Trinidad

Dem Doubles Do’ - Danforth Roti Shop

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Goodbye 2017 - YER MOM! Actually... my mom...

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We are winding down the last bit of this shitshow of a year. I’m eager to say goodbye and good riddance to this bullshit called 2017. All my bad feelings felt through 2017 were placated through the magical powers of food and booze. A special shout out here to red wine, whiskey and pho. You truly made 2017 bearable.

This year I ate at my favourite places, new places, cheap places, fancy places, local places and international places. I ate like my life depended on it. I ate with reckless abandon fueled by gluttony, hunger and desire. I ate and regretted nothing. However, the one thing that I missed more than anything during my crazy busy piece-of-shit year where I left a job, started grad school, traveled through Ireland and Scotland and dealt with the shit that is life in general, was my mom’s cooking.

My mom is a fierce, tiny brown lady, with short hair and a Trini accent that becomes most perceptible when she’s speaking with close friends and family. She moved to Canada about 50 years ago from a small town near Sangre Grande in the northern part of Trinidad. When I’ve asked her why she chose Canada, she nonchalantly replies that it felt like it was the best option.  She knew she wanted to leave Trinidad because she saw no real future for herself there. She had no interest in moving to the US (thank fuck!) and she wasn’t sold on England. So, here we are, in Toronto, Canada, in -20 weather freezing our balls off.

My mom making rotis, circa 1970's

My mom making rotis, circa 1970's

Two things that I can definitely say about my mom, first, she is my biggest supporter and fan and two, she. can. cook. She can conjure up doubles, rotis, curries and provision soup at break-neck speed. Her adeptness in the kitchen is both admirable and awe-inspiring. Everything she makes is delicious (except pelau with pigeon peas. Because pigeon peas taste like what I imagine pigeon shit to taste like). I have yet to see her use a recipe for anything she’s ever made (except cheesecake). Her homemade pepper sauce is the standard that I hold all hot sauce to, a balanced, flavourful sauce that is blazing hot, with the requisite fiery aftermath that will make your toilet cry. Her ability to make the most boring ingredients into something mouth wateringly delicious is a gift. If anyone wonders where I got my love for food and eating, it is without question, as a result of my mom’s cooking and incessant need to feed. If you go to her house, she will strongly encourage you to eat. You, in fact, can’t leave her house without eating something, unless you want to cause great offence. Consider yourself warned, if you are eating at my mom’s house make sure you wear your “fat” pants.

Doubles

Doubles

I have many food memories from my mom’s kitchen. Like stealing pieces of stewed chicken simmering on the stove. Or, arms dripping in juices from picking apart curried crab that was served over dumplings. Or, shoving hot, torn pieces of freshly cooked buss-up-shut (a flaky, layered roti, usually served with some type of curry or my personal fave, pumpkin) into my mouth, after being “clapped” and busted apart. When I was in my teens, I would sometimes sit on the counter and watch my mom move about the kitchen dropping aromatics into sizzling pots, rolling out rotis into the most perfect rounds or making currants rolls (a flaky pastry, sprinkled with currants and sugar and rolled up and baked until lightly brown). I found comfort and enjoyment in being there. She and I chatted and connected through these moments in the kitchen. Most of the time I would help her out, but sometimes I liked just sitting in the kitchen with her. What I understood food to be early on, was love, comfort, connection, and nourishment.

Being in grad school full-time has cost me my evenings, weekends, a social life, working out, and being carefree and unencumbered. I’ve had little time for anything, like going to my mom’s house and leisurely eating my way through the various Corelle serving dishes filled with different stews, meats, veggies and carbs. But, eating at her house during Christmas is an experience. I usually put in my request for my favourite thing, doubles beforehand. I wouldn’t want to be remiss of this treat. This year was no different. When I departed her house on Christmas night I had a large reusable grocery bag filled to the top with her delectable goods. Which I have been eating this entire week. Eating my mom’s food at the end of this year felt like the soul, energy and psychic repair that I needed after what has undoubtedly been a challenging and stressful year.

Christmas dinner 2017

Christmas dinner 2017

Now that this year is finally coming to a close I send a special shout-out to my mom, because she is the best. I hope that everyone finds their peace and gathers their energy and positivity to step forward into 2018.

Have a wonderful, safe, joyful, fun and truly magical end of year. I hope that 2018 makes you happily forget 2017.

Happy New Year, friends.