By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
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1) Christine. As you enter the small shop you may see a woman busily rolling out balls of roti dough. This is Christine Gouveia, from British Guyana. She is perpetually amicable, always eager to chat, and judging from all the people dropping in to say hello during our visits here, has made a lot of friends since opening her namesake take-out store in 1993. Christine has been at the stove from that time on, preparing oxtail, chicken, and fish stews along with the numerous fillings that get rolled into rotis. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Christine's warm personality is as strong a draw as her delicious food.
2) Roti. These floppy, unleavened, circular breads originally came from East India, where they are baked on a griddle and finished over an open flame until steam builds inside and puffs them. Indentured Indian servants introduced the bread to the Caribbean, where the word roti has taken on a different meaning, referring both to a crêpelike wheat wrapper as well as to a dish in which the wrapper gets filled with curried vegetables, fish, or goat. Christine's roti is neither puffed nor crêpelike, but rather a well-seasoned ground chickpea flour-based bread, fluffy like a thinner Middle Eastern laffa.
Gouveia makes thirteen types of mildly spicy curries, including beef, chicken, conch, shrimp, trout, duck, and goat, all of which are sure to satisfy fans of those foods. Her most popular roti envelopes pieces of fiery jerk chicken still on the bone, mixed in with potatoes, cabbage, carrots, chickpeas, and onion. I'd suggest eating this dish on a plate, with knife and fork, rather than treating it as a pick-up sandwich, which will start out messy and is sure to end in vain. An equally piquant jerk vegetable roti contains the same vegetables as the chicken, just more of them.
Christine's roti taste good wrapped around just about anything, which is why it's not a bad idea to pick up a dozen ($21) to go. That's what I did, and on the drive home wondered what a peanut butter-and-jelly roti would taste like.
3) The shop. The road to roti runs through North Miami Beach and stops at NE Sixth Avenue, just a few yards off of 167th Street. That's where you'll find Christine's teeny, mostly take-out shop. The front portion of the store consists of a four-seat table, a four-stool counter, and a glass case of beverages stocked with ginger beer, natural coconut water, a deliriously tasty homemade soursop drink, and assorted sodas, juices, and nectars from Jamaica and Trinidad.
The remainder of the space, behind the counter where you pay, is a small open kitchen. You might define this shop either as "a quaint little restaurant" or "a hole in the wall," depending upon what kind of person you are. Aerosmith liked the look enough to use it as a setting for its "Taste of India" video. I don't know anything about Steven Tyler's taste in food, but I can tell you that if you want as good a roti as you'll find north of the Caribbean, just walk this way.