Inevitably my tummy gets queasy as we drive across the mountains on our way to Maracas Bay Beach on the north coast of Trinidad. My siblings take one look at my face and scoot as far over as they can in the tightly packed car. I focus on the lush tropical jungle and will my stomach to behave so I can enjoy the treat coming soon – hot roti.
We don’t often eat out, and we hardly ever don’t have to share (a small order of fries for four children at a fast-food hamburger place was the norm, though we did get our own small burger), but roti is too messy to share. We each get to order, and savor, our own.
Our favorite open-air roti stand is tucked away on the side of the road next to a banana grove. Aromas of fry oil and the bite of curry powder hit our noses as soon as we step out of the car. The roti, a flat sort of pancake, is cooked on a large griddle and then the curry of choice – chicken or goat or shrimp or veggie – is ladled onto the roti. The cook deftly folds the roti around the filling, wraps it in paper and stuffs it into a paper bag. This is food to be eaten outdoors, usually right next to the open stand.
My first bite is more dough than filling, but soon, I have eaten my way down to the part of the roti where the ratio of dough to filling can’t be beat. Dribs of yellow sauce run down my chin and I work madly to lick my fingers, not wanting to waste any of the deliciousness on a napkin.
This is one of the happiest food memories of my childhood.
Tonight, I am making roti for dinner. The chickpeas are soaked and boiled, ready to be cooked with the potatoes and Trinidadian spice mix to make the curry. The dough is a simple flour and water mixture made magical by layering it with clarified butter. The best part is rolling the pillowy pieces of dough into cone shaped balls between my hands and pinching the bottom shut. After resting, these cone shaped balls, which look rather like the Spanish Tetilla cheese, are rolled out into flat pancakes and cooked on the griddle. The cooked roti is the perfect foil for the curry: soft shards of layered dough permeated with the spicy curry.
I’ll be licking my fingers – some things never change.