These Trinidadian rotis bulge with a filling of spiced potatoes and chickpeas, to which other ingredients are sometimes added. The filling tastes of commercial curry powder — imported by British colonialists, it was the only combination of masala spices available to Indian immigrants when the Caribbean roti was invented. Further ingredients added to the roti’s potato-chickpea mixture can be vegetarian (calabaza squash, callaloo, and sweet potatoes), or meaty (chicken, goat, shrimp, and conch). The roti’s stuffing is further spiced with a yellowish scotch bonnet chile sauce affectionately called "pepper."
In New York City, the roti finds its greatest advocates in Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Flatbush, Bed-Stuy, and Crown Heights, and in South Ozone Park, Queens, where Trinidadians and Tobagoans have settled. Sadly, outside of those areas rotis are few and far between. Sure, you can get a Jamaican roti in Harlem. But that type normally features shredded cabbage instead of the potato and chickpea mixture, and thus is less satisfying in a starchy sort of way. In fact, there are virtually no Trinidadian rotis available on the entire island of Manhattan — except for one unexpected source: sandwich delis run by islanders.
For over a decade, Terry’s Gourmet Deli on Chelsea’s 6th Avenue has dispensed some of the city’s best Trinidadian rotis. The selection runs to vegetarian (potatoes and chickpeas only), chicken, and sometimes one other, which can be beef or shrimp. To remind myself how good they are, I acquired one on a recent weekday afternoon (they’re available only on weekdays at lunch). It weighed in at a whopping 1 pound, 10 ounces; was 6½ inches long, and cost $8. I’m not sure how one person could finish it. Authentically, the curry chicken filling has bones in it, which makes it a pain in the ass to eat, but makes the curry taste better. You can ask the roti maker for any amount of pepper sauce to be put inside, and I usually go for three plastic teaspoonfuls. 575 6th Ave, (212) 206-0170.
There are now two roti mavens in Manhattan engaged in an impromptu roti war, ever since Jenny’s Marketplace opened recently north of the Hudson Yards, in Hell’s Kitchen, among a blasted collection of new condos. The place peddles the usual ham sandwiches and outsize bags of chips, but a small sign in the window beckons: "We Have Roti," then goes on to list four, and warn that they’re also available only on weekdays. Though the sign offers shrimp, beef, and the more exotic conch, I opted for chicken for the purposes of comparison. At $7, this rendition was a dollar cheaper than Terry’s, but also a half-inch shorter and three ounces lighter. The chicken curry inside was boneless. The pepper was also milder, so ask for more! 455 W 37th St, (212) 784-0690.