with fish such as catfish on the down low. Another problem is that fresh shark is not as readily available anymore so when one buys a shark and bake sandwich, sometimes it doesn’t taste as good as it used to…a good sign the vendor used frozen shark. At Maracas, many of the stalls now advertise other fish as substitute for shark – for example, you can now get bake and kingfish.

So what is a Trini or a tourist to do? Do we keep eating the delicious shark? Do we boycott shark until the populations become sustainable again? I don’t pretend to have the answer. The last time I was in Trinidad, I went to Maracas twice. Once I had the shark and bake and the second time I had the kingfish and bake. Both were yummy though with kingfish, one has to be wary of the random tiny bone. But if I did find the kingfish yummy, why don’t I always choose that from now on? Good question…

Question: If a certain food like shark held memories for you or if it is a beloved tradition, would you still eat it?

13 responses to “Ethics and a National Dish

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  2. As an ocean lover and shark conservationist the idea of people casually eating ‘shark burger’ appalls me if I’m honest. Especially if they are made from the meat of juveniles which haven’t even had a chance to breed and contribute to population numbers. But if you need a more self-centred reason to stop eating shark, mercury levels are incredibly high in shark meat, which is really bad for your health. I’d go for the kingfish from now on if I were you!

    • Hey Jenny,

      That is an excellent point re juveniles not having had a chance to breed. Also about the mercury levels – not exactly something one wants in their system, that’s for sure. So definitely two more reasons to not eat shark meat. While it is hard to give up a tradition, there are lots of compelling reasons to give this particular one up! The kingfish won’t be happy about this 🙂


      • Definitely lots of compelling reasons, Kendra. Please do keep posting about ethical and environmental choices, and hope that market demand follows sense. It would be nice to think that shark and bake becomes a (nationally treasured) thing of the past by consumer choice, before it is because there are not enough sharks in the sea to make it viable.

  3. Sigh, I think I’m going to go the way of sense and stop eating it. Really good post K. I’m not really a fan of sharks, but they share our planet and should be conserved (I’ll change my mind if I’m ever eaten by one.)

    Bake and kingfish it shall be…still sad even though I know it’s for a good cause! Orrrrrrrrrr I’ll just eat my weight in aloo pie.

  4. I was always taught to eat things near the bottom of the food chain, generally only eating herbavores, because bad things concentrate as you move up. In the case of the ocean, mercury and other contaminants are an example of this.

    So, I’ve never had shark, so I can’t comment on the tastiness and because I don’t have any tasty associations to me it doesn’t seem worth it when they’re endangered.

    I know one of the complaints about shark fin soup is in some cases only the fin is used and the rest of the shark is thrown out – highly wasteful! I wonder what part is used for the shark and bake? Does it at least mean that the shark isn’t going to waste?

    I’m not saying eating shark is great, but at least if you’re going to kill it, at least all of it might as well be eaten!

  5. Hi Kendra, I’ve personally never tried shark, but wouldn’t want to, since I’m not that adventurous! With so many food choices out there, conservation would make me think twice.

    • Exactly – the more I learn about conservation (not to mention the mercury levels in sharks), the less I feel the desire to eat the shark! There are other options these days so I doubt I’ll miss it the next time I visit Maracas 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Pingback: Exploring Like It’s 1492 | Rusty Travel Trunk·

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