Ask anyone in England what the national dish is and they’ll tell you. It’s not sausages and mash or fish and chips. It’s Chicken Tikka Masala. When Andy and I got married and moved to the area where he grew up, we were regulars at a Nepalese restaurant called The Everest Tandoori, a place Andy’s family has been frequenting for more than twenty years. We knew the staff, we knew the menu inside and out, and Andy had probably tried everything three times over (I was always partial to their Chicken Tikka.) But no matter what we ordered for our main, we always got something from the “Sundries” section of their menu. Sundries, on their menu, means bread, either naan or roti.
For me, that was always the climax. That fresh and fragrant bread, warm from the oven, winging its way to me in a napkin-covered basket. My mouth waters at the thought. I can take or leave rice, but naan or roti are the perfect accompaniment to curry of all sorts.
As much as we love roti, I can’t believe I never learned how to make it. But this isn’t bread-making or cupcake-baking where you simply follow a recipe and if you’re not completely inept, it turns out well. There is history behind roti-making and, as I was informed this weekend, ceremony too. You can’t really learn to make roti; someone who knows has to teach you.
Somehow the stars aligned and I became good friends with a food blogger who makes Trinidadian Paratha Roti. I must have asked her ten times if she would teach me how to make it and she said, “Of course!” But this would require meeting up, a hands on, side-by-side tutorial.
There’s a kind of Great Wall between the web world and the real world. But last week I hopped that wall and invited Erika from The Ivory Hut to come for dinner. I was a little nervous. She and I had connected so well via e-mail, I really felt like we were old friends already, but I didn’t know what she looked like. We had never spoken on the phone. Now she, her husband and her mother were coming for dinner!
Our evening with Erika and her family was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in a long time and I felt privileged to be learning this traditional recipe from my new friend. I will practice and practice until I get it right, because eating your own roti is the best. We ate so much that our main course went begging. And then, as if that weren’t enough, we had it for breakfast the next day and polished off the rest at dinner the following evening. It’s that good. Better even than the memories of my napkin-covered basket at The Everest Tandoori.