Are you a “Trini to dee bone”? If so, you need not hop onto a plane to savor the flavors of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean country that celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence on Friday.
The island nation is known for roti, a flatbread that arrived with laborers from India beginning in the 1830s. Like “taco,” the term refers not only to the wrapper but to the filling inside: savory curried chicken, spicy curried goat, succulent curried potatoes and sweet curried pumpkin, to name a few.
From rural shacks with rusty galvanized roofs to top dining establishments in the capital of Port-of-Spain, roti is as common in Trinidad and Tobago as fast-food hamburgers are here.
“At every corner in T&T there’s a roti shop,’’ says Elsie Chin, owner of LC Roti in the Norland neighborhood of North Miami-Dade. “Everybody buys roti in Trinidad — even the people who know how to make it!”
Thanks to Chin and other Trinidadian entrepreneurs, you can get your roti fix without venturing far from your neighborhood. Here’s a guided tour of three shops that span South Florida.
LC Roti Shop
Calypso music beckons from the propped-open door of Chin’s shop.
“Everbody else playin’ dey music. We need to play we own too! It does make everybody feel welcome,’’ Chin says in her melodious patois.
She and her husband (known simply as Chin) opened one of the first roti shops in South Florida in 1985 at 81st Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Few Trinidadians lived in the area, and it was not an easy road.
“I made only $40 that first day; it was very discouraging, but I hung in there,” says Elsie Chin, whose close-cropped do tinted a vibrant burgundy makes it hard to believe she is in her 60s.
The Chins soon relocated to Norland, and found success with its many Caribbean residents.
“My East Indian heritage is that Indian girls are taught to cook in order to prepare for marriage,” she says. “Trini roti is more than food; it’s a culture, much like Carnival and calypso.’’
LC Roti Shop is a gathering spot for generations of Trinidadians and a magnet for top South Florida chefs and national names including PBS travel and food host Burt Wolf, who featured it in his 2009 book, Real American Food.
“Roti is my favorite dish at LC’s, particularly when the filling is curried conch or curried shrimp,’’ says Allen Susser, whose current ventures include Books & Books Café by Chef Allen in Coral Gables.
“Elsie is a wonderful person — a woman of heart who makes you feel warm and comfortable. Passion for cooking and joy come right out of her pores,’’ Susser says.
“My menu has been the same from day one,” Chin says.
Among the highlights: Curried beef, goat, shrimp, chicken, aloo pie, fried dough filled with curried potatoes and vegetable roti.
Wash them down with Mauby, seamoss or sorrel, traditional Trinidadian beverages. Mauby, a bitter, pungent bark, is boiled, and the extract is sweetened with cane sugar and spiked with Trinidad’s renowned Angostura Bitters. The main ingredient in seamoss is seaweed blended with sweetened condensed milk, nutmeg and cloves. Sorrel is made from burgundy-colored sorrel flowers, sweetened with cane sugar and blended with orange peel, cloves and alcohol.