What is a Roti?

Types of West Indian Roti Flatbread

Roti!. Cherrie Mio Rhodes/Flickr

A roti is one of the really incredible foods that come out of the Caribbean. The cuisine is heavily influenced by India, Africa, China, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as the indigenous peoples who are native to this part of the world. Foods that are cooked here and eaten every day reflect these various influences, including roti, a type of Indian flat bread

Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, Suriname and Jamaica have very large populations of East Indians.

Countries like Barbados, Antigua, Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis also have East Indian populations, although they're not quite as large. You'll find roti in all these places, made with regular all-purpose flour and baking powder that acts as a leavening agent. You'll see this East Indian influence in many Caribbean area flatbreads, but West Indian rotis are different.

Types of Roti

  • Paratha roti is like a layered pastry. The dough rests for at least 30 minutes after it is kneaded and before it is rolled, then it's brushed with vegetable oil or ghee. It's then rolled up and swirled and left to rest for another 30 minutes before being cooked on a flat iron griddle known as a tawah. After it's removed from the pan, it's immediately crumpled by clapping it. This releases the layers. This type of roti can be eaten as-is, but it's usually served with sautéed vegetables or a curry or choka, a fire-roasted vegetable that is ground or pureed and seasoned with garlic, chilies, tamarind or green mango. This type of roti is referred to as "buss-up-shut" in Trinidad and Tobago because the hot roti breaks up into pieces. 
  • Sada roti is a rustic type of roti made with flour, baking powder, and salt. Sometimes instant yeast may be added to give the dough a crustier exterior. Of all the rotis, sada roti is the simplest to make. The dough is rested for 30 minutes after kneading, then cut into large pieces and rolled out to a 1/4- to 1/2-inch thickness. It's cooked on a tawah. No oil is used, so it's almost like toasting the dough. Sada roti resembles pita bread, but it's heartier. It can be eaten buttered or with jam, but sada roti is mostly enjoyed with eggplant choka (think baba ganoush) or tomato choka, which is similar to a cooked tomato salsa. 
  • Dhal puri is a roti filled with a spiced, cooked, split pea filling. It's considered to be a celebratory roti because it's generally made on weekends, on holidays and at festivals. It's also featured as an everyday snack at various eating establishments across the many islands. It can be eaten as-is or with a sour type of chutney. It's also sometimes served with chicken, duck, mutton or goat curry. 
  • Dosti roti is made by cooking two pieces of dough together. It's made with the same dough as other rotis: all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder, along with a pinch of salt and sugar. After resting for 30 minutes, the kneaded dough is divided into equal pieces in an even number. Dough divided into eight pieces makes four rotis. Dosti roti is effectively a double roti. Each piece of dough is brushed with oil or ghee, then pressed together to make a pair. After resting for a few minutes, the roti is cooked on a hot cast iron griddle. It's continuously brushed with oil or ghee as it cooks. It's eaten with curries and chokas or as-is.
  • Aloo roti is another stuffed roti. The stuffing is made with spiced mashed potatoes and cooked on a tawah with a light brushing of oil or ghee. This roti is very popular as either a breakfast or dinner item. It is generally eaten as-is.
  • Pepper roti is yet another type of stuffed roti found in Trinidad and Tobago. The stuffing is made of grated potatoes, carrots, cheese and lots of minced hot pepper. 

Buying Roti

You can ask for a chicken roti, a beef roti, a channa roti, a potato roti or a vegetable roti when you purchase one in the Caribbean. This means that you're asking for either a paratha roti or a dhal puri with one of the curries offered. It's served like a wrap.

Paratha roti and dhal puri ​are the only two rotis sold commercially. The others are made and served in the home.