I have been on a quest. An epic search, if you will, for doubles that make me weak in the knees and are even remotely as good as my mom’s. I have traipsed all around Toronto. I went from South to North, West to East in search of doubles that were swoon-worthy. I even recruited people to go with me on my food-eating adventures. When I finally found doubles that I felt were worthy, the moment was triumphant. Eating these doubles was an experience that left me breathless and thinking about that interaction long afterwards - like the most delicious first kiss.
Doubles are deceptively simple looking. This snack food from Trinidad is ubiquitous and is made up of two distinct components: 1) two palm-sized discs of dough, fried until just kissed by golden colour, called bara; 2) curried chickpeas that act as the filling for the “sandwich.” What really takes doubles over the top is a 3rd component and an absolute necessity - sauce(s). More on this later. It’s important to note, that not all doubles are made equal. But the doubles from Danforth Roti shop are the fucking mic drop.
Omatee, chef and owner of Danforth Roti Shop, knooowwwsss doubles. She is warm, friendly and we easily chat the entire time I’m watching her make doubles. We talk about Trinidad, the importance of food in our lives and share stories about our families. She opened up Danforth Roti Shop 14 years ago after working as a cook in a few other Caribbean restaurants. Prompted by friends, family and customers, along with the support of her husband Tony, she opened her own spot as a way to feed people the kind of homemade Trinidadian food that she believed wasn’t being offered anywhere else. She was absolutely right.
The bara dough that she makes is yeast based, making the dough pliable, soft and feather light. Omatee divides the butter-hued dough roughly into kiwi sized balls. She presses them out into impossibly thin rounds without tearing a. single. fucking. one. You could actually read the fine print of a legal document right through the dough, if you were so inclined. With deftness and precision she works the dough as someone who has done this thousands of times over. Each bread, fried individually, spends less than ten seconds in hot oil before being speedily whisked out to drain. If you let the dough cook too long and they become dry and hard - better for ultimate frisbee than for eating.
While Omatee is frying dough, there’s a massive pot on the stove full of dried chickpeas that have been soaked overnight and are now bubbling vigorously. Foam has risen to the top which will be skimmed off before being flavoured with celery, curry, parsley, cumin and green seasoning - a Trinidadian staple used as a marinade, sauce or dressing. Green seasoning is made by blending water, sharp vinegar, fresh green onions, pungent garlic, bright shado beni (culantro) and/or parsley, salt and pepper. These chickpeas will become the filling for the doubles that I will have the pleasure of eating again later.
Sauces on offer usually include sweet and tangy tamarind, hot and stinging pepper sauce, and sharp and herbaceous green seasoning that add to the flavour and complexity of doubles. Sometimes, you’ll find freshly grated cucumber, or kuchela (another Trinidadian condiment made of shredded green mango cooked with amchar masala, garlic and hot pepper) which provides additional oomph. Each cook has his/her/their own combination of sauces and condiments that make their version distinctive.
At Danforth Roti ask for a combination of their three sauces - tamarind, pepper sauce and green seasoning. The sauces make these doubles a religious experience. But, I recommend caution with the hot sauce. I accidentally ate a spoonful of it and regretted it as it burned in my chest for a full hour afterwards. If you were ordering these in Trinidad - you would order “doubles with slight peppa’”.
You really need to eat these doubles. They are anything but ordinary. When you first bite into these doubles, the dough greets you with softness, a gentle and slightly stubborn stretch, and a barely-there sweetness that’s reminiscent of challah. The chickpea filling is delicate in curry flavour and doesn’t overpower the bread. There’s precise balance between the filling and the bread. The texture of the chickpeas is creamy, thick and suede soft - retaining its integrity as you eat it. Each sauce adds flavour, heat and freshness, in exacting proportion. In about six bites, the whole experience is sadly over and right now, I’m thinking about eating another one.