Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Tropical Taste of Trinidad - Roti

In the Caribbean Sea’s southernmost reaches, Trinidad forms a vibrant multicultural crossroads between South America and the West Indies. A sun-drenched, palm-scattered multilingual isle, Trinidad’s richly diverse ethnicity mixes Indian, African, Amerindian, and European ancestry in a cultural mix that has resulted in fantastic multiethnic cooking styles and exotic food traditions.

Claimed by Columbus for Spain in the 15th century, Trinidad soon acquired African slaves in addition to its native Amerindian population in a bid by the Spanish to create a flourishing plantation colony. In the early 18th century, French planters arrived to cultivate sugar and cocoa, followed shortly afterward by the British, who took control of the island in 1802. Spanish-speaking laborers from Venezuela and black laborers from the United States also settled in Trinidad in the 19th century, as did 150,000 workers from India’s northern tip, Portuguesespeaking sailors from Madeira, and Cantonese farmhands from China. Today, the influences of Trinidad’s colorful racial makeup have permeated every aspect of the island, including its cuisine.
The food of Trinidad is deliciously rich in exotic flavors, mixing the robust spices of India with the fresh local fruits, nuts, and vegetables of the Caribbean.
From flavorsome Creole dishes of pot-stewed chicken with red beans and plantains to delicate Cantonesestyle stir-fried vegetables, Trinidadian foods are well seasoned, and each one is a dish to savor. Yet it is the humble roti (or rosti) flatbreads that characterize “Trini” kitchens across the island, from the buttery paratha, yellow lentil dhalpourie, and potato aloopourie to the perennial favorite – dosti. Dosti is made using two disks of roti dough rolled out one on top of the other to form a “sandwiched” double layer; they are said to be like two friends – dosti – meeting, hence the name. The bread is cooked on a lightly greased hot tawah (baking stone) and served alongside dishes such as thick soups of curried chickpeas and potato dishes spiced with turmeric and fenugreek. It often accompanies a traditional curried duck recipe, where the birds are cooked in large iron cauldrons over an open flame on the banks of the Ortoire River.
Much has changed since Columbus first set foot on Trinidad, but this small island still epitomizes the Caribbean idyll. Almost 20 sandy stretches punctuate its coastline, and its natural attractions have been protected: there are wildlife sanctuaries, bird breeding centers, and eco-conservation areas. In the capital, Port of Spain, crowded street markets bustle among fine colonial mansions set around the capital’s 260-acre (105-hectare) Queen’s Park Savannah. All Trinidadians relish social gatherings and have made “the Savannah” and its surrounding zoo, botanical gardens, plazas, and cricket grounds central meeting points for the convivial consumption of feather-light, flaky dosti.
Roti, especially in the form of dosti, is often eaten in the form of a wrap filled with seafood, chicken, or vegetable curry

Best Places to Eat Roti

Siparia-Erin Road

To feast on a wide range of delectable roti, head to the Siparia-Erin Road in Debe, Port of Spain, where Trinidad’s huge Indian community is centered. Dozens of vendors ply their mouthwatering wares at red-hot roadside tawas (griddles) that sizzle and spit with curried lentils, chickpeas, meat, shrimp, and strips of spicy vegetables. Choose from cold prewrapped rotis or freshly cooked warm breads on which to ladle generous dollops of filling, with a spoonful of piquant sauce on the side. With bare fingers, rip the flaky, buttery roti apart to delight in peppery beans, sweet tomatoes, sautéed baigan (eggplant), and lightly spiced spinach bhaji.
Also in Port of Spain
Other exquisite rotis can be found in the district of Penal, where Indian-owned curbside huts sell candied delicacies, hot spicy snacks, and sweets along Main Street. Imbibe the aromatic temptations of a host of scrumptious nibbles such as fried potato pies, pholourie (fried balls of ground split peas served with chutney), barfi (coconut fudge), goolab jamoom (milk balls in sweet syrup), and piles of roti stacked under towels to keep them perfectly moist and warm.
Also in Trinidad
D’Roti Hut (868 681 8717; inexpensive) on Eastern Main Road, Sangre Grande, in Trinidad’s northeast, is a low-key, fast-food carry-out joint, but its menu offers about half a dozen mouthwatering variants to street stand food. Staff here use the local lingo when it comes to roti talk, and when you “buy roti” it means committing to a dish of curried vegetables, lentils, or meats wrapped up burrito-style in buttery griddle-cooked bread – unless you order a “buss-up-shot,” in which the meat or vegetables are served on the side. D’Roti Hut is reliably good and everyone knows it.
Around the World
At Roti Houpa (+44 20 7627 8637; inexpensive) on Clapham High Street in South London, a highly skilled team of roti-makers hail from Debe and Penal’s huge Indo-Trinidadian community. You can watch these roti masters at work as you peruse a carry-out menu of authentic Indo-Trinidadian cuisine.
Also in London, the Trinidad Roti Shop (+44 20 8838 4800; inexpensive) on Nicoll Road, Harlesden, is unmissable, as it boasts a Trinidadian flag the size of a family car. Run by a friendly family from Port of Spain, this delightful red-and-whitepainted hole-in-the-wall is a snug fit when it’s busy. Join a line that often snakes out of the door to witness your order being fulfilled at a rhythmic pace. Choose from curried potato fillings and spicy sauces from a menu of sweet and savory rotis.
Three Days in Trinidad
Trinidad’s 90-by-40 mile (145-by-65-km) landscape rolls out mountain peaks, beaches, streams, rivers, coconut palms, tropical flora, and rustling sugar cane crops.
DAY ONE : Spot scarlet ibis at the 40-sq-mile (100-sq-km) Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Trinidad’s most prized ecological site and a vast butterfly-rich swampland interlaced with waterways trimmed by blue, mauve, and white lilies.
DAY TWO : Discover picturesque sands at Maracas Bay, Trinidad’s most stunning soft white-sand beach. As the sun goes down, join local night owls to revel in calypso music. Port of Spain’s vibrant nightlife scene boasts numerous musical venues that offer a riot of color, dance, costume, and pulsating beats.
DAY THREE : Spend the morning exploring Pitch Lake, a mysterious, otherworldly watery expanse dating back millions of years, discovered in 1595 by Sir Walter Raleigh.
After lunch visit Port of Spain’s “Magnificent Seven” – a collection of fine historical landmark buildings built on mudflats once tangled by knots of mangroves.
Getting to Trinidad
Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport lies 20 miles (32 km) southeast of the capital. Use cars, taxis, and minibus taxis to get around.
Where to stay in Trinidad
Orchard View Guest House (inexpensive) is a friendly family-run B&B located east of the airport in lush countryside. (868) 313 0459
Laguna Mar Resort (moderate) is an oceanfront retreat for nature-lovers.
Hyatt Regency Trinidad (expensive) offers luxury in Port of Spain.

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