Is Trinidad's fried fish sandwich at Richard's Bake & Shark the world's best fish sandwich? Not 'baconshark,' as it sounds like when locals say it, but bake and shark. At the least, it's one of two Trinidadian must-trys (the other being doubles), and among ten classic Caribbean dishes that have to be eaten to complete any island culinary checklist. But that's a conservative look — for any fish-lover and sandwich-hound, Richard' is required eating.
Maracas Bay is a winding up-and-down, forty-minute drive from Trinidad's major city, Port-of-Spain. Maracas is a windy inlet, a beach peppered with tall swaying palms. Facing the water is a series of open sheds on the left where local fishermen bring in and break down the day's catch. Compelling though the view is, the enticing smell coming from the shacks on the other side of the road win out. Facing the beach in the shadow of green cliffs, the 'bake & shark' (or shark & bake as some call it) shacks serve thousands of sandwiches a day. Among them, Richard's is the most renowned.
These days, Richard's is run by Gary Ferguson, who took it over for his father, Richard, the man said to have started the stand more than 20 years ago. The sandwich has two main components, the bread, called 'bake,' which is fried roti dough, and the shark, a fried filet. Think of a giant flattened zeppole, or puffier Indian fry bread — about the size of pita, but much thicker. The bread is freshly fried — chewy and doughy, with great give. The fish is freshly fried too — flaky and moist, juicy and seasoned.
The bake and shark are good enough, but the condiment station takes things to higher level. There are typically more than ten deep half hotel trays filled with toppings: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, coleslaw, and pineapple slices. There are sauces: hot sauce, tamarind, a Thousand Island like dressing, mustard, ketchup and shado beni chutney (shado beni being a leafy Trinidadian herb also known as culentro, Japanese saw leaf, or Mexican coriander).
You can pick and choose from toppings to place and layer as strategically. But the move, of course, is to pile it all on. The result is a juicy, zesty mess of salt and vinegar, pineapple sweet, and spicy bite, which somehow don't overpower the fish.
Richard's was good enough for Andrew Zimmern to call it the best fish sandwich he has ever eaten, and one of his top ten favorite foods. Hyperbole? No. It's that good. Even years later and measured against another excellent Caribbean fish sandwich, Cuz's blue marlin cutter. Richard's may be the world's best.
Richard's Bake & Shark, Maracas Bay, Trinidad
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