Roti, more than flat bread; a unique piece of Caribbean cuisine

The cuisine of the Caribbean is influenced by India, Africa, China, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Syria, Lebanon and the Indigenous Peoples who are native to this part of the world. As such, the foods cooked and eaten every day, reflect the various influences.

Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname and Jamaica have very large populations of East Indians. Countries like Barbados, Antigua, Grenada, St. Kitts Nevis, etc. also have East Indian populations but not quite as large as the four aforementioned countries. However, in all of these countries, one can find roti, the Indian-influenced flat bread. West Indian roti(s) are made with regular all-purpose flour and baking powder (a leavening agent). While you can see the influence, West Indian roti(s) are different.

There are various types of roti(s) made in the Caribbean

Paratha roti – this roti is a like a layered pastry. Once kneaded, the dough rests for at least 30 minutes before it is rolled, and brushed with vegetable oil or ghee. It is then rolled up and swirled and left to rest for another half an hour before it is cooked on a flat iron griddle known as a tawah. Once cooked, it is removed from the pan and immediately crumpled (by clapping it) to release the layers. This type of roti can be eaten as is but it is usually served with sauteed vegetables or a curry or a choka. A choka is a fire-roasted vegetable that is then ground or pureed and seasoned with garlic, chilies, tamarind or green mango.

In Trinidad and Tobago, this type of roti is referred to as "buss-up-shut". It is so called because once the hot roti has been crumpled/clapped, it breaks up into pieces and all torn up.

Sada (sah-dah) roti – is a rustic type of roti made with flour, baking powder and salt. Sometimes instant yeast is added to dough that results in a more crusty exterior. Of all the roti(s), sada roti is the simplest to make. Once the dough is kneaded, it is rested for 30 minutes before the dough is cut into large pieces and rolled into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thickness and cooked on a tawah. No oil is used to cook this roti. It is almost like toasting the dough. Sada roti very much resembles pita bread but it is more hearty.

To eat sada roti, it can be cut in half, crossways, and buttered or you can put jam on it. Sada roti is mostly eaten with eggplant choka (think baba ganoush) or tomato choka (similar to a cooked tomato salsa).

Dhal Puri – this is a roti that is filled with a spiced, cooked, split pea filling. It is a stuffed roti. Dhal Puri is considered to be a celebratory roti as it is generally made on weekends, on holidays and at festivals. The Dhal Puri now makes a constant appearance at various eating establishments across the many islands as an everyday snack.  Dhal Puri can be eaten as is, with a sour type of chutney, or with a curry such as chicken curry, duck curry, mutton curry or goat curry.

Dosti (doh-stee) Roti – is the cooking of two pieces of dough together. Made with the same dough as the other roti(s) – all purpose flour, salt, baking powder along with a pinch of salt and sugar. The kneaded dough once rested for 30 minutes is then divided into equal pieces, in an even number. For example, dough divided into 8 pieces will make 4 roti(s) because Dosti Roti is a double roti.

Each piece of dough is brushed with oil or ghee and then pressed together to make a pair. After resting for a few minutes, the roti is cooked on a hot cast iron griddle, and is brushed with oil or ghee as it cooks. It is eaten with curries and chokas or it can be eaten as is.

Aloo (Potato) Roti – is another stuffed roti. The stuffing is made with spiced mashed potatoes and cooked on a tawah with a light brushing of oil or ghee. This roti is very popular as a breakfast or dinner item. It is generally eaten as is.

Pepper Roti – in Trinidad and Tobago, there is yet another type of stuffed roti known as the pepper roti. The stuffing is made of grated potatoes, carrots, cheese and lots of minced hot pepper, hence the name.

Buying Roti

When you want to purchase a roti in the Caribbean, you can ask for a chicken roti, a beef roti, a channa roti, a potato roti or a vegetable roti. Now what this means is that you are getting either a paratha roti or a dhal puri with one of the curries offered. It is served like a wrap.

Paratha roti and dhal puri are the only two roti(s) sold commercially, the other roti(s) are only made and served in the home.


Make your own roti

Roti is a popular flatbread in the regions of South America that have East Indian influences in their cuisine, such as Suriname and Guyana. Roti is similar to both Indian flatbreads and to tortillas – it's a simple dough that is rolled out in a circle, and cooked on a hot griddle.

It can be stuffed with potatoes or lentils before it's cooked (dhalpuri), used as a wrap, or simply served on the side of a plate of curry or dhal, to help soak up all of delicious sauce. These roti are thin, soft, and pliable, and can be made with white or wheat flour.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour, or 2 cups self-rising flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • Vegetable oil for pan
  • Melted butter

Preparation

  1. Place flour(s) in a bowl. Mix in the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. 
     
  2. Add water slowly, stirring as you go, until dough starts to come together. Keep stirring, adding a little more water if dough is still dry, until dough forms a ball. 
     
  3. Turn dough out onto counter and knead, adding a little flour if the dough is too sticky. Dough should be soft, but not sticky enough to stick to your hands or the counter. 
     
  4. Let dough rest for 10 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.
     
  5. Roll out dough in a large circle, about 1/4" thickness. Spread about 1 teaspoon vegetable oil over the surface of the dough. Roll the dough up into a long roll. 
     
  6. Cut the dough into 8 to 10 pieces. Roll each piece out flat into a 6 inch circle. Let circles rest, covered with damp cloth, for 5 minutes. 
     
  7. Heat a flat heavy griddle or skillet (a cast iron skillet or crepe pan works well) over low to medium heat. 
     
  8. Roll the first circle of dough out as thin as possible (to about an 8-9 inch diameter circle). 
     
  9. Add about 1 teaspoon oil to the skillet. Place dough in hot skillet. Cook until bread puffs up and turns light brown on the skillet side. Slide bread to the each of the pan with your fingers, and quickly flip to brown the other side (about 1-2 minutes). 
     
  10. Remove from heat and place roti in a colinder to cool. Cover roti with a damp towel while you cook the rest. Add more oil to the skillet as needed. 
     
  11. Roti can be reheated just like tortillas: in a low oven, wrapped in foil, or in the microwave covered with a damp cloth. Brush roti with melted butter before serving, if desired.

Makes 10 6-8 inch rotis

 

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