Black History

Mom's Caribbean-Style Chicken Soup Is a Celebration of Trinidad’s Melting Pot

A taste of home and childhood.

February  5, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that’s meaningful to them and their loved ones.


My mother Diana is of Portuguese, West Indian, and African descent—and as it so happens, is an incredible cook. Her style is a reflection of Trinidad’s eclectic culinary melting pot. Indigenous, Chinese, Syrian, African, and British influences all have a seat at the table, which has resulted in one of the most delicious and diverse food cultures in the world.

My own love of cooking, like many, grew out of watching my mom as she gracefully navigated the kitchen. I was mesmerized by her technique for breaking down whole cuts of meat, the way she chopped vegetables, and how she seasoned dishes from her seemingly infinite spice rack, all purely by instinct. No measuring cups or spoons in sight.

Growing up in Trinidad, soup has always been an important staple of the island’s food culture. Historically, African slave owners aimed to feed their slaves as cheaply as possible, on diets consisting largely of beans, starches, and cheap cuts of meat. Africans also brought with them a repertoire of one-pot cooking, an influence that can be seen in signature dishes like pelau, callaloo, and of course, our many soups.

Whether it was cow heel soup, beef soup, tripe soup, split pea soup, or corn soup, my mom’s bubbly cauldron was always brewing, and her version of chicken soup is still my undisputed favorite.

Please don’t mistake Caribbean-style chicken soup with the generic soup buffet variety. The broth is dense and flavorful, thanks to a whole chicken, which bubbles away with a matrix of fresh herbs and starchy vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and corn. However, it’s the addition of pumpkin which adds body and a subtle sweetness, along with ginger and garlic (odes to the island's Cantonese influence), which provide a layer of brightness and refinement to the dish.

Whether it was cow heel soup, beef soup, tripe soup, split pea soup, or corn soup, my mom’s bubbly cauldron was always brewing, and her version of chicken soup is still my undisputed favorite.

My mother’s chicken soup is a rustic, bountiful affair that blows way past first-course status—for me, it’s the star of the show.

When I was a child, this soup was a pleasant source of comfort anytime I got sick. Piping hot, straight from the pot, it was a hug in a bowl, just what the doctor ordered. Luckily it just so happens that I am in possession of my mom’s orange creamsicle-tinged recipe box, which I constantly dip into whenever I find myself craving a taste of my youth, a taste of home.

The following is an homage to my mom’s Trini-style chicken soup, which I’ve adapted to make less intimidating for the everyday home cook. But make no mistake: It doesn’t skimp on flavor by a mile.

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1 Comment

Eric K. February 7, 2019
Thanks so much, Samuel, for sharing your mother's incredible soup with us.