Trini roti is a substantial endeavor. At Suzy’s Roti Parlour on Church Avenue, my favorite order is curry beef, an aromatic, coconut-rich chuck stew with aloo, chana, and extra pepper sauce. The roti itself — dhal puri to be precise— is a large, thick wrapper layered with turmeric split peas and could easily be enjoyed as a snack on its own. Rolled up, it’s robust enough to endure the ten-minute walk back to my apartment and still be warm when I unwrap it at my desk.
For the uninitiated, shops serving this quintessential Caribbean combination abound in Brooklyn and Queens in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Flatbush, and Richmond Hill, where there are large pockets of immigrants from Trinidad and Guyana. (Singh’s on Liberty Avenue has drawn regular crowds since it opened in 1990.) Depending on the filling you choose, it can be eaten like a massive burrito, but the more sinewy oxtail and chicken stews are easier to manage by unwrapping the roti packet and eating it directly with your hands, a move that’s both versatile and immensely satisfying.
It’s not as if Trini roti has any particular season, but I’ve always thought of it as a perfect meal for this time of year, when you want something comforting and hearty even in the middle of the day. I must not be alone because a recurring theme at many of the shops is that when it’s your turn to order, at least some of the food will already be sold out. At Royal Bakery in Crown Heights, a customer in front of me was informed that there was no roti left, and no dhal — “Everybody wants large dhal” — so I knew I’d need to improvise. I ordered a chicken buss up shut, which the sign lists for an extremely reasonable $7.50. (If you only get potato and chickpeas, it comes out to an even more reasonable $5.) Buss up shut is sort of like deconstructed roti: a similarly sized paratha served with the same vegetable and curry components but lacking the dhal filling. The bread gets smacked a bit after cooking to release the flaky layers, hence the name, which evolved from “busted up shirt,” and refers to the raglike texture.
Across Nostrand Avenue, at Trini Girl, they were out of goat on a recent weeknight, but that turned out to be fortuitous. I pointed to the best-looking stew in the steam table and learned that it was curry duck. I immediately asked if I could have it in my roti even though it wasn’t listed on the official menu. The woman behind the counter said sure but that it would be $18 instead of the $14 for goat. It was a fair price: The bite-size bone-in cuts of meat were a good match for the glossy, chocolate-dark sauce.
“Value” is not the main draw — this is comfort food anyone could love — but it helps that the price-per-pound ratio tends to be outstanding. After ordering curry beef roti from De Hot Pot in Prospect–Lefferts Gardens, I made my way to a friend’s apartment across the street. She promptly pulled out a kitchen scale to accurately assess the roti’s heft: one pound and 13 ounces of food, for which I had been charged $14. It was wonderful, and we unwrapped the parcel and split it from a communal plate, using pieces of dhal puri torn off the outer edges that were big enough to pick up some of the beef, potato, and chickpea curries in the same bite.
If it feels like too much food, there are other options, such as doubles, snack-size fried bread with chana that people sometimes order by the dozen; and my preferred side, mac pie, a.k.a. baked mac and cheese. The version you find in most New York roti shops is universally excellent, but special mention must go to Suzy’s, where the mac pie is firm enough to hold its sliced square form, becoming soft and cheesy upon eating. I love it, though there is one problem: By the time I finish a single roti, I’m usually full.