Thursday, July 8, 2010

Antiguan Roti (Part I)

Yesterday was a sultry, sweaty, soggy day in Boston. Instead of thinking about hiding in an air conditioned room, I found my mind wandering to December, when Joel and I spent a week of tropical bliss in Antigua, eating, swimming, petting baby donkeys*, ziplining through the canopy, and counting lizards.

Obligatory pretty photo with palm trees, water, and blue sky. Don't worry; there's plenty more where this came from!
For the second part of our trip, we stayed in English Harbour, an area overrun with obscenely wealthy Europeans and their obscenely large yachts. We saw not one but two gargantuan yachts with matching helicopters landing on them. Helicopters! Landing on yachts!

The food in English Harbour was a blend of upscale French food, touristy expensive Caribbean food, touristy expensive non-Caribbean food, and thankfully, a few authentic gems. We did have two spectacular French meals, which I'll eventually write about if I can find my notebook from the trip, but today is all about the magnificent roti.

(Last night we made our own rotis in the Antiguan style. Stay tuned for Part II of this post, which will go up this weekend, describing how we made the rotis. Plus, that post will have a big surprise! Ok, I can't keep a secret. It'll be my very first video post! Today, though, I'm going to tell you about the authentic rotis in Antigua.)

You may be familiar with Indian roti, a round, unleavened bread often served with (or rolled and filled with) curry. The word "roti" also refers to similar breads throughout other parts of Asia and parts of the West Indies, especially Trinidad and Tobago, and of course, Antigua. In Antigua, "roti" refers to the bread/filling combo, where the filling is most often a poultry, meat, or fish in a spicy yellow curry sauce. The roti is often topped with a fruit marmalade.

Based on some information in our guidebook, we found Caribbean Taste, a small restaurant tucked away on a residential side street off the main road of English Harbour (Dockyard Drive). A bit off the beaten path, it was a haven from the overpriced tourist traps a block away.

In keeping with my new avoidance of the term "hidden gem," I'm going to go ahead and use the thesaurus incorrectly to declare this one an "abstruse nonpareil."
A yacht family took up one long table, but at least one of them seemed to know the area better than the average tourist. When their food arrived, the above average tourist began raving on and on about how it was the best roti in the world.

We decided to have what he was having.

We didn't have any idea what roti was, and we added it as an afterthought to our order, leading to some confusion from the waitress/owner. Finally, she helped us figure out roughly what it was, and she led us to split it as an appetizer. (As it turns out, one roti is more than enough for one person's entire meal.)

While we waited for the roti, we drank some tamarind juice. Although sour, it was oddly refreshing.

Then, our conch roti arrived, accompanied by a generous dollop of mango marmalade. Mr. Yacht was right: it was the best roti in the entire world. We didn't have any previous roti experience for comparison, but one bite and we could just tell.

There was an intriguing dessert on the menu called "lime snow," but they didn't have any that day; it has to be made ahead of time.

A couple days later, we tried rotis at the popular Grace Before Meals down the street. We weren't as pleased by the rotis, but the homemade hot sauce served on the side was very spicy and very wonderful. We bought a bottle to bring home.

After the mediocre roti lunch, we wandered back over to Caribbean Taste just to see if there was any lime snow. There wasn't, but the owner, who had started out kind of gruff on our previous visit but warmed up once we ordered our meals extra spicy, told us that she'd make it that evening.

We returned after an over-indulgent French dinner that night. "You're here for the lime snow?" asked the owner, who recognized us and probably thought we were pathetic. Strangely I don't even remember what the lime snow was - some sort of sorbet, maybe? - but it was a nice treat.

The next day we had an afternoon flight home, so before heading to the airport, we made one last stop at Caribbean Taste for a final roti, and it was just as good as the first one: spicy, warm, and hearty, with the strange sweetness of marmalade to cool down the palate.

If you find yourself in Antigua, or elsewhere in the West Indies, be sure to try roti. I'd recommend conch, but many other fillings are often available, like beef and goat. And as you'll see in Part II (coming soon), rotis are easy to make at home!

*By the way, I'm not kidding about the baby donkeys.

Their owner was asleep on a bench, so we got to sneak some photos for free. On a previous night, though, the guy was offering people donkey rides, ostensibly for money. This drunk frat dude took him up on the offer:

The ziplining really happened too:

I miss Antigua.

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