Phoolwanti 'Doll' Ramsingh, 58, of Doll's Chulhas in Branch Road, Fyzabad, is affectionately known as Aunty Doll, the Chulha Lady from Fyzabad and the Original Chatak Matak Queen.
People come from all over T&T and overseas to her place for the unique culinary and cultural experience from seeing a chulha or dirt oven built from scratch, custom made to the buyer's specifications, to feasting on a variety of delicious food off the chulha–to bread and pizza from the dirt oven 'hot on d' spot,' and spending the day reliving the 'ole time' days.
The chulha means different things to different people. It is a link to the past, and can still be found in several people's backyards for sentimental, cultural and traditional reasons hearkening back to the time of their grandparents or great-grandparents.
People swear there is no comparison between food cooked on a chulha to food cooked on modern gas and electric stoves, and induction cookers.
The chulha can also be used as an emergency stove for when the electricity goes, natural disasters like storms and floods, or when you run out of cooking gas.
As people did more cooking and baking at home during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the humble chulha and dirt oven have also enjoyed a resurgence.
For Ramsingh, disconsolate over the death of her husband, making chulhas was a way to keep herself occupied and focused and has enabled the mother of seven, grandmother of six and her family to earn a living during the challenging COVID-19 economic times.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian on Wednesday Ramsingh said "October 11 will make it five years my husband Chandersingh Ramsingh died. When I lost him, I used to be like not here.
Doll Ramsingh with a loaf of bread which was baked in a dirt oven.
"I dropped everything, I was a wreck. One day I decided to start back and threw myself into my work. When I started back making fireside, I would be enjoying myself and forget all my worries.
"When I made the fireside so nice, it made me live. I told my daughter Sandy if not for the chulha I might have gone."
She said when she was in the process of making a chulha, she felt so happy inside that she lost track of time and her daughter had to remind her to take a break and eat.
Ramsingh learned the art of chulha making from her grandmother Sancherie Dookie from Spring Trace, Fyzabad.
She reminisced about when she was a little girl sitting down and watching her grandmother fashioning a chulha, she tried it and it came out just like hers.
With the help of family members, such as her daughter Sandy, her grandchildren, among them Abby, who also cooks, Ramsingh can make ten chulhas a day starting from around 10 am to 10 pm. A dirt oven will take a week to frame with steel and BRC wire.
She also fits in brush cutting with a weedwhacker six days a week from Monday to Saturday with her son Randy in the morning, and when she returns home, she starts work on her chulha making.
Ramsingh revealed that the reason they started selling 'chulha food' was that a lot of people did not know the taste of it, so she and her daughter decided to cook and cater food from the chulha and dirt oven.
A dirt oven made by Doll Ramsingh
The menu includes on dirt oven Thursdays: coconut bake and baked chicken. Chulha Fridays: stew-curried chicken, channa and aloo, murtani, dhalpuri and mother-in-law. Chulha Saturdays: curried duck, channa and aloo, murtani, buss up shot and mother-in-law, to pepper roti, octopus, and bread and pizza from the dirt oven are also available.
She and her daughter Sandy were trying out new dishes such as pumpkin with chicken, sweet pepper and carrots in the dirt oven.
Tuesday night they did channa puri stew/curry chicken and chataigne puri.
Ramsingh said that people from all parts of Trinidad, even Tobago come to her house to sample her 'sweet hand' and buy a chulha or dirt oven. They come from as far as Tunapuna, Mayaro, Aranguez, Trinicity, Cunupia, Siparia, Fyzabad, Princes Town, Penal, Debe, Avocat, Santa flora. Trinidadians living in the diaspora in the US, Canada, and Europe have also visited.
You can see Ramsingh on Facebook @ Doll's Chulhas and Fireside Cooking With Doll-Hot From The Chulha.