Above: Maracas Beach (all photos by CJ)
By Alexander Britell
MARACAS BEACH, TRINIDAD — “We eat them before they eat us.”
That’s the common refrain in Trinidad, where a shark sandwich is one of the country’s de facto national dishes.
It’s called “Bake ‘N Shark,” and the “Bake ‘N Shark” capital of the world is here on Maracas Beach, Trinidad’s most famous patch of sand.
And let me be clear: it’s real shark, culled from the waters off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago.
The sandwich is simple: a “Bake,” a kind of bread, usually fried dough (indeed, the term has expanded to refer to almost any kind of bread on a sandwich), and a fried filet of shark.
The variation comes from the sauces one chooses to add, from a sweet-tangy tamarind to some of the spiciest hot sauces you will ever come across.
Bake ‘N Shark is a religion here across the road from Maracas Beach, where you’ll sometimes find more shark devotees than people on the beach itself.
And this is where it gets heated: Maracas is filled with Bake ‘N Shark dealers, all offering nearly identical-looking takes on the classic dish.
The most celebrated, however, is Richard’s, which has been on this stretch for more than two decades.
This stall has become a Santiago de Compostela for Bake ‘N Shark pilgrims, attracting local Trinis and even celebrity food connoisseurs like Andrew Zimmern.
The Bake ‘N Shark at Richard’s is simple; the stand has turned it into a streamlined process, with rows of ready-to-eat bake on the counter, and shark within reach, and the sandwich lives up to the billing — it’s simple, pure and delicious.
But is this the best Bake ‘N Shark in Trinidad?
I asked around the stalls (and posed the question to a few self-styled Bake ‘N Shark aficionados), and one name kept popping up.
Answering only on the condition of anonymity, they’d tell me that “Richard’s has the hype,” but that they really prefer Natalie’s, just a few metres down the beach.
Natalie’s is actually a spin-off of Richard’s, the result of an apparent intra-familial spat.
It opened just a few years ago, but it has developed a smaller cult following of its own, in the shadow of the celebrated shark master.
Above: the rows of condiments that are a crucial part of any Bake ‘N Shark experience
I ate the sandwiches one after another, using precisely the same mix of condiments (Trinidad’s famous “green seasoning” and hot sauce”) on each to eliminate potential confounding factors in the test.
Above: Maracas Beach is the country’s most famous
In my opinion, Natalie’s was a bit more flavourful, a bit more more home-made — better by a fin. But any visit simply requires a tasting of both Richard’s and Natalie’s, so you can decide for yourself.
After the test, I approached my anonymous Bake ‘N Shark informant and asked him again about Natalie’s.
The difference? “You can taste the love in the food,” he said.
If Bake ‘N Shark is a religion, count me a convert. Just remember the first axiom of the Bake ‘N Shark enthusiast:
“Everywhere else in the world, sharks eat people. Here, people eat sharks.”