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22.12.2014
If they offer it at all, most Indian restaurants have banished the thick, doughy flatbread called roti to the nether pages of their menus, in favor of its lighter, more popular cousin, naan. But in Trinidad and Guyana, roti reigns.
It wasn’t hard to get her out to the heart of Little Guyana, where many immigrants have settled around Ozone Park’s Liberty Avenue – a commercial stretch booming like fireworks with sound and color. Today, the restaurant offers West Indian Chinese food, plus a popular Trinidadian dish called doubles, but Ali and I came here on one specific mission, and she’s ready to get started. “The 1st order of business,” Ali explains, “to traditionally eat roti, you’ve gotta eat it with your hands, it’s the only way to do it. After washing up, I go back to our table, where Ashmeed brings out two platters filled with curry samples. If you buy roti to go, it will probably be prepared differently – with the bread wrapped burrito style around your curry of choice. Singh’s dhall puri is a roti dish with yellow lentils rolled into the dough before it’s cooked on a baking stone. Sybil’s roti prep man ­ nicknamed “Number One” ­ works hundreds of balls of dough into flat, raw patties ready to be baked. Back up front, though, the all-female crew baking the roti shows that some things are still old school at Sybil’s. Christopher Johnson is an independent journalist who spent seven years with National Public Radio as a producer, reporter, and editor.
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This section of the elevated subway is concrete construction, which dampens the train noise. She says, “I can hear the Hindi music and smell the curry, and even see the Guyanese flags on the store fronts.
On this Saturday afternoon, the whole place is vibrating with Hindi-seasoned soca knocking in the dj speakers. Grace says that tradition started in the Caribbean, as street vendors adjusted to clients with busy schedules.
And at the end of a long roti day, it’s tradition – her traditions – that have won Grace Ali over. “My bias, shockingly, she smiles, “is with Sybil’s version.
Since the late 70s, the business has expanded to four shops between New York City and Florida, and Buford just might be eyeing the west coast. The neighborhood is dotted with turn-of-the-20th-century industrial buildings that have been transformed into galleries, museums and studios, and there's a fast-growing list of must-visit restaurants, shops and performance venues.
It's just one stop from Grand Central Terminal on the 7 train, cab fare is reasonable and some hotels offer free shuttle service to Manhattan or nearby subway stops. There’s an Indian wedding convoy, with garlands of pink and white flowers stretched across hybrid cars.
The round roti bread is separate –  about the size of an LP – folded a couple times over. Ali is impressed with the portions.
Today, she’s at Singh’s having lunch with her family, and schooling me on how to make a good sada roti – the most basic version of the bread. She says it starts with kneading the dough gently, and letting it sit for a while. But for Joseph-Arjoon, there’s really no need to argue. “Trinis can make roti,” her voice gets the dense, slow weight of a royal proclamation.
There are around two dozen hotels here (with more under construction), most built within the past few years, including major chains as well as boutique properties. You can even travel by boat: the East River Ferry regularly serves the neighborhood straight from FDR Drive and East 34th Street.


So pack a suitcase or at least a day bag—Long Island City has so much to see, eat and explore, you can keep busy for days on end. Further in, several women with hair nets and sweet smiles take orders from behind a long, cafeteria-style bank of aluminum pans filled with curries. More than two dozen people wait their turns in a line that’s always moving but never seems to get any shorter. Then it gets rolled out, and tossed on a baking stone called a tawa. “When you cook it, it has to swell,” Joseph-Arjoon explains, puffing her hands out like there’s a ball inflating between her palms.
It’s a kind of roti with yellow lentils stuffed inside the flat bread before the whole thing is baked. To feed New York’s growing Caribbean communities, a Trinidadian couple opened the roti shop more than a quarter century ago. But Number One’s game face is cool and monastic as he flip-and-pops, flip-and-pops the dough against the floured prep table.
And it’s browned in a few places, so that means it’s got a toasty flavor to it.” She tears off some roti and grabs a few shrimp, the way injera is used to eat Ethiopian food.
But when it comes to roti, Trinidad has the authority on it!” She laughs before she declares this case closed. But like a lot of folks out here, Ali prefers “Little Guyana.” She’s one of about a hundred forty thousand Guyanese immigrants living in New York City.
Her grandmother taught Grace’s mom, who is passing on the recipes and technique to her daughters.



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