Over the course of my stay here, I’ve mostly been doing interviews, reading articles, and some archival research. However, earlier this week I had the opportunity to help a woman, Chandra, make roti in her home. A native of Trinidad, she is married to a German businessman by the name of Klaus, and they live just outside of Port-of-Spain with their two children. Since it was the week before Easter, many of their family members were there visiting from the United States. She prepared a delicious feast, feeding over fifteen people out of her kitchen. Though Chandra made the process seem simple, there was an immense amount of nuance that went into each part of the meal she prepared.
As some of my previous posts have hinted towards, roti is a diverse vessel for food, sometimes just served as flatbread that is used to “grab” the food when eating with your hands(sada roti, like we were making, is soft: to eat with it, pinch the bread and then pick up whatever delicious thing on your plate it is you want to eat), while in other cases used as a wrap (dhalpouri) to transfer a variety of different proteins and sauces to your mouth. In this case, Chandra was making sada roti, and is a common breakfast food in Trinidad. Many people I have interviewed have said this is the most commonly consumed form of roti on the island; it can be served with almost anything, though there are certain companion foods that go particularly well with roti, which Chandra shared with me and I will detail in this post.
In terms of ingredients and skill, this is the easiest form of roti to make, and consists of white flour, baking powder, salt, and vegetable oil. Mix these ingredients into dough, and cover with a damp cloth for about half an hour; then, divide the dough into even-sized balls and cover for another 30 minutes or so. After that, roll out the individual pieces of dough with a width of about half and inch. Heat these over medium to high heat, and if possible, over an open flame. The bread will slightly bubble up, as it should, and will brown on the outside, but just slightly. Too much heat will make the bread crispy, and will make picking up the food with the bread a bit more difficult and more importantly, not absorb as much flavor. When the bread is finished, it is important to wrap the bread in a towel to keep the heat in so it does not get stale before it is time to eat.
Though this bread is simple and delicious enough to eat just by itself, what makes sada roti a particularly interesting dish is its diverse utility at any time of day, for any meal. Since Chandra was preparing dinner, meats were involved, as according to Chandra, “Indians would never eat meat for breakfast, though the tomato choka is perfect for early morning snacks”(I will detail tomato choka later). There was a pork dish, but I did not eat any, instead I focused on having a serious love affair with the curried shrimp, a dish which consisted of fresh shrimp, allspice, coconut milk, vegetable oil, onions, garlic, curry powder, ginger, garam masala spices(cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and sometimes white pepper depending on the person), salt, and pepper. A standard curry dish by any definition, this combination of small amounts of natural sweetness and complex savory flavor create a balanced dish both in terms of taste and nutrition.
In addition to the curried shrimp, Chandra also made a tomato choka. Choka simply refers to the the method of preparation, and can applied to almost any vegetable or dry cured fish. Initially Chandra was making an eggplant choka, but in the midst of taking care of her one year old son, understandably, had other things to deal with and made one too many errors in the preparation. As a substitute, she prepared the tomatoes by chopping them very fine, adding them to a skillet of vegetable oil on medium heat, and adding salt, pepper, garlic and cilantro. This, combined with the curried shrimp, roti, and fried plantains was a wonderful production of a common Caribbean dinner.