The search for great roti is a common pursuit that Patrick and I engage in when we make our separate trips to the Caribbean, but since we just so happened to be together in Barbados earlier this year, we decided to do something a little different. Instead of simply finding the best roti spot on the island, we’d actually pit a traditional local place, like The Roti Den, versus a fast food joint.
Yes, you read that right – in Barbados they have fast food places that serve roti. Better said, they serve a close facsimile of roti. Even better said, they serve some crap they call roti.
The McRoti place is called Chefette, though by the looks and taste of the roti here I doubt that any real chef, much less a West Indian one, was ever involved in any way with preparing the roti here.
Some of you may think I’m being a bit too harsh. After all, we did survive consuming said pseudo-roti, right?
That may be true (the survival part), but you have to understand that in our minds, and certainly in the minds of the vast majority of self-respecting West Indians who grew up enjoying homemade roti, this very special dish should NEVER be relegated to fast food status under any circumstances. Roti is just too wonderful; too precious to be mass-produced in this highly impersonal and horrifically tasteless way.
Biting into a Chefette roti is like biting into any old anything that might sustain you (if you can stomach it) for a few hours. Roti, in its true form, is meant to be so much more than that.
Roti is love; a dish crafted with knowing hands proud to carry on a distinctly West Indian tradition. A Chefette roti may work to expose more people to this tradition, but the love and pride just isn’t there. Seriously, I weep for anyone whose only taste of roti is one of these things.
Did I also mention that Chefette rotis are expensive and tiny? The list of negatives goes on and on…
Now, a roti from The Roti Den, on the other hand, is something altogether different. It’s not what I would call great either, but it’s way better than anything you can get at Chefette.
When you walk in, expect curt, yet courteous service, a medium-sized roti and a few too many options. For example, the lady taking my order asked if I wanted potatoes in my roti or just meat. Never, in all my travels and experiences eating roti from as far south as Point Fortin in Trinidad to Brooklyn, NY had anyone ever asked me that. The stuffing inside a roti should always be curry meat (beef, chicken, goat, shrimp, etc.) and potatoes in my experience.
Moving past that bit of confusion, the actual roti from The Roti Den was okay. I opted for the beef, and found the meat to be nice and soft. The curry wasn’t overly spicy with a mild flavor that could’ve used some Kutchela or hot pepper. The roti shell was a little doughy for me, but again, okay.
In the end, I’d recommend The Roti Den (especially over Chefette), but would certainly like to explore more of what Barbados has to offer when it comes to roti. I’ve heard that there are a few other roti shop options, with some drawing raves above and beyond The Roti Den.
As for Chefette…never, never, NEVER again!
The Roti Den is located in the heart of Barbados’ bustling west coast tourist district, just a short walk across the street from The House. Check it out next time you’re in Barbados and let us know what you think…