Busy foot traffic; man from South, woman from Chaguanas, children in school uniform from St. Joseph and University students on the road to emancipate their hunger. We get bombarded with the horns of taxis and maxis hustling for passengers. Curepe is a place less known for office jobs and workers with pay cheques. Instead, it is a place for local entrepreneurs exchanging cash day to day on the backs of brands we’ve known for years.
In the mix of all of this, Tahira Bruce, cashier and law student, welcomes me into Sushi Express in uniform. Her beautifully accented gold dreadlocks are as neat as her uniform. This is not my first time eating here but it was the first time for a young man in his twenty’s whose father encouraged him to literally try his hand at chopsticks. Tahira conducted a short session in Chopsticks Maneuvering and Etiquette 101 as the young man listened and anxiously practiced. Her charge was a priceless look of his facial expressions and the father’s enjoyment, the elder who exposed his son to this Japanese delicacy that became intertwined with a unique “local something” flavour at Sushi Express, Curepe.
The ambiance is delight in Trinidad simplicity. Three high seats and one table for two suggests this is a “buy and buss it” spot. Smooth R & B from 96.7 FM overhead obtains a sing along by customers and staff as chef Nyoka David, rolls her rice for a delivery order some mere streets to the back of the restaurant! Sushi Express permits an interactive experience for spur of the moment conversations on sushi or soca music because of its intimate seating. You sit in front of the chef. Everything is done before your eyes. And you are in control of the final creation of the sushi. My pen fails me and Tahira comes to the rescue without my asking as I list the vegetarian options on the menu:
[Carrots, Cucumber, Lettuce, Cabbage and the paid Option of cream cheese and/or plantain]
Edamame Soy Beans
This list does fare pale in comparison to the meat options on the menu but you can create your own vegetarian sushi roll on request – blend the creativity of your dreams and the chef’s skills! Once you have either declared you are a vegetarian or your menu choices suggests just such, chefs take the initiative and ask if you wish to add the Spicy Mayo (a mix of mayonnaise with Seracha Sauce) and Unagi Sauce (which has popularly become to be known as “Sushi Ketchup”) since they contain either by-products of egg or meat. This awareness is no accident but is in line with the inclusive vision of Head Chef and Executive Director, Tamika Pierre.
Tamika started Sushi Express in November 2014 and by March 2015 began transitioning to her new branch at Piarco Plaza. I asked, “What is next on the horizon for you?” She replied confidently, “Sushi in Chaguanas!”
I fell in love with her hopes to move sushi from its traditional big-city centres and she had this to say, “ Curepe was divine intervention. Everywhere was too expensive and the rent [here] was affordable. I was happy for this blessing. Many think sushi is an uptown dish but it is simply something I like to do. I want to let the people of Trinidad and Tobago know that with forty dollars, you can buy doubles and barbeque but you can also buy sushi”.
Early in the business, still young in her 20s and the mother of a growing baby son, her challenge was the weight she carried on her shoulders by executing all tasks on her own. She now employs chef, management and wait staff at the two branches. Including the dapper re-do by her mother’s interior decorations that adorned her establishment with accent walls, Buddha, bamboo and Japanese folding fans, she gives thanks for the long-term commitment by her family in her success and remarked “my team thick!”
To date, Sushi Express, with a BLU mobile phone and autofocus on Facebook organically grew 2,300 likes with testimonies of their tasty dishes and convenient location. Tamika and her team gave Curepe a first time experience on a junction that many thought was only the battleground for doubles-men notoriously named ‘Sauce’, KFC and gyros. Like the son who learned the art of chopsticks while tasting this melting pot of Japanese tradition and the Trinidadian spirit of making something our own, we all deserve a first time.
Recommended Vegetarian Menu Item:
The Ultimate Vege Roll
(Yellow Soy paper, rice, cucumber, raw vegetables, fresh pineapple salsa, optional cream cheese)
*The batter for the Tempura includes Egg